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COLUMN: Who says eating eggs is necessarily bad for you?

Eggs can be a perfectly healthy food to enjoy, as long as they're consumed in moderation.

EGGS, ONCE knocked for their cholesterol levels, are finding their way back into the good graces of some nutrition experts. Compared to meats, eggs are a budget-friendly source of satisfying protein and choline.

They’re also easier on the environment and very quick to cook.

Eggs used to be off-limits for people with high cholesterol levels. An egg yolk contains about 200 milligrams of cholesterol, which is the limit for anyone with high cholesterol or heart problems, according to the American Heart Association.

But it turns out that cholesterol levels in the blood are more affected by the fat we eat than the cholesterol we eat. In countries throughout the European Union, as well as Korea, India, Canada and New Zealand, cardiologists no longer recommend restricting cholesterol in foods at all.

While a small subset of people may have a genetic susceptibility to the cholesterol in eggs, called familial hypercholesterolemia, moderate amounts of eggs do not seem to raise cholesterol levels for most people. That’s because most of the cholesterol in the blood is essentially homemade: our livers make cholesterol to transport trans fats and saturated fats around the bloodstream. Eggs do contain some saturated fat, so it’s not advisable to eat tons of eggs every day, but occasional eggs seem benign for most people.

In fact, the Harvard Egg Study of about 120,000 people showed that even those who ate an egg a day did not have a higher risk of heart attack or stroke. That led the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to conclude that consuming one egg daily doesn’t hurt your cholesterol or triglyceride levels.

The exception may be for people with diabetes. For them, eating an egg a day was linked to a 69 percent higher risk of heart disease, according to research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

EASY PROTEIN

An egg has about 6 grams of protein, the same as about an ounce of meat, chicken or fish. Modern eggs are usually unfertilized, meaning that no baby chicken was forming, which is a bonus for people who are concerned about animals. Getting pastured, free-range, organic eggs is even better, making it more likely that the egg-laying hens were treated humanely.

SAFELY SAUCY EGGS

Egg lovers usually fall into two camps—those who like their egg yolks cooked hard, and those who love the rich sauciness of a less-cooked yolk. However, with concerns about salmonella and other food-borne bacteria, many hospitals refuse to serve eggs that are even slightly saucy, and some restaurant menus have eat-at-your-own-risk warnings about runny egg yolks.

Because I fall into the saucy camp myself, I’ve done a little research on how to cook eggs safely.

However you like your eggs, be sure to keep them in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them, and promptly refrigerate any leftovers.

Clearly the easiest and safest methods of cooking eggs are hard-boiling, scrambling until dry, frying an omelet until it is dry or baking quiches until the temperature in the center reads at least 160 degrees.

Government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration still recommend cooking eggs until the yolks are “firm.”

However, some groups say slightly saucier eggs are safe. Runny eggs are out, but thickened (not hard) yolks are safe. “Fried eggs should be cooked until the whites are completely set and the yolk is thickened but not hard,” according to the Egg Safety Center’s Web site.

“For classic poached eggs, cook gently in simmering water until the whites are completely set and the yolks begin to thicken but are not hard.” It often takes just 5 minutes of simmering to reach that point.

Popular in delicacies such as eggs Benedict, poached eggs have a place at the dinner table, too.

Poached eggs pair particularly well with greens. Try sautéing kale with garlic, lemon zest and pepper. Mound a bit of the kale on a plate and top it with a poached egg for some saucy protein. Round out the meal with some whole-grain toast or fresh orange wedges.

Eggs are simple and delicious!

Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now lives in Wisconsin. She welcomes reader questions via her website, brighteating.com, or by email at healthyliving@freelancestar.com.

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