Shirred or baked eggs is one of my favorite ways to cook eggs. Since I’m writing about eggs, I know some of my vegan friends may disown me and brand me an ‘Eggs Benedict Arnold.’ I’m still an ardent supporter of vegetarian and flexitarian diets. These diets are great, but I’ve seen some vegetarians struggle with adequate protein intake.
Some plant-based diets are low in protein—Eggs may help
Just a couple of weeks ago in clinic, I saw a woman losing her hair months after switching over to a protein-deficient, plant-based diet. Eating enough protein was tough for her. She didn’t like eating a lot of beans due to bloating (see my bloating article) and she refused to eat tofu because she thinks it tastes like “dirty sponges soaked in swamp water.” I don’t entirely endorse her tofu opinion, but I get it.
For those who need some variation from plant-based protein sources, the occasional egg is a reasonable addition. Yes, you can scramble tofu to create an egg-like texture, but anyone who believes it’s as good as real eggs either lacks a tongue or believes in ‘alternative facts’ (no disrespect to people who lack tongues).
I know that eggs have become somewhat controversial, so I want to break down the origins of this controversy, health benefits of eggs, and a delicious recipe for shirred (baked) eggs.
What’s up with controversy with eggs and cholesterol?
1968 was a crazy year —Senator Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were both assassinated that year; Star Trek aired America’s first interracial kiss; and the American Heart Association (AHA) essentially claimed that the cholesterol in 3 eggs would clog your heart’s arteries quicker than hairballs clog sinks. Living in those times must have seemed like unbridled insanity. Admittedly the egg concern pales in comparison to the other events, but it’s a concern that persists today.
The original recommendation didn’t specifically call out eggs. The AHA recommended that people should eat more than 10% of their daily calories from saturated fat or 300 mg cholesterol. That recommendation, like most nutrition recommendations, was confusing. So they simplified it by telling people not to eat more than three egg yolks per week (1).
That simplification stuck. The egg industry panicked. For them, this was mass hysteria on biblical proportions.
They spent the next 40 years doing studies to convince people that eating eggs won’t put us in situations in which we’re yelling “Elizabeth” like Redd Foxx on “Sanford and Son.”
The first extensive study vindicating eggs that garnered a significant amount of attention didn’t occur until 1999. That year, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a large study that compared the risk of heart disease from eating eggs in over 117,000 men and women. The study didn’t find a difference in the risk of heart disease from eating one egg per week versus an egg per day (2).
Subsequently, after this study and several others, the AHA eliminated its recommendation for avoiding eggs in their 2002 dietary guidelines. In 2015, the AHA took it a step further by removing the advice to eat less than 300mg of cholesterol per day (3). The newer guidelines encourage “dietary patterns that emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and nuts as an approach to favorably alter blood lipid levels.”
7 Health Benefits of Eggs
- Low in Calories (75 calories per egg)
- 6g of protein per egg
- Cheap and widely available
- Can cause more satiety or fullness compared to other protein sources
- May prevent muscle loss in seniors
- They provide lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that can decrease the risk of macular degeneration
- Eggs are an excellent source of choline, a nutrient required for normal fetal and neonatal brain development (3,4).
Some concerns regarding eggs
Although eggs do have some health benefits, eating them should be in the context of an overall healthy pattern of eating. Eating a dozen eggs every day is probably not what the AHA had in mind when they dropped the egg restriction from their guidelines. Plus, dousing eggs with heaping tablespoons of butter is also probably not the healthiest habit. One of the reasons why I like baking eggs is that you don’t need a lot of extra butter or oil. Another concern is the bacteria Salmonella. Bacteria can quickly multiply in warm, uncooked eggs. As a GI doc, trust me, there’s nothing pretty about food poisoning. Cook your eggs immediately when you take them out of the fridge. Also, keeping them in the refrigerator door puts them at risk for warming up. I recommend putting them in a spot in your fridge that stays consistently cool.
Recipe: Baked or Shirred Eggs with Arugula and Sundried Tomatoes
Baking eggs is a quick and easy recipe anyone can make. The recipe has hundreds of variations, but the foundation is baking the eggs with cream or half and half. To get a serving of veggies, I prefer adding a green leafy vegetable. I sauteed arugula in this case, but baby spinach and kale are both good options. Many baked egg recipes call for baking the eggs with ham or pancetta. In the spirit of being a flexitarian, I held the meat and added sun-dried tomatoes to give a ‘meaty umami’ flavor.
1. McNamara, Donald J. “The Fifty Year Rehabilitation of the Egg.” Nutrients 7.10 (2015): 8716–8722. PMC. Web. 10 Dec. 2017.
2. Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, Manson JE, Ascherio A, Colditz GA, Rosner BA, Spiegelman D, Speizer FE, Sacks FM, Hennekens CH, Willett WC. A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. JAMA.
1999 Apr 21;281(15):1387-94. PubMed PMID: 10217054.
3. Clayton ZS, Fusco E, Kern M. Egg consumption and heart health: A review. Nutrition. 2017 May;37:79-85. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2016.12.014. Epub 2016 Dec 29. Review. PubMed PMID: 28359368.
4. Miranda JM, Anton X, Redondo-Valbuena C, et al. Egg and Egg-Derived Foods: Effects on Human Health and Use as Functional Foods. Nutrients. 2015;7(1):706-729. doi:10.3390/nu7010706.
I am a physician and trained chef. I specialize in gastroenterology and nutrition. Currently I work as the Associate Director of Adult Nutrition at the University of Chicago.