For nutrient density and appetite control that lasts all day, it's tough to beat … er, top … an egg.
"From a fitness standpoint, they're one of the perfect foods: It's an encapsulated source of very high-quality protein and very high-quality fat," says certified strength and conditioning specialist Jared Meachem of Precision Body Designs in Louisiana.
And unlike many foods, your body can use almost all of the egg's protein and fat, says Jim White, a registered dietitian in Virginia Beach, Va., and a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association. The biological value of eggs -- how much of the food's nutrients the body can put to work -- is 94 percent, he says. That extends to other nutrients, too: Though eggs have fewer heart disease-fighting carotenoids than carrots, the fat in the egg yolk makes them more bioavailable -- so your body can absorb more of the antioxidant from eggs than from the orange stuff.
They keep you thin, too: In a study from the "International Journal of Obesity," men who had eggs for breakfast lost 65 percent more weight than those dieters who didn't get crackin'.
All of which begs the question: Why are we only eating them for breakfast? Outside of having them hard-boiled in a salad or as a standalone snack, this incredible food isn't being eaten much beyond the most important meal.
No more. Those little white muscle-builders can be more than just part of a scrambled, metabolism-boosting breakfast.
You can be a chef your whole life and never make a sauce as good as the yolk of an egg.
Jeffrey Saad, host of 'The United Tastes of America' on the Cooking Channel, and a spokesman for the National Egg Board
At Lunch: Pump Up Your Pasta or Rice
Move scrambled eggs from your breakfast plate to midday by stirring them into noodle dishes like pad Thai, says Marie Simmons, author of cookbooks including "The Good Egg: More than 200 Fresh Approaches from Soup to Dessert" and "Fresh & Fast Vegetarian."
The addition of the scrambles adds muscle-building protein, filling fat and, when cooked hot enough, a bit of crunch to the dish.
An egg with a runny yolk is perfect for stir fries, says Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of "A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family."
Place a fried egg on top of a serving of rice, and then add the stir-fried vegetables on top of that -- the yolk runs through the rice and vegetables, creating a savory, flavorful sauce.
"I literally boil spaghetti, touch it with olive oil and black pepper, and crack an egg on top," says chef Jeffrey Saad, host of "The United Tastes of America" on the Cooking Channel, and a spokesman for the National Egg Board. "The yolk kind of coats the noodles, and it's like an instant Alfredo." To complete the dish, add some chopped garlic and tomatoes or other spices and ingredients of your choice.
Afternoon Snack: Stir It Into Soup
Create a simple, two-minute soup with this childhood favorite from Simmons: Boil a mugful of chicken broth, then add a little grated parmesan and beat in an egg. The egg will cook into strings of protein that turn broth into a filling, protein-packed soup while adding just 70 calories to the cup.
Tan also stirs egg into soups and stews, but suggests a different method: Add them hard-boiled.
"Toward the end of cooking [a stew or braised meat dish], add in some whole, hard-boiled eggs," she says. In five to 10 minutes, the egg white will absorb the colors and flavors of the stew, turning a chocolate brown. "They take on the taste of the stew, and you can eat them with the braised beef or pork."
At Happy Hour: Make Your Dips Fill You Faster
Meachem says eggs can be a transition from unhealthy, sugar-laden fare to healthier choices. And they can even make indulgent choices -- like tortilla chips with salsa or guacamole -- more filling and nutrient-dense.
"It makes sense; you'll see a lot of omelets with avocado in them," he says. Reverse the trend by adding chopped hard-boiled pieces to guacamole and salsa, upping the dip's protein while also filling you faster with the yolk's fats. And that fat has an added bonus that's worth mentioning again: The antioxidants in tomatoes, including carotenoids, become more bioavailable in the presence of fat.
This can work for an otherwise vegetarian, dinner, too: "The other night I had a whole dinner of steamed asparagus, boiled potatoes, herby green salsa and chopped, boiled eggs," says Simmons.
After Your Workout: Use Them in a Smoothie
For a clean, post-workout choice, skip the yolk and enjoy the nearly calorie-free protein source in the whites, suggests the American Dietetic Association's White. Each egg white has just 15 calories and 3.5 g of protein, and the egg whites in cartons is perfect in a smoothie, he says.
To use them this way, mix some vanilla protein powder with half a cup of pasteurized egg whites from a carton -- if they're pasteurized, you won't need to cook them. Mix in some skim milk with some cranberries, and blend for a post-workout smoothie.
At Dinner: Create an Instant Sauce
The yellow's not all bad, though. "You can be a chef your whole life, and never make a sauce as good as the yolk of an egg," says Saad. He lets the yolk run down sandwiches, bruschettas, meatloafs and sloppy joes -- using fried eggs or simple, pan-poached offerings.
To poach an egg easily with this method, the chef says, bring a small amount of water to a boil in a shallow pan. Crack an egg into the water, then turn the heat to low. In about three minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove the egg and add to your sandwich -- think a BLET -- or other sauce-worthy meal.
For grilled vegetables, Saad creates a simple, butter-free hollandaise sauce without butter: Puree a few hard-boiled egg yolks with a small amount of water to create a rich topping that will make your side dish more fulfilling.
Recipes to Try
Skillet-baked Eggs with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes (Recipe adapted from "Fresh & Fast Vegetarian: Recipes That Make a Meal " by Marie Simmons-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt April 2011)
Cook Time: 15 minutes Serves: 2 to 4
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, stems removed ½ cup thin-slivered onion 1 garlic clove, grated 2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil, cilantro or dill ½ tsp. coarse salt Freshly ground black pepper 4 large eggs ¾ cup shredded cheese (see headnote)
Heat a large skillet until it is hot enough to sizzle and evaporate a drop of water. Add the oil and tilt the pan to coat. Add the tomatoes and cook over high heat, stirring, until blistered and softened, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the tomatoes are juicy, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, basil, salt and a generous grinding of black pepper.
- Break an egg into a small cup. Make an indentation in the sizzling tomatoes with a spoon and slip the egg into the indentation. Repeat with the remaining 3 eggs. Sprinkle the cheese on top. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the eggs are set, about 5 minutes. Use a spatula or wide spoon to scoop out servings of eggs and tomatoes.