Are Egg Whites Really That Much Healthier Than Yolks?

With the coronavirus lockdown, people are living on staples like eggs. Experts explain whether you need to avoid the cholesterol in the yolks.

The coronavirus lockdown has given us all a crash-course in cooking from our pantries and learning to live on staple items like eggs. Though they’re one of the most eaten foods in human history, we can never seem to figure out how many are healthy to eat, or whether the yolks are bad for us.

It seems like a new egg-related study comes out every other week, some of which draw correlations between egg consumption and mortality, while others find that people who eat eggs have lower rates of heart disease.

And then there’s the great debate over the health components of the different parts of eggs and whether the yolk should be avoided altogether. Endless studies and articles out there can point you in several different directions when it comes to whether you should eat the whole egg, so we decided to chat with nutritionists to settle this once and for all. Here’s what they had to say.

The nutrition content of a single whole egg is pretty spectacular.

First things first: Nutrition-wise, eggs are jam-packed with nutrients. “Eggs are an excellent source of several key nutrients found in both the egg yolk and the egg white,” nutritionist Tamar Samuels said. “Eating a whole egg gives us the biggest bang for our buck in terms of both macro and micronutrients.”

The nutritional profile of one large egg breaks down as 77 calories, 6 grams of fat and a handful of excellent vitamins, including A, B2, B5, B12, D and folate, as well as calcium and zinc.

Recent studies have found that dietary cholesterol has little impact on levels of cholesterol in our blood for about 75% of the population.
Gingagi via Getty Images
Recent studies have found that dietary cholesterol has little impact on levels of cholesterol in our blood for about 75% of the population.

While each part of the egg offers up different nutritional perks — whites are low-calorie and protein rich, while yolks are higher in calories and mostly good fats — most nutritionists will tell you that a whole egg is pretty much a “perfect” food.

So why does everyone try to avoid the yolk?

We all have that one friend who orders an egg white omelet at brunch, stripping their meal of much of its flavor and joy. But are they really doing right by their health by opting for the low-calorie, high-protein part of the egg?

While egg whites are a popular food for weight loss because of their low calorie-to-protein ratio (meaning they can help you stay full longer than other low-calorie foods), in most cases going the white-only route is simply robbing your body of some great nutrients — especially if you’re skipping the yolk for cholesterol purposes.

“Egg yolks have gotten a bad rap, mostly because of poor quality research studies from more than 50 years ago that found dietary cholesterol in foods like egg yolks contributes to high blood cholesterol and subsequently heart disease,” Samuels said.

She added that more recent, higher-quality studies have found that dietary cholesterol has little impact on levels of cholesterol in our blood for about 75% of the population. “Even the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) dietary guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association have lifted the outdated recommendations to limit dietary cholesterol,” she said.

Nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto expanded on exactly how dietary cholesterol typically behaves in the body. “The liver produces cholesterol daily, and should be able to decrease its output if you are consuming a decent amount from your diet, Rissetto said, adding that if it’s unable to do so, that’s a condition called hypercholesterolemia. “People with hypercholesterolemia, or ApoE4, may want to limit or avoid eggs altogether.”

Rissetto said that in 70% of people, eggs don’t raise cholesterol at all, while in 30% of people — termed “hyper responders” — eggs can mildly raise cholesterol. If you have a history of high cholesterol or are worried about your body’s response to eggs, check in with your doctor.

How to prepare your eggs the healthiest way possible.

If you’re still concerned about consuming eggs in the healthiest way possible, remember that eggs can be prepared in a wide variety of ways. From eggs benedict (probably not the healthiest) to straight-up boiled, you have plenty of options.

“From a health standpoint, boiling eggs is probably best, as you don’t use any extra fat, because it’s boiled in water,” Rissetto said. “One can also use a small amount of cooking spray and cook on a pan while adding some vegetables for added fiber. Fiber helps to draw cholesterol away from the body and also helps to keep you feeling full, so nutrient-dense meals mean more bang for your buck.”

Bottom line: Most people are actually really missing out on some excellent vitamins, minerals and good cholesterol when they skip the yolk. So unless you have an underlying health condition that makes dietary cholesterol consumption a bad idea, go ahead — eat the whole egg.

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