Are Eggs Whites Still Healthier or Should You Just Eat the Whole Egg Instead?

Heather Mayer Irvine
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill

From Bicycling

There’s no question that eggs are one of the best foods for high-quality protein. And with dozens (see what we did there?) of ways to prepare them, you won’t experience food fatigue when choosing a refueling snack.

But whole eggs, specifically their yolks, have long been criticized due to their fat and cholesterol content. So in the 1990s and early 2000s, when many people tossed food containing fat and dietary cholesterol, the egg yolk went with it.

In 2015, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines lifted the 300-milligram (mg) daily limit of dietary cholesterol based on recent research that suggests it doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease after all. So what does that mean for eggs, which have around 200 mg of cholesterol?

Chicago-based sports dietitian Allison Koch, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., weighs in on the egg nutrition facts you need to know before you make your next omelet.

The Claim:

For years, people believed that the dietary cholesterol in egg yolks increased blood cholesterol levels, which could boost your risk of heart disease. Plus, research showed that saturated fat—the fat in egg yolks—was linked to increased risk of heart disease.

As a result, people—including athletes—ditched the yolks for the whites, which are made of protein and water, says Koch.

The Evidence:

First, let’s take a look at the nutritional profile of the mighty egg.

A large egg contains about:

  • 70 calories

  • 6 grams of protein

  • 5 grams of fat, including 1.5 grams of saturated fat

  • 13 vitamins and minerals—including vitamins D and E

An egg white (2 tablespoons) has about:

  • 17 calories

  • 3 grams of protein

  • only 2 minerals, potassium and sodium

While an egg yolk alone has 4 grams of protein, it’s clear the yolk carries the bulk of the nutrition, says Koch, including choline for eye and brain health. And yes, the cholesterol, too.

As for the link between cholesterol and heart disease? When looking at eggs as source, the evidence just doesn’t add up. A 2013 report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which looked at more than a dozen studies, found that in healthy individuals, eggs were not associated with an increased risk of heart disease or death related to heart disease.

And a large study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that one egg a day is unlikely to contribute to heart disease.

Plus, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no link between egg consumption and risk of stroke, even among people with a gene that makes them more susceptible to the effects of high cholesterol.

The Verdict:

Whole eggs aren’t the heart-health enemy many think they are.

“Dietary cholesterol has gotten a bad rap, and eggs are high in cholesterol, so the egg yolk got a bad rap,” explains Koch. “But over time, research has shown that we don’t have to be as concerned about the cholesterol in food—that the link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol isn’t as clear-cut as we thought. We should be more concerned about trans fats and saturated fats.”

So heat up the skillet and throw on a whole egg for that postride breakfast. Or better yet, if you want even more protein, cook up one whole egg and add egg whites. The protein will help your muscles recover, and that feared-but-misunderstood fat will help your body absorb the egg’s vitamin D and vitamin E.

But don’t go full-on Gaston in Beauty and the Beast—famous for eating four dozen eggs as a lad and then another dozen as a grown man.

“This sounds cliché, but it’s about ‘everything in moderation,’” says Koch. “You shouldn’t be having four-egg omelets on a daily basis. But one egg a day is totally fine.” Think of that as about 7 whole eggs per week, so if you typically eat 2 eggs in a meal, limit those meals to 3 to 4 days per week.

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And while recent research suggests that saturated fat isn’t as bad as we once thought either, it’s still something to keep in check, says Koch. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend keeping your calories from saturated fat to less than 10 percent per day.

Eating the yolk may also help athletes better maintain their weight, thanks to its protein content, says Koch, and help them build more muscle than consuming just the whites.

“The benefits of eating the whole egg outweigh the risk of consuming its cholesterol and fat,” says Koch.

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