I was browsing through my "readers" files and what do you know? I found some very good questions that I promised to answer many moons ago:

- "Regarding eggs, is the protein in the white different from that in the yolk?"

It's the same protein (albumin) but there's more in the white than in the yolk. In fact, the white part of the egg is almost all protein with a little potassium, magnesium and sodium thrown in. One whole egg contains the same amount of protein as one ounce of meat, fish, or chicken.

Of note, the protein in eggs is a "complete" protein. That means it contains all the amino acids the human body needs to manufacture other proteins. Egg protein is also one of the most easily digestible proteins in the food world.

- "What other nutrients are found in eggs?"

Aside from the bad crack eggs have received because of their cholesterol content (one egg yolk contains all the cholesterol most of us need in one day), eggs have several other redeeming values. The yolk contains linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid essential for brain development in growing babies. Egg yolks also contain vitamin B-12, calcium, iron and zinc. Lutein, the pigment that makes egg yolks yellow, is a potent antioxidant that helps protect the eyes and may help prevent eye diseases like macular degeneration. Whoever made these baby chick kits knew what he was doing.

- "What in eggs causes an allergic reaction?"

The protein. That is the definition of a true food allergy, by the way -- an adverse reaction to specific proteins in food. Egg protein allergy is common in young children before their digestive systems have matured.

- "How long can you safely store eggs?"

One month to two months (!) say experts, if they are properly refrigerated. The shell and the membrane just under the shell form a natural barrier to protect unbroken eggs from bacteria.

- "I eat whole grain breads 95 percent of the time, but I'm confused about what constitutes a 'whole grain.' Does cracked wheat count?"

Sure does. So do amaranth, buckwheat (Kasha), bulgur, millet, oat meal, oat bran, quinoa, wheat berries, wheat bran, and wild rice.

"Whole grain" refers to the entire part of a grain kernel, including the bran and the germ where fiber and other important nutrients are stored. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, a product can only be labeled "whole grain" if at least 51 percent of its ingredients are whole grain wheat, whole grain rye, whole grain corn... you get the picture.

Here's another interesting finding about grains: Nutrition scientists are studying sorghum, a nut-flavored grain used mostly in animal feeds, as an alternate grain for humans with celiac disease. Why? Sorghum is free of gluten, the protein in wheat, rye, and barley that aggravates this condition.

(Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, Calif. Readers may send her an e-mail at [email protected].)