Depending on which fitness professional you ask, the title of this blog could be considered a hot take. You should only be eating egg whites, right?
I’m here to tell you why it’s not a hot take, and why I believe you shouldn’t eat just the whites anymore.
First, let’s look into the two parts of every whole egg and its function:
Egg whites: where the protein is.
Egg yolks: where most of the nutrients, fats and cholesterol are.
Wait, there’s that dreaded word again: cholesterol.
Yes, eggs are undoubtedly high in cholesterol and certainly the main reason for egg hysteria. But what is cholesterol, anyway? Is there really any reason to be concerned?
Cholesterol is a group of lipids (fats) that is required for the formation of many essential substances in the body. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition’s textbook Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements, some of those crucial substances that require cholesterol include:
- Steroid hormones (such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone)
- Vitamin D
- Bile salts
It’s also an integral part of cell membranes and myelin that forms an insulating sheath around nerve fibers.
Sounds pretty good, right? What’s all the fuss about? Well here’s where the confusion on cholesterol comes in.
There are 2 different classifications of cholesterol. There are high-density lipoproteins (HDLs – “the good kind”) and low-density lipoproteins (LDLs – “the bad kind). LDLs are considered bad because they transport cholesterol to cells of the body. HDLs on the other hand carry cholesterol away from body cells and back to the liver for excretion.
This is where I believe people get tripped up – the “good” and the “bad.” Although egg yolks contain a lot of cholesterol, it packs a good and powerful fatty acid punch, both saturated and unsaturated (don’t worry, we need saturated fats in small amounts, too.) There are many vitamins and minerals we’re throwing away with the yolk. It’s even used for cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications!
Furthermore, for a long time it was believed that you could change the cholesterol levels in your blood through manipulation of your diet. This is where high cholesterol foods got their bad rap and low-fat diets became popular.
Although it may seem logical that dietary cholesterol could raise or lower blood cholesterol levels, it usually doesn’t work that way.
Your liver actually produces cholesterol in large amounts because of how essential it is to your cells. When you eat larger amounts of high-cholesterol foods such as eggs, your liver simply starts producing less cholesterol. When you get little cholesterol from food, your liver produces more on its own.
In light of this knowledge, blood cholesterol levels don’t change significantly in most people when they take in more cholesterol from the foods that they eat.
But what about eggs, cholesterol and their links to heart disease?
Consider these findings from Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE of authoritynutrition.com:
Several controlled studies have examined how eggs affect heart disease risk factors. The findings are mostly positive or neutral.
Studies show that eating 1–2 whole eggs per day doesn’t seem to change cholesterol levels or heart disease risk factors.
Research also suggests that eating eggs on a regular basis may be safe for people who already have heart disease.
One study followed 32 people with heart disease. They experienced no negative effects on heart health after consuming 2 whole eggs every day for 12 weeks.
To top things off, a review of 17 observational studies with a total of 263,938 people found no association between egg consumption and heart disease or stroke.
For the first time in decades, the US Dietary Guidelines released in January 2016 did not specify an upper daily limit for dietary cholesterol. Quite simply, without cholesterol, humans wouldn’t exist.
So unless you are allergic to eggs or simply don’t like the taste of egg yolks and prefer egg whites anyway, it’s time we stop living in fear of eating the entire egg because of their high cholesterol content and start reaping the many great benefits.
I will conclude by quoting Franziska Splitzer, RD, CDE’ blog post on this very same subject. She made a list of some of the benefits that ingesting whole eggs provides:
Help keep you full: Several studies show that eggs promote fullness and help control hunger so you eat less at your next meal.
Promote weight loss: The high-quality protein in eggs increases metabolic rate and can help you lose weight.
Protect brain health: Eggs are an excellent source of choline, which is important for your brain.
Reduce eye disease risk: The lutein and zeaxanthin in eggs help protect against eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration.
Decrease inflammation: Eggs may reduce inflammation, which is linked to various diseases.