There are times, especially in warmer weather, that I cannot eat animal foods and feel stronger and healthier on raw and sprouted foods. Then, there are times when nothing but the condensed, nourishing energy of an egg will do.
Eggs can be a useful component of a spiritually healthy diet. Eggs stave off hunger, perhaps more than any other food. When we’ve eaten a meal containing eggs, most of us don’t think about eating again for hours.
Both Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and the Lubavitcher Rebbe urged us to eat not to satisfy desire/lust for food (or mere hunger). We should keep in mind that we eat to give us the energy to live a live filled with good deeds. Breslov Chassidus teaches us that controlling one’s urges and desires for food, raises one up, spiritually.
The laws of procuring, cooking and eating kosher food require us to eat with restraint. The blessings we make on the foods we eat, aside from their spiritual, mystic purposes, also help us take a step back from gluttony: We slow down, concentrate, and eat with our brains, not just our mouths.
I’m sure of one thing: As the world moves closer to the truth, even the most rock-solid facts seem to be open to interpretation. Different dietary approaches work differently for different people. And sometimes, different dietary approaches work well for the same people at different points in time.
But, the egg is elemental. It’s the nuclear bomb of food. It contains concentrated, powerful, warming nourishment which increases growth and strengthens. For some, it’s the perfect food for mind and body, and our tradition shows it’s value when it comes to soulful matters of religion and spirituality, too.
Kosher, Mystic, Delicious Eggs
The Torah offers detailed requirements on the kashrus of eggs.
1. Eggs must be pointy at one end, round at the other in order to be kosher.
2. You may only eat eggs from kosher birds. (Chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, doves, pigeons.)
3. Fish eggs are kosher if they are from kosher fish. Real caviar, from the sturgeon, is not kosher.
4. If you are boiling eggs in the shell, you must boil three at a time, minimum. Many people only boil eggs in odd numbers—but always a minimum of three. This has to do with laws related to blood spots in eggs, too complicated to go into here. Meanwhile, I only boil eggs in the shells that are from rooster-free coops or pens.
5. Eggs must be checked for blood spots. Crack open an egg in a glass cup or bowl, hold it up to the light and inspect it from every angle. If there is a spot of blood in the yolk, you have to toss the egg (and wash the cup in cold water with soap right away). If there is a spot of blood in the white, you should ask a rabbi if this disqualifies the egg. Some say you can scoop out that blood spot and eat the rest of the egg. But most people are more stringent. Not only are we forbidden to eat blood, we are also forbidden to eat an embryo, which is what a blood spot is (often the early stages in the development of embryos.)
6. Eggs, onions, and garlic are three foods that may not be peeled (or cracked open), and left overnight, even refrigerated. Both raw and cooked eggs qualify. There is a spirit of impurity, a negative energy that descends on these substances. Those who argue that this doesn’t qualify today as there is no proof that this impurity can harm your health are completely missing the point: this is a spiritual energy. Just as we know that prayer helps bring forth positive energies from G-d that can improve health the Torah teaches that there are negative spiritual energies that can affect us in a less-than-positive manner.
7. Eggs have a special status and history in Jewish lore and custom. For example, eggs are a food of mourning (they represent the cycle of birth, life, and death, for starters) which we consume before the fast of Tisha B’av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. They are essential on the Pesach (Passover) seder plate and are the first course served, dipped in salt water to represent tears, at the festive Seder dinner. Virtually all Jews from every background, European, Middle-eastern, African, Indian, and so on consume boiled eggs on Shabbos (Shabbat.)
Can Eggs Be A Part of A Healthy Diet?
Yes, for many of us.
Energy powerhouses, eggs are mute witnesses to the incredible internal processes that ignite the first spark of life.
Eggs contain riboflavin, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and are a good source of selenium. Also, eggs contain plenty of Vitamins A and D. A nice dose of iron, too. Egg yolks contain lecithin, a unique type of fat loaded with choline, phospholipids, and fatty acids. And eggs contain concentrated proteins and beneficial fats.
Egg yolks also contain cholesterol. But cholesterol in eggs does not raise blood cholesterol levels in everyone. Really. In fact, for most people, the lecithin in eggs inhibits the absorption of cholesterol—kind of like a cholesterol-umbrella.
Sugar (especially fructose) seems to be one of the main blood-cholesterol raising culprits; also, a nutrient-deficient diet may cause very high blood-cholesterol (plus, genetics can be a big factor.) Trans fats, too, raise blood-cholesterol.
I’m sure the jury is still out on whether or not too much saturated fat is a problem (yes, egg yolks do contain saturated fat.) In fact, there is compelling evidence that saturated fats may not be the problem we thought they were, though perhaps we really have to distinguish between medium-chain and long-chain saturated fatty acids.
(The Weston Price Foundation offers some useful FAQs on the topic of cholesterol.)
One can actually have overly low cholesterol levels. And not all cholesterols are created equal, some cholesterols are necessary. You also should know that one day you’re doctor is going to have to admit it: what was once defined as high cholesterol does not actually cause heart disease! It is only super-high levels that are problematic.
Ratio is important, and so is the size of the cholesterol molecules you produce.
In the past decade or so, science has nearly caught up with whole-foods nutrition in regards to eggs. Studies have shown that eating eggs actually increases HDL, the good cholesterol in the blood. Also, around 70 percent of people who eat three or more eggs a day may actually have stronger cholesterol-fighting powers than those who don’t. About 30 percent of the population has a overly-strong cholesterol response to eating eggs.
To which group do you belong? It might be a case of trial and error. Eat eggs and get tested. It also might be as obvious as your genes, so see if your parents or grandparents will share some of their medical records with you.
One of the things that has always seemed creepy to me: egg white omelettes. Egg whites contain no fat and almost no carbohydrates. They are rich in protein, minerals and vitamins. But please, unless you have a compelling reason, don’t eat egg whites alone—in the egg in its entirety, G-d created one of the most perfect foods. A whole egg is an important source of so many nutrients. It is easy to cook, eat, and for most people, easy to digest. It’s the kind of whole-food that benefits growing and developing children, the frail and elderly, as well as marathon runners.
Of course, everyone’s different. Personally, when I am very physically active I enjoy eating eggs; I find they disagree with me when I’m not exerting a lot of physical energy (now that I live in the city, and am indoors a lot, I eat them much less frequently). Also, even when active, one egg is more than enough for me. But most people feel satisfied when they eat two or more.
What Kind of Eggs Should You Eat?
If you eat eggs, try to buy naturally pasteured eggs, those from chickens that peck and eat greens and take in small insects. These chickens also get a supplemental diet of grains; if the supplemental diet is high in flax seeds, fish meal or marine algae, the overall Omega 3 profile will increase.
The Omega 3s most of us need to get more of in our diets are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) which are found in fish and some marine algae (as well as some insects.) The other Omega 3, ALA, is found in flax and chia seeds; most of us health-conscious eaters already have ALA in abundance. (There are other Omega 3s, too, by the way, but we don’t know as much about the role they play in our health, yet.)
We really need DHA (and EPA). There’s a reason fish is called brain food, it’s high in DHA, (which fish ingest when they eat plankton) and which is a major component of the human brain and eye. As far as I know, plankton is not kosher*, and therefore we cannot ingest it directly.
DHA helps lower triglycerides and may even prevent Alzheimer’s. There’s also evidence it helps lessen symptoms of ADHD and seems to help fight symptoms of some emotional problems including depression (so does EPA). Today, vegetarians can benefit from marine algae sources of DHA but consistently potent sources of vegan DHA are usually only found in supplements. Supplementing with DHA however may cause stomach upset, nausea and other side-effects. It is absolutely best to get this nutrient via the food you eat.
Egg Allergies and Intolerances
Most designer-egg layers are fed soy (oy), wheat, and flax seeds which primarily raises the ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) Omega 3 content. ALA is an anti-inflammatory but some studies suggest it’s main role is as a precursor to DHA and EPA: the body converts it to these two, Omega 3, powerhouses. It is far more efficient to eat foods containing high levels of DHA and EPA. That being said, we still do not know all the benefits of ALA so it’s a good idea to eat a variety of foods containing essential fatty acids in general (nuts, seeds, fish, leafy greens, some beans), and the Omega 3s specifically in fish, eggs, chia seeds, flax.
And regular old laying hens that produce supermarket eggs? Well, their diets may include: soy (oy) and sometimes, soy oil; corn; wheat; oyster shells…do you see a pattern here?
Soy, corn, wheat, shellfish are some of the top allergenic foods. (Chickens also usually get liver and fish meal). Soy and wheat especially.
Still, whoever heard of people having egg allergies until after hens started to be factory farmed and not allowed to scratch and peck? Sure, farmers have always supplemented chickens’ diets, usually with grains including wheat, barley, dried corn, and even oyster shells. But today’s wheat is much, much higher in gluten. And soy intolerance is near-epidemic.
Does this really translate to allergies when people consume the eggs of chickens which eat soy and wheat? I’m not a biologist but it’s common knowledge that what an animal is fed and whether or not they graze or feed in the wild, changes, often drastically, the nutritional profile of chicken meat and eggs, beef, and fish.
But does this mean that the food that chickens eat translates to allergies in susceptible people?
My thoughts: I don’t know anyone who eats or switches to a peck-and-scratch chickens that has an egg allergy. However, I’ve seen many people’s low-level allergy-like symptoms (rashes, hives, itching, stomach ache and digestive symptoms, mental fogginess/inability to concentrate), especially children, clear up when eliminating supermarket eggs from the diet, whether or not they’re replaced with nourishing pasteured eggs.
It’s true that for some children and adults, eliminating supermarket dairy and gluten-containing foods also can have a major impact on a variety of symptoms that seem to stump dermatologists, gastroenterologists, and psychologists.
If you eat eggs or if you’d like to try eating eggs, I recommend only using real eggs from truly free-range chickens. Sure, it would be great if you could control their grain intake, perhaps millet would be a top choice. But eggs from chickens that get microalgae and are allowed to scratch (and consume greens and bugs in the process) are available at better natural foods’ stores and many farmers’ markets. What’s really neat is that insects actually contain DHA and EPA.
Then there are designer eggs, which are sort of six of one, half dozen of the other. These are eggs labeled “organic” or “cage free” or “Omega 3”. They are more expensive than supermarket eggs, and are only slightly better.
Free-roaming or cage-free chickens are not really free range or pasteured. These birds are kept inside in barns, which may have a concrete floors, and they never get to see the light of day until they are brought to slaughter.
Some are fed vitamin or fat-enhanced feed so the cartons can say: Vitamin D Eggs! Vitamin E Eggs! Omega 3 Eggs! But they are usually high in ALA Omega 3 fat because they are fed flax meal, not micro-algae. Flax makes the yolks a richer yellow and more appealing.
So let’s say you think it’d be a good idea to eat nutrition-packed pasteured eggs. How often should you do so? Context is everything. It depends on your health, weight, and so on.
Still, I wouldn’t worry about eating 7 eggs or even more a week if you feel fine when you do so. You can always get tested to see if you are a cholesterol hyper-responder, though (I can’t eat so many, they are simply too rich for me, but I do like them occasionally). Personally, I like eggs poached or scrambled the French way which produces small, creamy curds. Remember, use pasteured eggs when you need eggs as an ingredient, too.
The Color of Eggs
Take a look at my photo. The egg yolk on the left is from a well-known cage-free chicken farm which does feed the chickens organic feed. However, the chickens aren’t free-range and the taste and nutrients (and color) simply doesn’t compare with the pasteured egg on the right. Regular supermarket eggs are an anemic-butter color by comparison.
*Update: Plankton, of which there are tens of thousands of varieties, are crustaceans. It took me a while to make the time to look this up. Copepods, which are tiny, but visible crustaceans that fall within the category of plankton, are a problem for us New Yorkers since crustaceans are not kosher. We filter our tap water and/or buy bottled water. It is so fascinating, a part of the world teaming with tiny creatures we rarely if ever think about. Surely, if G-d created them, they have a purpose.
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