Eggs are one of the more nutrient-rich sources of protein you can eat, offering a healthy dose of several vitamins and minerals. There are so many ways to prepare them, but the way you cook eggs can affect their nutrition.
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Eggs are chock-full of protein and healthy fats, plus they offer choline, B vitamins, vitamin D, dietary cholesterol, zinc, and iron, all of which have their own benefits for your health.
That's why it's important to cook eggs in a way that preserves — or even enhances — their nutritional profile.
How Cooking Eggs Affects Nutrition
The process of cooking eggs makes the nutrients in them, especially protein, more bioavailable, according to January 2013 research in The Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition.
In other words, cooking your eggs makes it so your body can absorb and utilize more of the protein and vitamins. Cooking also helps lower your risk of becoming sick from bacteria like salmonella, according to the USDA.
That said, too much heat can damage the cholesterol in eggs and cause it to oxidize into oxysterols, which have been linked to conditions like cancer, according to June 2018 research in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism.
"The healthiest way to eat eggs would be using high-enough heat to kill pathogenic bacteria, but not too high as to reduce nutrients or cause cholesterol oxidation," says Anya Rosen, RD, LD, CPT, dietitian and founder of Birchwell. "Oxysterols have been linked to increased disease risk. Plus, cooking eggs with high heat can damage beneficial antioxidants, like vitamin A, which help fight oxidative damage in the body."
So, think of cooking eggs like the Goldilocks phenomenon: we want some heat, but not too much. Using a "low-and-slow" cooking method will cook eggs just right for these conditions to be met.
The Healthiest Way to Cook Eggs
Poached eggs are one of the healthiest ways to eat them because you're heating them up but not harming any of the nutrients, Rosen says.
"Poached eggs are cooked in simmering water for a few minutes, just long enough to cook the whites while leaving a slightly runny yolk," Rosen explains. And this low-and-slow method, she says, is ideal.
Other Healthy Ways to Eat Eggs
Outside of poached eggs, there are a variety of other cooking methods for eggs, and some may be more beneficial than others. The way you serve your eggs also matters, as it will either add to or take away from the nutritional value of your breakfast.
Scrambled eggs are served by slowly scraping a skillet with a spatula to form soft egg curds until the end result is light and fluffy. Scrambled eggs are usually cooked over low heat, which helps preserve the nutrients.
That said, they are traditionally made with butter or oil, which may raise the calories and fat.
When cooking boiled eggs, you can make the yolks soft or hard by boiling them for more or less time. Soft-boiled eggs take about 6 minutes and hard-boiled eggs take 10 to 12 minutes. The whites cook faster than the yolks, so the yolks need more time to boil all the way through.
Boiled eggs are a convenient protein to serve as a part of meals or snacks. They also have no added fat from cooking oils, which makes them a nutritious choice.
Heating methods like boiling eggs are considered safer than leaving the yolks uncooked like soft-boiled eggs due to lower Salmonella risk, according to the FDA.
Some antioxidants and vitamin A are lost when boiling eggs, but overall, hard-boiled eggs are considered a nutritious choice.
Baked eggs can be served with a hard or runny yolk depending on your preferences. They cook for a range of 10 to 12 minutes depending on how runny you like them.
Baked eggs can be served with veggies baked into the eggs or on the side for a healthy breakfast. This low-and-slow cooking makes nutrients bioavailable and easy to absorb.
Traditionally a French dish, omelets are made with whisked eggs and butter until they are light and fluffy. Omelets are easy to add filling and nutritious ingredients or toppings like veggies, salsa, hot sauce and cilantro for a nutrient-rich breakfast. Just be sure not to use high heat when cooking them.
Fried eggs are cooked on a hot skillet, usually with oil or butter, and can be made with a runny yolk or cooked all the way through.
Fried eggs are delicious, but this cooking method uses high heat and may damage the nutrients like cholesterol and vitamin A in the yolk if the pan is too hot.
Healthy Cooking Tips or Eggs
Cooking healthy eggs is simple with these expert-approved suggestions.
Use Oils That Can Withstand High Temperatures
Rosen's number one tip for making eggs healthier is being mindful of the cooking oil that you use. "It is best to choose heat-stable oils for cooking eggs, like avocado oil or ghee," she says.
Oils with low smoke points, such as butter or extra-virgin olive oil, are not best to use when you're cooking fried eggs or using other high-heat cooking methods, as the fats will degrade and oxidize.
All oils are susceptible to breaking down at high temperatures. Try these oils when using
- Coconut oil: Cooking with exta virgin coconut oil is great when cooking at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Use it if you're baking eggs in the oven, scrambling them, or making omelets. Refined coconut oil has a higher smoke point at 450 F and is better for higher temperature methods like frying. (If you have high cholesterol, check with your doctor before adding coconut oil to your diet, as it's high in saturated fat).
- Avocado oil: This plant based oil has one of the highest smoke points of about 520 F, avocado oil can be used for nearly all types of cooking methods. Use it when pan frying, scrambling, baking or making omelets with eggs.
- Ghee: Clarifying butter to create ghee involves removing the milk fat, which raises the smoke point of the oil to 480 F. It's perfect for pan-frying, scrambling, baking or omelets.
Choose Nutritious Toppings
Choosing toppings that are low in calories and sodium is important when it comes to preparing healthy eggs. Pairing eggs with veggies or a serving with side of whole-grain toast or oatmeal is a great way to up the nutrient value of your breakfast.
Fix up an omelet with toppings like salsa, hot sauce, low-fat cheese or sour cream, and fresh herbs like cilantro are all easy ways to add more flavor to your eggs without adding a ton of extra calories, fat, and salt.
Use a Cast Iron Skillet
Using cast iron skillets for cooking can increase iron in our diet. Cooking with cast iron transfers some of the iron from the skillet to the food cooked in it, which may benefit those with iron deficiency and conditions like anemia.
Cast iron skillets are incredibly versatile and can be used in the oven, on the stove, or on the grill. Pairing meals cooked in a cast iron skillet with high-vitamin C foods (think freshly-sliced baby tomatoes or a side of juicy orange quarters) may help you absorb more iron.