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Eating Smart

Eggs Beat the Stigma of High Cholesterol

April 19, 1999|SHELDON MARGEN and DALE A. OGAR

Remember when eggs were considered to be an almost perfect food? After all, they are a very inexpensive source of extremely high-quality protein and provide large quantities of vitamins B-12, E, riboflavin and folacin, plus iron and phosphorus. Then eggs got tagged with the high cholesterol label and people were afraid to eat them. For a while, the American Heart Assn. gave us permission to eat some eggs but not a lot (only one per week). In response to that advice, Americans lowered their consumption of whole eggs but, ironically, ate increasing amounts of processed foods that contained eggs.

As the wheels of research turned, we found that eggs didn't have quite as much cholesterol as we originally thought and that dietary cholesterol was not nearly so great a determinant of serum cholesterol as was saturated fat intake, of which eggs have very little. And now the AHA recommends four eggs per week, except for people whose serum cholesterol is already very high. Such individuals should stick to one per week, including eggs consumed in baked goods and other recipes.

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Recently the egg industry hired comedian Jonathan Winters as a very lovable and wacky spokesman to promote the incredible, edible egg, and it will be interesting to see whether the campaign to promote increased egg consumption will make a difference. In case you're one of those folks who have gone back to eating eggs (or maybe you never paid any attention to the warnings in the first place), here is some information that we think will be helpful.

Most supermarkets carry only one or two types of eggs: white and brown. The color of the shell has absolutely nothing to do with the quality or nutrient content of the egg inside. The official grade of the egg will tell you a lot about it, but since most commercially produced eggs are graded AA or A, this also has little effect on what's inside.

Where you do have a choice is in the size of the egg. The official sizes are peewee, small, medium, large, extra large and jumbo. Each size weighs 3 ounces per dozen more than the one below it. Most recipes will work fine with medium eggs, but if you are baking, large eggs will probably work better.

Eggs must absolutely, positively, no ifs, ands or buts, be refrigerated throughout their trip to market and in the market itself. If an egg is left out for one day at room temperature, it will age as much as it would have in a week under refrigeration. And that doesn't begin to address the risk of bacterial growth. Make sure that the store where you buy your eggs keeps them in chilled cases.

There is a three-digit freshness code on each carton of eggs that has been inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you know how to break the code, you can find out when the eggs were packed. Jan. 1 is number 001 while Dec. 31 is number 365. Obviously you should look for the highest numbered carton in the store. Eggs that have been kept refrigerated should be good for four to five weeks from the packing date, but in some states egg cartons also have to be marked with expiration dates beyond which they should not be sold.

If you buy your eggs from a roadside stand where they are displayed in flats, they will not be graded or dated, so you need to know the seller and what kind of a turnover there is. No matter where you purchase the eggs, they should be kept under refrigeration.

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Before you buy your eggs, check them for cracks and any large amount of dirt. Jiggle the carton to make sure that none are broken and stuck to the bottom. Once you get them home, put them immediately into the refrigerator.

Unless you are planning to do your grocery shopping just before going home, it is a good idea to keep a cooler with ice or commercial coolants in the back of your car to protect perishables like eggs until you get them home. This is especially important during the hot summer months.

At home, check again to make sure that no eggs are cracked or broken. If they are, throw them out. Don't wipe eggs off before putting them away because this will remove their natural protective coating. Keep them in their original carton and put them in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Try to resist storing eggs in that molded rack in the door of the refrigerator because every time the door opens, they will be exposed to warm air. Keeping them in their original carton will protect them from picking up the aromas of other foods in the refrigerator.

Eggs come large end up in the carton to keep the yolk centered in the white and away from the air pocket that forms at the large end. Try to keep them this way in your refrigerator. They will stay fresh for four to five weeks in the refrigerator, although their quality will decline with age. If you end up with some older eggs, use them for hard-boiling, scrambling or baking and save the rest for that occasional fried or poached egg.

Hard-boiling eggs will remove the protective coating, so don't keep them more than another week or so after you cook them.

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