Eggs: What do all the label claims mean?

$1 for 18 or $6 for a dozen? Standing in front of dozens of eggs (no pun intended) on the self at the grocery store makes for a very confusion decision. Free range or pasture raised? Cage free or Organic? – don’t worry, it confuses me too so I thought I would break down just a few of the many claims on egg packages to help you make a more educated decision the next time you pick up a carton.

  • Cage free means that the animals don’t live in cages

You are all probably thinking..”duh”. But just because the animals aren’t in cages doesn’t mean they aren’t packed in a barn, and most of the time they never step foot outside.

  • Free range means that animals have “access to the outdoors”.

While this “access to the outdoors” has to be government certified, there really aren’t any guidelines, criteria, or qualifications on the quality or size of the outdoor space. That means the area could be anything from a small cement square to a grassy field.

  • Pasture Raised usually means that animals spent the majority of their time in a large open grass field – think the classic image of chickens in a field.

While pasture raised sounds the best, it isn’t regulated by the government so technically some unethical farmer could slap “pasture raised” on their conventional eggs and wouldn’t get in trouble for it.

  • Organic requires that the chickens be raised in conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors.

This includes area to roam outdoors in fields, but the key word is “accommodate”. Yes, they may accommodate for natural habits, but that doesn’t always mean they actually have the ability to live naturally 24/7. On another note, “organic” eggs also come from chickens that are not treated with any antibiotics and they are fed all organic feed – all of which are tightly regulated by USDA.

This chart is a pretty good summary of all the different egg labels- but remember, while it shows that pasture raised is the best, that term isn’t regulated so anyone can use it willy-nilly. Do some research into the brands of eggs at the store to see how they actually treat their chickens.

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So you choose…what kind of eggs do you buy?

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Are egg yolks bad for you?

It is no secret that egg yolks are packed full of cholesterol (I think they win the gold medal for cholesterol content and are typically the number one source of cholesterol in our diets). People commonly opt for egg white omelets or low cholesterol egg substitutes to cut back on their cholesterol intake.

What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance both in food (like egg yolks) and made by your liver, which is needed by all of your body’s cells in order to function. In other words, without cholesterol, we wouldn’t be able to survive.

Cholesterol Recommendations
In the 1960’s, American Heart Association, along with many other health organizations, recommended limiting cholesterol intake after researchers found high blood cholesterol levels were linked to heart disease. The typical recommendation was no more than 3 egg yolks per week.

But wait! Researchers are rethinking their “low cholesterol” recommendations. High blood cholesterol levels are still liked to heart disease, but we aren’t so sure that eating cholesterol really increases cholesterol levels in the blood. I know that seems illogical, but our liver actually produces way more cholesterol than we eat, so cutting back on your egg intake won’t really affect your cholesterol levels.

Don’t worry, I’m not just spewing science here… the U.S. government agrees and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (published every 5 years by the USDA) eliminated the recommendation of limiting cholesterol in 2015.

Dietary Fat
While monitoring your cholesterol intake can be a thing of the past, you should keep saturated and trans fat on your radar. Newer research is showing that these two types of fat play a much more significant role in increasing blood cholesterol levels and heart disease risk compared to dietary cholesterol.

So when it comes to eggs, there is no need to trash the yolk. The yolk won’t increase your cholesterol levels, and it is full of healthy vitamins and minerals! Plus, eating whole eggs has been found to keep you more full, promote weight loss, protect brain health, and decrease inflammation.

Don’t Forget…
Diet isn’t the only thing that affects heart disease risk. High levels of inflammation, stress oxidative damage, along with high blood pressure, smoking, and low physical activity levels can all increase your risk, too.

Salads: Healthy or Not?

Salads. They are the probably the number one food people think of when they want to lose weight or go on a diet. There is a perception that salads are super healthy, and they can be, but you have to be careful.

For example, check out these two items on the McDonald’s menu. The salad has more calories and more fat than the burger!

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How could this be? Salad dressing plays a big part. Creamy salad dressings are often packed with loads of fat your salad’s calorie count to skyrocket. Watch out though, low fat salad dressings can be filled with salt and sugar to make up for the missing flavor. Your best bet is to choose a salad dressing that is oil based, not cream. The first three ingredients on the label should be oil, water, and some kind of vinegar. But, even if you pick the healthiest dressing, it doesn’t entitle you to use half the bottle. Always ask for dressing on the side and drizzle it on (don’t drown your lettuce). Better yet, dip your fork into the dressing and then get a fork-full of salad so you aren’t using any more than you need. Making your own salad dressings is also a great way to make sure there isn’t any extra preservatives or additives.

With all that being said, a high calorie salad isn’t always bad. Yes, if all those calories are coming from creamy dressing and fried chicken then there is a problem, but high calories sometimes means high nutrients.

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I started thinking about this last weekend when I was in Toronto while I was eating one of many huge (and delicious) salads. It had kale, quinoa, poached eggs, curried cauliflower, chickpeas, sweet potato, cashews, nori, and avocado. Obviously I don’t know the exact nutritional value of it, but I’m guessing it was around 700 calories. You could easily eat 700 calories worth of cookies or ice cream, but you would be missing out on so many nutrients. That salad was packed with so much good fuel for the body — ie. Vitamin K in kale, vitamin A in sweet potato, healthy fats in avocado, iron and protein in quinoa, and the list goes on.

The moral of the story is that it is not always about the sheer number calories. Two salads, both with 700 calories, could have very different health effects. The one with fried chicken and creamy dressing are NOT going to help you lose weight and WILL contribute to heart disease. The one with lots of vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats will keep you full longer and give your body nutrients that it needs.

The next time you eat a salad, or any food, don’t just think about the calories; think about what is in it and how those ingredients will or won’t be good for your body.

Bowls

If you haven’t noticed, bowls are one of the biggest food trends right now. Buddha bowls, poke bowls, acai bowls… they are everywhere!

Last week I checked out a new restaurant in Cleveland called Rebol. Guess what they serve?? You got it—bowls! They are 100% nonGMO, organic when possible, don’t use any refined sugar, and only cook with avocado, coconut, and olive oils. You can see why I had to try it :).

Anyways, I got a chicken bowl with zucchini noodles, corn salsa, cauliflower & bok choy, apricot ginger honey mustard, cashews, and toasted sesame. It sounds like a strange combination, but it was delicious. They use lots of bold spices to make the food super flavorful. It just goes to show that healthy food doesn’t taste bad (contrary to what some people believe).

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This week I decided to jump on the “bowl” train and make my own at home. Since I move out of my apartment in about a week I have been trying to use the ingredients I have instead of buying more food. I put my cooking skills to the test and was trying to use up some quinoa and BBQ sauce. I think my hours in the kitchen are starting to pay off because my bowl turned out super yummy…so yummy that I have made it for dinner every day this week.

Here’s how to make my BBQ Chicken Quinoa Bowl:

  • Grab a bowl
  • Add about ½ cup cooked quinoa
  • Toss in 3-4oz of shredded baked chicken breast
  • Throw in a handful of broccoli
  • Drizzle on about 1 Tbsp of BBQ sauce (try to choose one that is low in sugar!)
  • Top it off with a fried egg
  • Mix it up and enjoy!

Since I wanted this every night for dinner, I ended up making a bunch of quinoa, baking two big chicken breasts, and steaming a large head of broccoli all on Monday so each night all I had to do was assemble to bowl. No excuses for not eating healthy because it literally takes 2 minutes to put this bowl together, pop it in the microwave, and then add a fried egg.

*Note: I just baked my chicken completely plain because I knew I was going to add BBQ sauce to the bowl but feel free to add any more spices you like.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Dana

P.S. I officially took my last final exam on Wednesday so I am officially done with undergrad! T-9 days until graduation.

Scrambled Eggs in a Mug

With one week of school in the books, I am finally getting used to living in a hotel. First, I’ve got my printer working (it was a tragic first few days without a printer). Second, and most importantly, I have just discovered how to make scrambled eggs in the microwave and they were EGGcellent!!

My favorite post-morning-workout breakfast is an omelet, so after my run this morning I decided I would give microwave eggs a shot in the tiny hotel microwave. These eggs were so fluffy and delicious that they are probably my new favorite microwave food. They were also much easier and less messy than making eggs on the stove, so I will be making these even once I move into my apartment.

scrambled eggs in a mug

Here’s how to make these scrambled eggs:

  1. Crack as many eggs as you want (or as many that fit) into a microwave safe coffee mug and mix with a fork until the yolks are mixed in. I like to use egg whites because you still get lots of protein, without the fat, cholesterol, and high calories in the yolk.
  2. Optional: Add some chopped veggies to make it more like a scrambled omelet. I used zucchini and broccoli this morning.
  3. Put the mug into the microwave on high for 1 minute then stir.
  4. Place it back into the microwave for 1 minute and stir again.
  5. If the eggs are no longer runny, they are ready for you to enjoy. If they are still runny, continue to microwave and stir at 30-second intervals until they are fully cooked.
  6. Enjoy your eggs straight out of the mug or put them onto a plate.

You can also make these in a disposable coffee cup for eggs on the go. Just bring you cup of eggs in the car with you, and they fit nicely in the cup holder.

Eggs are a good breakfast choice (especially with the vegetables) because they are high in protein to keep you satisfied throughout the morning.

Mini Fridges, Microwaves, and Maid Service

My obligatory first day of school photo.

My obligatory first day of school photo.

Day 1 of junior year… check! After a long 8-hour day on campus, I am finally back to my hotel. No, that is not a typo; I am living in a hotel. My on-campus apartment building is brand new and isn’t ready for me to move in yet, so in the mean time I’m living in a hotel. It is a strange feeling walking into a hotel all sweaty from the mile walk back and having the bellhop ask you if you need help carrying your backpack to your room (I must have looked like I was struggling!).

I’m enjoying the 24-hour fitness center along with the clean towels and lotion samples that are left in the bathroom everyday. But, with all the nice hotel amenities come the not so good parts. Can you guess my biggest complaint? The food situation! Three weeks in a hotel means three weeks without the kitchen that I should have in my apartment. I feel like I’m back in my freshman dorm with just a mini fridge and a microwave minus the dining hall.

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The hotel mini kitchen.

Of course there are tons of restaurants to choose from, but I’m not a fan of eating at a restaurant for 63 meals in a row. Thankfully, I have friends with kitchens and spent yesterday afternoon cooking a bunch of meals to stock my mini fridge for the week. Aside from that, here are some healthy snacks I have discovered you have with just a fridge and a microwave:

Fresh Fruits Vegetables
Apples, bell pepper, carrots, celery, and oranges all last about a week so they are great to have on hand for a quick snack or to grab when you are on your way to class. Adding peanut butter or hummus to your fruits or veggies can make an even more nutritious snack.

Cooked Vegetables
Zucchini, broccoli, and edamame can all be kept in the fridge and cooked in the microwave. Click the names below to find out how to cook them.
Steamed zucchini
Steamed broccoli
Edamame 

Other Options
If you have access to a kitchen or can get them from the dining hall, hard-boiled eggs are a great snack with lots of protein.
Popcorn is also a good microwavable snack if you choose one with light butter and salt.
Yogurt and Oatmeal are not only good for breakfast, but also as an afternoon snack with some berries or granola. Check out my post about my obsession with oatmeal here.

Stay tuned for more of my hotel adventures and healthy microwave meals!

Quinoa Veggie Mix

Rice out, quinoa in. Try this Quinoa Veggie Mix instead of a rice based stir-fry. Before you stop reading and say “I don’t like quinoa”, let me just say that I am not a huge fan of quinoa, and I thought this was delicious! Quinoa packs in lots of protein and fiber to fill you up, so it is a great alternative to nutrient-poor rice.

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The vegetables used in this recipe are some of my favorites but feel free to add any other veggies you may like. The first time I made this recipe, I was startled by the amount of veggies it called for. It seemed like I had mounds of vegetables and little quinoa. Turns out the recipe amounts were just right, so don’t hesitate if it seems like you are cutting lots of veggies.

Quinoa Veggie Mix ntrn facts

The approximate* nutrition facts of one serving are shown here for the ingredients on the recipe. The quinoa I used is Village Harvest Premium Whole Grain Quinoa (pictured here). It is very easy and takes about 20 minutes to cook.

Quinoa

If you want this recipe to have a more “fried rice” feel, you can mix in 3-4 tablespoons of soy sauce at the very end.

Quinoa Veggie Mix

*Nutrition facts will change depending on the brand and exact amounts of ingredients used.