There was a time (not so long ago) when we were advised not to eat eggs because they would raise our cholesterol and contribute to heart disease. Thankfully the cholesterol myth has been de-bunked and it is now widely recognised that eggs are a superior source of nutrition.
When I was young I was a really fussy eater, but the one consistent thing I would eat was eggs; boiled, scrambled, omelettes, you name it. Thankfully they are an amazingly nutrient dense food – after all they contain everything necessary to grow a baby chick! – which meant that I was receiving a whole bunch of vitamins and minerals just from them alone. While egg whites contain most of the high-quality protein along with riboflavin and selenium, the majority of the nutrients are found in the yolk.
One large whole egg contains:
- 77 calories
- 6 grams protein
- 5 grams fat
The vitamins and minerals contained in an egg are pretty outstanding:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin B5
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B2
- Choline – essential for normal functioning of all cells, but particularly important during pregnancy to support healthy brain development of the fetus.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin – antioxidants that are believed to reduce the risk of developing cataracts and slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration, a disease that develops with age. (Recent research has discovered that lutein plays a role in cognition as well). In one controlled study, eating just 1.3 egg yolks per day for 4.5 weeks increased blood levels of lutein by 28–50% and zeaxanthin by 114–142%.
There are also trace nutrients important for health found in eggs.
But does it matter whether we eat the whole egg or just the whites or yolk?
Eggs are one of the best sources of protein in the diet, containing all nine essential amino acids in the right ratios. However, whilst it is perfectly safe to do so, eating the eggs raw may decrease your absorption of these quality proteins. One small study compared the absorption of protein from both cooked and raw eggs in 5 people (yes, a VERY small study!) They found that 90% of protein in cooked eggs was absorbed, but only 50% in raw eggs. But the flip side to this is that, although protein is better absorbed from cooked eggs, some other nutrients may be slightly reduced by cooking. These include vitamin A, vitamin B5, phosphorus and potassium. Absorption of biotin may also be affected because raw egg whites contain the protein avidin, which binds to biotin in the small intestine, thereby preventing its absorption. However, it’s unlikely to cause deficiency unless you eat a lot of raw eggs (at least a dozen every day!). It has recently been announced that it is safe for pregnant women and children to eat raw or lightly cooked eggs. Although there is a risk of eggs being contaminated with the bacteria salmonella, this risk is actually very low. Eating a whole raw egg may take some getting used to though! A lightly boiled egg, with a cooked white and soft yolk may just be the perfect answer.
Bodybuilders and physique competitors typically only eat egg whites, as they are concentrating on consuming the protein for muscle synthesis, rather than the fat. However, a study examined the effects of whole egg consumption compared to an isonitrogenous amount of egg whites in healthy young men following exercise. They found that, despite containing the same amount of protein (16 grams), whole eggs resulted in significantly greater muscle protein synthesis versus egg whites.
The effects of high-quality protein from eggs on satiety and weight loss have been studied in clinical trials showing the following results:
- In a study in overweight adults, calorie-restricted diets that included either eggs or a bagel for breakfast were compared; the people who consumed eggs for breakfast lowered their body mass index by 61%, lost 65% more weight, and reported feeling more energetic than those who ate a bagel for breakfast.
- Men who consumed an egg breakfast versus a bagel breakfast showed that appetite hormones were suppressed following eggs at breakfast, as was energy intake over the course of the day.
- A study of overweight premenopausal women that evaluated satiety responses to eating a turkey sausage and egg breakfast sandwich versus a low-protein pancake breakfast showed better appetite control and few calories consumed at lunch following the egg-based breakfast.
- In a 3-month trial among subjects with type 2 diabetes, those who consumed 2 eggs per day for 6 days a week reported less hunger and greater satiety than those who consumed less than 2 eggs per week.
Regular consumption of eggs can lead to elevated levels of HDL cholesterol, which is a good thing, as higher HDL is linked to a lower risk of many diseases. Egg consumption also appears to change the pattern of LDL particles from small, dense LDL to large LDL – also a good thing, as this is linked to a reduced heart disease risk.
How many eggs is safe to eat per day? Well you can eat pretty much as many as you wish (Vince Gironda – a 1950s bodybuilder recommended eating 36 raw eggs a day!), and whilst 36 may just be pushing it, eating 6 or more is absolutely fine. Interestingly I find that if the eggs are hard boiled I will find it difficult to eat more than two or perhaps three, but if they are scrambled it is easy to eat six!
Unfortunately some people can be sensitive to eggs. Whilst this sensitivity is usually to the egg white (the protein), a rare few have intolerances to the egg yolk (the fat), while others may have an intolerance to both. Children can often have an egg intolerance, affecting approximately 1.5% of children, but often resolving as they get older, although some do carry the sensitivity into adulthood.
Egg intolerance symptoms include:
- Stomach Pain
- Runny Nose
- Difficulty Breathing or Wheezing
- Skin Reactions
An egg allergy is more severe and, like many allergies, could result in anaphylactic shock. Allergic reactions occur within minutes of exposure and medical treatment should be sought immediately.
So to summarise:
Unless you have an intolerance, allergy or intense dislike to eggs, they should be included in your diet regularly. Three or four eggs a day can be eaten safely with no adverse effects. With regards to eating only part of the egg; for those who are seeking to be in regular ketosis, the egg yolks are preferential to the whole egg, simply because the protein ratio of the white, alongside other parts of a meal, may be too high. However, this is extremely individual as many people will stay in ketosis with higher levels of protein. (Don’t fear the protein people!).
Whole eggs provide an egg-ceptionally nutritious part of your diet.
And this is particularly good news for me as my new hens have started laying and I am now getting 6 eggs a day, and they are delicious!! (Just need the 4 ducks to lay now!) Good job eggs are such a healthy food as I will have plenty!
One of my favourite ways to eat them these days is boiled with steak & bacon “soldiers” on the side – yum!
Do YOU eat eggs? If so, is it the whole egg? How do you cook your eggs or do you eat them raw?
Looking forward to your comments!