Say you’re a guy or gal that travels for business. With jerky, nuts and other Primal snacks  in tow you hit the road resolved to do your best while away from home. You employ your best modern foraging skills at the airport, gas station and at your hotel breakfast buffet. Everything is fine and dandy until, wait, there’s something not quite right about these eggs. The consistency is a little… off. Could they be powdered eggs? Yes, yes, they could be. Does it matter? I’ll tell you what I think on this and the topic of safe cooking temperatures  for olive oil in this week’s Dear Mark .
Let’s jump right in.
My job requires 90% travel. My question is twofold. All the hotels I stay in offer powdered eggs for breakfast and sometimes Canadian bacon. Are powdered eggs okay to eat on a daily basis? I do plan to purchase microwaveable bacon at a local grocer and cook it in my hotel room, having this along with two pieces of fruit for breakfast.
I would be wary of powdered eggs, as they are an especially rich source of oxidized cholesterol. In one study  comparing baked goods that used powdered eggs to goods that used fresh eggs, two methods of analysis found that only the powdered egg goods had significant amounts of oxidized cholesterol. The degree of oxidation in this stuff is so severe that researchers use powdered eggs as a model for oxidized cholesterol formation in foods .
If you’ve got access to a microwave for bacon, why not microwave some fresh eggs? Grab the complimentary coffee mug, crack a few into it, add some salt, some pepper, mix it all together with a fork, then pop the mug into the microwave for 30-45 seconds per egg. Before you freak out about negative energy waves or radiation or the complete and total eradication of all nutrients within a ten foot radius, realize that microwaving actually isn’t always destructive. I don’t have any hard data on the effect of microwaving on oxidized cholesterol in egg yolks, but there is plenty of research showing the effect of microwaving on a host of other foods, and it’s fairly benign (or at least less bad than other methods, like spray-drying).
To begin, read my take on microwaving . Then, this post  on the Perfect Health Diet blog, in which Paul Jaminet discusses the effect of microwaving on the flavonoids  in a variety of foods, like green tea (microwaving preserves them better), onions (better than frying and boiling), dried strawberries (better than freeze-drying), purple potatoes  (no pigment loss), olive oil (least amount of polyphenol loss), and a mishmash of common Chinese soup vegetables (microwaving was only beat by frying, but even then, the missing flavonoids showed up in the soup).
How about things with cholesterol ? What happens to them in the microwave? Well, heating milk for five minutes in the microwave creates far more oxidized cholesterol than pasteurizing it for 16 seconds, but powdered milk ran away from both methods . While I couldn’t find anything on microwaved egg yolks, I did find an interesting paper (PDF ) comparing the oxidized cholesterol content of various traditional Chinese egg dishes. Let’s check out what they found:
All preparations – Tiedan, Ludan, or Chayedan – began with a fresh chicken eggs boiled for 30 minutes (I don’t know about your methods for hard boiling eggs, but that already sounds a little long). Tiedan eggs are then removed from the shell and cooked in “boiled flavored liquid containing water, soy sauce, sugar, salt, and spices” for two hours, after which they are dried in a forced air oven at 40 degrees C for four hours. Then they repeat the whole cooking and drying process again. After twelve and a half hours of cooking time, Tiedan eggs had the most oxidized cholesterol at 240 ppm (really, you don’t say!).
After the initial boil, Ludan eggs are removed from the shell and cooked in the same boiled flavored liquid for five hours. Ludan egg oxidized cholesterol hit 182.9 ppm.
Chayedan eggshells are “cracked… slightly,” then the eggs are dumped into boiled flavored liquid (this time with tea leaves added) for eight hours. Chayedan eggs hit 136.4 ppm, the best of the bunch.
What can we gather from this? Even eggs that are cooked for hours upon hours upon hours can have less oxidized cholesterol than powdered eggs.
So, yes, consider microwaving your eggs (or, if you can somehow get access to high-quality, pastured eggs from a farmer you trust, just eat them or the yolks raw  – but that’s a long shot when you’re on the road). It’s probably no worse than cooking them on the stove, and it’s definitely better – and healthier – than eating scrambled powdered eggs that have likely been languishing under heat lamps for several hours, exposed to heat, light, and air after having been cooked in your favorite industrial seed oil. If you’re really worried about oxidized cholesterol, you can even poach  or hard boil your eggs in the microwave .
Thanks for your brilliant work!
I know you prefer coconut oil, butter and bacon grease for sautéing, but if one really wanted to use olive oil, which is better (or less bad?): extra virgin olive oil or “lite” olive oil? I’ve heard extra virgin olive oil changes chemically under high heat, so would “lite” olive oil be any better in this case?
You know, I’ve gone back and forth on this question. Most sources will say not to use extra virgin olive oil to sauté, because the complex flavors can be muted or even ruined when you apply too much heat. Since I’m a guy who will sip really good peppery extra virgin olive oil straight from the bottle, I hate to miss out on the flavor, so I can relate to this one. In fact, it used to be my steadfast position on the subject.
But then last year, I found myself defending olive oil’s much-besmirched reputation . I had seen people suggesting that olive oil  was “too fragile,” would “oxidize too quickly,” or had “too much omega-6,” subtly or not so subtly suggesting that olive oil was actually a poor choice for consumption. Better than corn oil, sure, but far from “optimal.” So I had to take a closer look. I’ve always loved extra virgin olive oil, and I’ve always maintained that its healthfulness was one of big things that Conventional Wisdom  really got right. And in the course of researching that post, I found compelling evidence that high-polyphenol extra virgin olive oil – the good stuff, the murky, opaque, swamp-water looking stuff that we weren’t supposed to use for cooking – was actually incredibly resistant to heat. In fact, the peppery, delicious, complex, prized polyphenols – plus the vitamin E and the inherent stability of the monounsaturated fatty acids  present in olive oil – were providing that resistance. The disappearance or marring of those delicious polyphenols under high heat simply meant that they were doing their job. They were “sacrificing themselves” to protect the whole. I think that’s pretty cool.
So yes, the extra virgin olive oil undergoes changes, but those are necessary changes that actually protect the fatty acids from further, more undesired changes (like oxidation). You lose a bit of flavor but prevent a ton of damage.
This was a roundabout way of saying that extra virgin olive oil is better in all respects (except for homemade mayo, which can be pretty intense with extra virgin). Its polyphenols make it more resistant to cooking. It tastes better. It’s healthier. It is more expensive than regular olive oil, however, so you have to be more selective with your use. Of course, I would avoid heating any oil to the point of smoking, and I wouldn’t base every meal on high-heat sautéing, no matter the phenolic content of the fat used. I hope that helps.