Is there a best way to cook an egg? If you’ve ever wondered how to cook eggs to maximize nutrition, you’re in the right spot. When you are cooking eggs there is definitely a hierarchy to extracting and preserving nutrients and making the egg as nutritious as it can be.
Now that you’re an expert on where to get your eggs from, this article introduces some guiding principles for making the most of your eggs, then recommends several of the most nutritious ways to eat them.
Before you run out and add eggs to every meal, though, make sure you’re not exceeding the recommended protein intake that fits in with your macros. If you’re not sure, make sure to use a keto macro calculator to figure out how much you should be eating. Too much protein can kick you out of ketosis.
HEATING IS DESTRUCTIVE
Applying heat to good food is a naturally destructive process. The chemistry of heating foods looks a lot like unwinding molecules, for better or for worse. In vegetables, heat can break down cell walls to sometimes help make nutrients more accessible to your gut. In egg whites, the proteins become denatured, which essentially means unwound, to become slightly more bioavailable. A potentially problematic protein called avidin is also destroyed (this is a good thing). Thus, heating egg whites is generally beneficial. The yolks, however, would do better with less heat, because heat damages fats and vital nutrients inside.
YOLKS VS WHITES
An upcoming post will highlight the wonders of the egg yolk, but the short story is this: the yolk is the most nutritious part of the egg. This is even more true when your eggs come from the proper source. Pastured egg yolks are some of the best sources of fats and proteins and are one of the most nutrient dense foods you can find. Eat the yolk, it will not kill you.
OXIDATION OF FAT
Yes, the yolks have fat and cholesterol. This does NOT mean that eggs are bad for you. As stated before, heating is destructive. Many good fats that are all the rage (e.g. olive oil) oxidize and become less beneficial, and even harmful, with too much heat (hint: don’t cook with olive oil). The same is true for egg yolks. In short, yolks are best if left uncooked and should also be protected from heating in the presence of oxygen (air) for as long as possible. Just as heating curls up the proteins in the egg whites, too much heat can curl up the fats in the egg yolks which can lead to somewhat sticky fats your body can’t utilize fully. The presence of oxygen accelerates this destructive process while heating.
BEST TO WORST WAYS HOW TO COOK EGGS FOR MAXIMUM NUTRITION:
1. SOFT BOILED
We’ll start out with the best way how to cook eggs for nutrition: soft boiled. This is when you boil an egg, but it is still a little runny and the yolk is definitely not hard. It might take a little more work than other methods, but soft boiled eggs are much healthier and quite tasty.
Soft boiled is the ultimate way to cook an egg because the fats and nutrients in the yolk essentially have three protective layers from oxidation – the water, eggshell, and egg white. This way, all of the good stuff in the egg yolk is maximally preserved. If done correctly, this is a very quick and easy way to cook your eggs as well. The whites are cooked enough for best protein utilization and removal of avidin. Most people don’t even consider this option, but soft boiling can easily substitute any morning egg routine and the yolks remain creamier and thicker than pan-frying.
The easiest (and lowest heat method) way to do this actually is by using a sous vide machine. If you don’t have one, just get an immersion cooker. I use the one from Nomiku. All you have to do is fill a pot with water, stick the immersion cooker in and set to 145F and let your eggs cook for anywhere between 10-40 minutes. Check out the guide at Serious Eats on how to sous vide an egg perfectly.
Next up on the healthiest ways to cook an egg: poached. This technique is not for the timid, though, and can be quite a pain. If you’ve never done this before, expect to go through a few eggs in the process.
A personal favorite for flavor, but also the most annoying to make. While the egg yolk remains submerged in water and covered mostly by the white, you’re losing that protective shell layer. Scooping the egg out of water is just slightly more inconvenient than having to peel the shell off the soft boiled. Of course, the dish most commonly associated with poached eggs is eggs benedict (my recipe here), however poached eggs can be served without the hollandaise as a replacement for other eggs, just as soft boiled can.
I guess this isn’t a way how you can cook an egg, but you can eat it this way. This option is slightly less favorable to poached and soft boiled because the protein utilization from the white is slightly less. However, raw is by far the best way to eat the yolks. While I fully recommend going to town on egg yolks, don’t go too crazy on whole raw eggs (or the whites, rather) as the egg whites contain a protein called avidin. Avidin binds to an important B vitamin called biotin and can cause some serious problems in certain individuals.
If you’re opposed to drinking raw yolks or a few raw whole eggs straight out of the glass, put them in a smoothie. Just make sure you put them in at the very end and fold them in for a few seconds to reduce the oxidative stress from chopping the fats up to very small particles and exposing them to oxygen.
And no, raw eggs will not kill you. Don’t worry. You can also check out more from Raw Paleo Melissa who has an excellent write up here.
4. HARD BOILED
Hard boiled eggs are a classic example of a cooked egg. You can easily get these on the go, in cafeterias, airports, and even at gas stations. Hard boiled eggs are not at the very top of our list of how to cook eggs for maximal nutrition, however they can still be ridiculously healthy.
We still have those three protective layers we were talking about earlier, however this time the yolk reaches a higher temperature and begins the destructive process discussed above. Because the yolk isn’t exposed to oxygen, the destruction is limited. This way of eating eggs is sometimes more convenient, although it’s harder to replace entire meals with just hard boiled eggs.
5. SUNNY SIDE UP
All of the direct cooking is on the bottom of the egg and the yolk stays fairly preserved in this method. However, you’re losing the protective water coating, making the above forms of cooking preferable.
One of the best ways to cook a sunny side up egg if you’re going to do it is with the lowest possible heat. The lower the heat, the less oxidation of the fats, and the healthier the egg will be for you when you cook it. This is what is known as an “emoji egg”, you know the perfect egg image in the skillet. Check out this quick video on how you can easily make an emoji egg at Chef Steps. If you don’t want to click through, you basically just turn the heat on as low as possible, add a little fat, and wait for the egg to cook.
6. OVER EASY
This is the same as sunny side up, but the egg is effectively exposed to heat and oxygen on both sides of the egg. The yolk is directly exposed to high heat on both sides as well, increasing the loss of the precious nutrients in the egg yolk and making the fat less beneficial. Also, you are making the inexorable choice to pop the yolk when flipping. This way you won’t be able to get Instagram worthy photos. Rookie mistake.
Over hard isn’t mentioned here because it is the same thing as over easy, but cooked even more – therefore worse for you. You want them yolks raw, people! Count over hard eggs as number 6.5 on this list.
Scrambling the eggs is essentially mixing up the fats and proteins and directly exposing them to heat and oxygenation over and over. Avoid this if you are eating conventional feedlot eggs. (Did you forget how to source your eggs? Read here!) The fats in conventional eggs are already pro-inflammatory – they do not need to be oxidized further. Not nearly as big of a deal from pastured chickens, but still the worst way to cook eggs because it involves more opportunity to oxidize the fats and cholesterol, making them potentially detrimental to your health instead of beneficial.
So should you be eating egg white omelets? No. The yolk is still far and away the best part of the egg and NOT bad for you. Just spring for the better options of preparation listed above if you have a choice.
So there are the best ways how to cook eggs if you’re interested in maximizing the amazing health benefits! What about your egg preferences? Any favorites or different ways you make them? Let us know in the comments below!