Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Eggs – Fact and Fiction

by Spencer Ward on May 25, 2012

The very mention on eggs in boxing circles immediately brings to mind the unforgettable image of Rocky Balboa dragging himself out of bed, standing in the light of his refrigerator, while he chugged down a glass of raw eggs.  Although that scene was memorable and enticed countless fighters to take up his protein-filled “caveman shake”, it doesn’t come close to telling the whole story of what role that egg can really play in boxing.

Recently I wrote a post about the importance of protein and the benefits/downfalls of getting it from meat sources. However I don’t feel that provides the whole story. Originally I wanted to include eggs because I think they are such a great, versatile food but, unfortunately, they don’t fall under the “meat” category so I had to leave them out.  Since I put the proverbial chicken before the egg in my original article, I’d like to back-track just a bit and pay a special homage to this amazing super food and its numerous benefits.

Eggs have received a bad rap in the past. They were believed, by some researchers, to be loaded with saturated fat and a contributor to heart disease. This could not be further from the truth. Yes, it is true that fats from animals contain cholesterol, but it’s not something that’s going to harm you. There is actually evidence that clearly shows that eggs are one of the healthiest foods available and may even help prevent heart disease. A study from 2009 shows that proteins coming from eggs were converted into gastrointestinal enzymes, producing peptides that act as ACE inhibitors (a component found in common prescription medications for lowering blood pressure). These findings certainly don’t support the theory that cholesterol from eggs causes hearth disease. And even though egg yolks do have relatively high amounts of cholesterol, there have been a number of studies showing that eggs themselves have nothing to do with raising cholesterol.

Eggs are a great source of protein and healthy fat, but most people are not aware that they are also a source of health-promoting antioxidants. They contain two amino acids with potent antioxidant properties, which is important for preventing cancer and cardiovascular disease. These two antioxidants are Tryptophan and Tyrosine. Tryptophan is an important precursor to the brain chemical serotonin, which helps regulate your mood, and tyrosine synthesizes two key neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine, which promote alertness and mental activity. There’s no question that when you’re in the ring, being on your game and at your mental best is as important as being at your physical best.

As always, much of the protein, fat, and nutrients you get are dependent on the quality of eggs you get. Ideally you want free-range or “pastured” organic eggs, which are far better in nutrient content. Eggs are considered organicif the chicken was fed organic food, which will mean it won’t have high levels of pesticides coming from the horrible food (genetically modified corn) most chickens are fed. In 2007 Mother Earth News compared the official U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrient data for commercial eggs with eggs from hens raised organically and found that the organic pasture eggs contained:

  • 7 times more beta carotene
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 2/3 more vitamin A

These results prove that nutrient levels in organic eggs clearly outweigh conventional eggs.

Aside from the nutrient content, I personally love eggs because I feel that they are an extremely versatile food that can be eaten at any time of day, not just breakfast. They can be poached, boiled, scrambled or fried to fit your personal preference. They also cook quickly and, with a little practice, are very easy to make. You can toss a few beaten ones in with some pasta and veggies to make a healthy meal. Roll them in a burrito, stir them into a hot soup, or use them as a topping to your favorite sandwich. They are a great source of quick energy and substance on the way to the gym or a great dose of protein immediately after your workout. Plus, if you happen to be steering clear of meat, eggs are a great replacement for it in many recipes.

If you are a real champ and want to eat ‘em Rocky style (raw), there may be more of a benefit to them than you think. I can hear it now.  “What about salmonella poisoning?” This question points back again to the quality of your eggs and where you get them from. The salmonella risk is much higher when the hens are raised in unsanitary conditions, which is rare in organic farming. In most organic farming conditions you will find spacious coops, access to sunlight, and forage areas for natural food. Conventional eggs have a much higher risk of salmonella. A study by the British government found that 23 percent of farms with caged hens tested positive for salmonella, compared to 6.5 percent in range-free flocks and 4 percent in organic flocks. The main reason for eating them raw would be that cooking often destroys many of the nutrients. So if you’re feeling brave and want to get 100% of the nutrient value from your eggs, it is an option, but definitely not for those who are uncomfortable letting them ooze down your throat.

In my opinion, eggs are an affordable, nutrient dense, protein packed super food that should be utilized by every fighter. Your diet is a critical part of your training, health and livelihood. You always have to be on the lookout as to how it can be improved or tweaked to give you that extra edge you deserve. So take a look at your current diet and see where you’re getting the bulk of your proteins, fats, and nutrients from. A quick trip to your local farmers market or Whole Foods could provide you with that much-needed dietary boost. Be open to the possibilities, keep laying the foundation and maybe someday soon the ultimate fighter in you will hatch.

Spencer Ward is a Nutritionist with the Acupuncture Center in Overland Park KS.

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