Marks Daily Apple
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12 May

Dear Mark: Cooking Omegas

eggs2Dear Mark,

What are your thoughts on Barry’s suggestion that there is some sort of problem in cooking O-3 enhanced eggs? I’ve seen similar things related to flax seed oil and roasted & toasted walnuts, etc. What is the bottom line on cooking with omega-3s?

Thanks to Ed and others who offered up similar questions in response to last week’s Enough Omegas? post.

Polyunsaturated fats (which include omega-3 fatty acids) are, indeed, very prone to oxidation when exposed to heat, light or oxygen. This oxidation essentially renders them rancid to some extent, and this will result in less appealing taste (and smell) as well as decreased nutritional value. Add to that the damage imposed by the resulting free radicals, and that “healthy” food has now become a health hazard.

I would never use a polyunsaturated oil for cooking, and I don’t recommend eating roasted nuts because of the oxidation risk. Polyunsaturated oils, like flaxseed oil, should be properly stored (refrigerator or freezer) and added to cold food (like my daily salad) or cooked food only after reasonable cooling. Additionally, I recommend buying polyunsaturated oils, for example, in opaque or dark bottles and using them quickly.

eggs 1

As to the question that came up last week about cooking foods with omega-3 content like fish or enriched eggs, the answer is more complicated. Most research on omega oxidation has been done with straight oils themselves rather than whole foods (e.g. fish oil versus fish fillet). One interesting study showed the bulk of omega-3s were lost when fish oils were heated to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes (only 15.9% of DHA and 18.5% of EPA retained); however, that oxidation was slashed when rosemary or oregano extracts were added to the oils (65.9% of DHA and 69% of EPA retained). Both herbs significantly decreased oxidation, but rosemary proved more effective than oregano.

And this strategy has applications beyond our own kitchens. Egg farmers who enrich their hens’ diets with omega-3 fatty acids are using the herbal principle to reduce oxidation in high omega-3 eggs. (Note about the study (PDF): the authors are Greek and the English is a bit garbled in sections, but the research itself is compelling.) This particular study observed the effects of herbal (as well as vitamin and mineral) supplementation in chicken feed and the eggs’ relative susceptibility toward oxidation. (By the way, this same study showed that chickens fed flax meal produced eggs that were high in both ALA and DHA. The digestion of the feed apparently allowed for the synthesis.) So, when it comes to cooking an enriched egg? Well, I guess it depends on the exact feed. In this case, the more you know about the farm, the better you can judge. If you get plenty of omega-3s from good supplements, as I suggested last week, choosing high omega-3 eggs aren’t a necessity. Nonetheless, it’s still useful to know what kind of feed your food is getting.

eggs3

One last note on reducing oxidation… Anti-oxidants like mixed tocopherols (Vitamin E) appear to reduce oxidation of omega-3s, and companies are increasingly incorporating Vitamin E in omega-3 rich (or enriched) products. Other synthetic additives apparently do the same, but I’d have less faith in their relative safety.

My bottom line? Know your eggs. Eat your herbs. As for cooking itself? Let’s just say that I’m not about to give up grilled salmon, but I’m going to make sure I don’t cook it any more than I have to. And I’ll also be sure to have a nice big salad on the side.

Thanks for your comments, and look for more on best cooking practices later this week. In the meantime, keep your questions coming!

Steve Wampler, The Beast, maxnathans Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Saturated Fat

The Definitive Guide to Fats

Omega 3s: A Closer Look

Whole Health Source: Olive Oil Buyer’s Guide

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You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. I think it is amazing the effect that omega fish oils can have on the brain. The overwhelming good that omegas can and will do is really uplifting for someone who uses omega three with regularity. I would not use flax seed oil for any cooking, I think that taking a “shot” of the flax seed oil followed with orange juice and keeping it refrigerated seems to be the better part of valor.

    Jen wrote on May 12th, 2008
  2. My eggs are from chickens that eat grass and bugs. The yolks are dark orange and some of the eggs are double yolked. I was told that I could eat the eggs raw if I wanted to. It doesn’t sound to appetizing to me but what do you think about that?

    Crystal wrote on May 12th, 2008
  3. I think as long as they are not high heat stir fried, you will be fine. When in doubt…I cook my eggs low and slow.

    Mike OD - Fitness Spotlight wrote on May 12th, 2008
  4. Thanks for this post, Mark. I guess this means that the tub of Smart Balance, which says “great for cooking, frying, baking …” is not to be believed. Oh well. I have been cooking my O-3 eggs in the usual way for quite a while now, and I can’t detect any difference in taste compared to regular eggs.

    Ed wrote on May 12th, 2008
  5. I saute with almond oil, it’s refined for high heat, that’s what i use.

    @Crystal,just a suggestion, perhaps throw a raw egg in the blender W/ berries or a banana. Just a thought.

    Donna wrote on May 13th, 2008
  6. I eat 3 eggs each morning from an amish co-op a few towns away. If I cook them over-easy like I always do and don’t break the yokes until I eat them, does that take away the nutriants?

    I don’t think I can eat them raw like Rocky.

    Steve wrote on May 13th, 2008
  7. Yes, I tried that Donna. A little slimy but…. alright.

    Crystal wrote on May 13th, 2008
  8. About 5 days a week for over a year, I have used 2 raw egg yolks in my yogurt smoothies. Before adding the egg whites to my smoothies, I heat the egg whites a tad which is supposed to neutralize the avidin in them which binds to the B-vitamin biotin.

    I don’t want to eat eggs Rocky style either, but I blend the eggs for just 5 seconds with the hope that I keep more of their nutritional value.

    Mark L. wrote on May 13th, 2008
  9. i’m pretty sure that the yolk is one of natures richest sources of biotin so it is not necessary to heat the white as long as you consume the yolk, raw egg whites (sans yolk) can cause biotin deficiencies (it’s ok if they’re cooked as in a body builder style white omelette)

    JC wrote on May 14th, 2008
  10. How do chia seeds’ EFAs hold up during baking? There are plenty of recipes for chia muffins and the like, but now I’m wondering if they’re on the wrong track.

    JenS wrote on May 14th, 2008
  11. Please note that the LSU Fish Oil study that you cite used temperatures of 150 Centigrade (not Farenheit) which equals 302F. Also, it’s only the omega-3 polyunsaturated fats that are so easily oxidized. Corn oil and soy oil are high in omega-6 PUFAs and are quite stable.

    Margaret wrote on July 2nd, 2008
  12. lol its alfa&omega! nice photos of eggs :)

    Przepisy wrote on December 31st, 2008
  13. For all you people asking questions about eating them raw and sticking them in smoothies etc, if you pop the yolks of the eggs you are allowing it to oxidize when oxygen hits it, so it is not a good idea to be doing this, (e.g. drinking raw or smoothies or yogurt) I have been trying to find a way to eat them without having it oxidize at all so that way the cholesterol hasn’t any effect to my body. The only thing I can think of is by hard boiling them, that is what I have been doing, but I am still researching this dilemma to find other answers, what I think I will do now that I know herbs reduce the oxidation is eat herbs after eating my eggs (6 a day for bulking reasons) just in case that hard boiling still oxidizes the eggs, (even though I wouldn’t see how), that is why I am still researching for a solid answer. Anyway, hope this information helps, take care.

    Mike K wrote on October 6th, 2011
  14. Recent sous vide cooking techniques have produced the 148-degree egg. Heat water to 148F and let it sit for a little while to make sure the temperature is stable. Add whole, room temperature eggs to the water and let them cook at 148 for about an hour. The result is a perfect, creamy custardy soft-cooked egg with a completely different texture than a soft-boiled egg cooked briefly in boiling water. You can bump the temperature up a degree or two to set the white a little firmer, but don’t go too high or the yolk will solidify. I’m guessing there’s minimal oxidation due to the low temp and cooking in the shell. The hardest part is getting the temperature to stay at a constant 148 for an hour. A digital thermometer helps.

    MarkA wrote on July 20th, 2012
  15. Dear Mark when cooking an egg in it’s shell, to me it doesn’t seem logical that any oxygen would enter… So I think oxidation of omega-3 eggs is highly unlikely. We can cook our eggs. Frying is a bit of a different story though. What do you think?

    Honey wrote on July 31st, 2012

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