Missing Your Morning Eggs? No Surprise as Avian Flu Takes Toll

With no vaccine yet available, infected birds had to be slaughtered. That triggered a shortage of the eggs that chickens lay and scarcity means rising prices.

| 26 Feb 2023 | 01:50

As you may know, while you were coping with COVID 19, America’s chickens were fighting a flu of their own. For two years, what experts call the deadliest avian flu in U.S. history infected more than 60 million American chickens. There is no cure, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is just now working on a potential vaccine, so in the meantime all infected birds were slaughtered. That created a scarcity of supply which of course sent egg prices soaring from a more or less manageable under $5 a dozen to a whopping $12.99-$17.99 for a carton of organic eggs at Eli’s Market or $7.99 for a standard dozen at D’Agostino’s or Gristedes. Trader Joe’s seemed to do the best at holding the price to around $5 a dozen, but often the shelves were almost bare as shoppers snapped them up, keenly aware they were unlikely to find cheaper eggs anywhere else.

Happily, the situation is resolving as farmers repopulate their flocks, and the new healthy chicks grow to egg-laying age. For poultry farmers, that’s good news at any time. For the rest of us, it comes just as Americans are eating more eggs as protein substitutes for beef. The American Heart Association has revised its advice to tell us that, yes, despite their cholesterol content, eggs are A-Okay.

How come? Because more than 40 recent studies here and in Europe looking for a link between eating eggs and the risk of heart disease turned up no relationship at all. In fact, it appeared that substituting eggs, fish, and dairy foods for red and processed meats lowered the risk of heart disease an impressive 20 percent. Which is certainly nice to hear in February which is, coincidentally, Heart Health month.

As every cardiologist and nutrition guru now knows, the culprit isn’t cholesterol per se. It’s the saturated fat that ferry cholesterol into your arteries. In 2020, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasized the fact that eggs and shellfish are animal foods high in cholesterol but low in sat fats. At the same time, with that in mind, the American Heart Association re-wrote its rules on eggs. In their very words:

“In healthy individuals, consumption of an egg a day is acceptable in heart-healthy dietary patterns.” (Down Under, the Australian Heart Foundation went a step farther to conclude there’s no evidence to suggest any limit on egg consumption for normal, healthy individuals.)

“In older healthy individuals, given the nutritional benefits and convenience of eggs, consumption of up to 2 eggs per day is acceptable within a heart-healthy dietary pattern.” (Bonus: Egg yolk are rich in lutein which some studies show protects against cataracts.)

“Vegetarians (lacto-ovo) who do not consume meat-based foods may include more dairy and eggs in their diets in moderation.”

There are, as always, exceptions: vegans, people with allergies, and those on a doctor-directed cholesterol-lowering diet. Starting with the last, the obvious choice is simply fresh or dried egg whites. For vegans and those allergic to eggs, there are commercial substitutes such as Bob’s Red Mill, Ener-G, and Orgran. These products, available either at your local grocery or health food store or online at Amazon, are blends of starches and leavening agents. They work well in baking as do applesauce and mashed banana; ¼ cup each is equal to one egg.

As for that finally fleeing bird flu, no need for yet another vaccination. If you have a pet canary or parrot, keep it indoors and check with the vet if he/she starts to sneeze. But even then the word is that there’s virtually no chance they’d hand it on to you. On the other hand, the one that makes breakfast, lunch and dinner, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds you always to cook all poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 ˚F.

Sounds like egg-cellent advice.