In the past two months since I’ve had the opportunity to fully embrace a whole-foods plant based diet, I’ve loved getting questions from friends and coworkers. Yesterday, a woman who fits both categories looked up with a curious expression and asked
“So, you don’t eat any eggs?”
“But how? I don’t think I could live without eggs.”
Let me introduce you to two new staples in our pantry: flax eggs and chia eggs.
The concept is pretty simple, and if you google it you’ll find several blogs that have recipes and instructions. But it’s not difficult. Simply mix one tablespoon of either flax meal or ground chia seeds with 2.5-3 tbsp of water. Stir it a bit. Let it sit for a few minutes. And voila! You have a plant-based “egg”.
You can substitute this for eggs in most recipes for baked goods. (reality check: you cannot make a reasonable souffle or an omelet out of these. There are recipes for plant-based versions of these foods, but the flax or chia egg really shines in recipes like pancakes, muffins, bread, or cookies in which the egg is in more of a supporting rather than a starring role.)
Right now, eggs are enjoying a bit of a resurgence in popularity after many years of a bad reputation due to high cholesterol. Eggs have also gone hipster. Do you want Omega-3? Pasture-raised? Organic? Cage-free? Brown? White? Non-GMO? All-natural? My friends, there are a lot of folks marketing the improved nutritional content and health benefits of the humble egg. But let’s compare the nutritional profiles of one large chicken egg vs. these easy and cheap plant-based eggs (nutrition information source: www.nutrition.gov).
|Chicken Egg (1 large)||Flax Egg||Chia Egg|
|Ingredients||1 egg||1 tbsp flax meal|
2-3 tbsp water
|1 tbsp ground chia seed
2-3 tbsp water
|$$$ cost per one egg||$0.19 - $0.58||$0.04||$0.25|
|% calories from fat||59%||58%||57%|
|% calories from protein||35%||17%||14%
|% calories from carbohydrate||6%||25%||29%|
|saturated fatty acids||1.563g||0.00g||0.340g
|mono-unsaturated fatty acids||1.829g||0.500g||0.236g|
|polyunsaturated fatty acids||0.956g||1.50g||2.414g|
So what can we learn from our comparison?
- Flax eggs are significantly cheaper than chicken eggs. Chia eggs were about the same cost or cheaper (depending on how hipster you like your eggs). $0.19/chicken egg was the price for regular ol’ white eggs – not cage-free, organic, high Omega-3 or other.
- There is no cholesterol in plant-based eggs, because there is no cholesterol in plants. Our bodies have the ability to make all of the cholesterol we need, so there is no need to ingest it.
- Animal eggs are much higher in protein than either flax or chia eggs. Currently it is in vogue to add (unecessary) protein to foods and snacks, but in actuality it is exceedingly rare (essentially only if you are not eating enough calories overall) to be protein deficient in the United States. If this statement seems controversial or incorrect to you, I’d heartily recommend the book “Proteinaholic” by Garth Davis, MD, which is an extremely well-researched, logical and scientific perspective on the role of protein in our diets.
- Plant-based eggs both contain fiber, which (as opposed to protein) is significantly lacking in the standard American diet.
- Chicken eggs and plant-based eggs all had close to 60% of their calories from fat. But all fats are not equal, and do not have the same effects in our bodies. I’d like to highlight the following statements from Nutrition.gov.
“When eaten in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can lower the levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol in the blood — which, in turn, can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming less than 10% of your calories per day from saturated fat by replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.”
(I selected this source, in part, because it is advice vetted by the FDA and not endorsing a specific eating pattern. The recommendation to replace saturated fats with mono- and polyunsaturated fats is a generic and non controversial recommendation that is not specific to those endorsing a whole-foods, plant-based diet).
So let’s go back to the idea of the hipster eggs. In essence, these are products designed to increase the nutritional value of the egg, balancing out against its negatives (like saturated fat and cholesterol). But wouldn’t it be easier to simply eliminate those negatives? The wording from the FDA — again, because it is Federal the language must satisfy a wide diversity of opinions — is not “to balance out saturated fats, eat more mono- and polyunsaturated fats”. They are clear about using the word replace. Avoid saturated fat, eat more mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Rather than balancing out a slice of pound cake with an omega-3 supplement capsule, I’ll continue to make baked goods for my family that skip the cholesterol and saturated fat, but none of the flavor.
If you’re intrigued by this idea and haven’t tried making flax or chia eggs previously, let me encourage you to dive in! Take your favorite recipe and replace one or two of the eggs with a flax or chia egg, and see how the recipe is altered. Be brave and experiment – it’s just cooking, not defusing a bomb. I tried to make one of our traditional family favorites — dutch babies — with plant-based eggs. Total fail. But with every fail I learn a little something, and cooking techniques that seemed odd or difficult at first are quickly becoming second nature.
Here’s to you and your health!