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Egg nutrition: Should you eat the whole egg or stick to egg whites?

Are eggs good for you?

There’s probably no food product that science has gone back and forth on more than the egg. We know it’s delicious. We know it makes a great breakfast food, whether you’re scrambling up eggs, perfecting that omelet, or eating them hard-boiled (and that’s just scratching the surface of egg-related recipes. But should you eat the whole egg, or just the egg white?

Decades ago, when housewives made gigantic stacks of pancakes for the family every weekday morning (at least, that’s what TV told us happened) it was an absolute given that you ate both the egg white and the egg yolk. But then people began worrying about their high saturated fat and cholesterol content — and thus began the debate about egg nutrition, and whether it was healthier to eat the whole egg or just the egg white. Which is it? Here’s what you need to know.

Are eggs good for you?

White eggs in an egg carton.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Eggs are a complete source of protein, which means that they contain all nine essential amino acids. They also are high in several key vitamins and minerals, So eggs are generally considered to be a healthy food. 

In terms of egg nutrition, according to the USDA’s FoodData Central, one large, whole, hard-boiled chicken egg contains 78 calories, 6.3 grams of protein, 5.34 grams of fat, negligible carbohydrates and sugar, and small amounts of minerals such as sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, and selenium.

Whole eggs also provide a decent amount of vitamin A, vitamin D, folate, and the antioxidants choline, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which support eye health.

The primary nutritional criticism of eggs centers around the amount of cholesterol in an egg. One whole egg contains 186 mg of cholesterol, all of which is found in the egg yolk. But, while high levels of LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad one) can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, the cholesterol in our bodies doesn’t come from our food, but from our liver, according to Harvard.

Which is healthier: Egg whites or whole eggs?

Fried eggs in a pan.
Unsplash

If you are looking to avoid cholesterol in your diet, eating egg whites is the way to go, but it’s important to understand that while egg whites do not contain cholesterol, they are devoid of most of the other essential nutrients.

For example, compare the differences in egg white and whole egg nutrition in terms of micronutrients for one regular large chicken egg:

Nutrient

Egg White

Whole Egg

Vitamin A

0% of the DV

27% of the DV

Vitamin B12

0% of the DV

19% of the DV

Vitamin B2

11% of the DV

18% of the DV

Vitamin B5

1% of the DV

15% of the DV

Vitamin D

0% of the DV

19% of the DV

Choline

0% of the DV

27% of the DV

Selenium

8% of the DV

27% of the DV

As can be seen, egg whites have very few vitamins and minerals.

With that said, egg whites contain about 67% of the protein found in an egg, and are low in calories, making egg whites a good diet-friendly food for people looking to lose weight. For example, there are about 18 calories and 4 grams of protein per egg white in a large egg. So if you like the taste of egg whites? Enjoy that egg-white omelet.

If, on the other hand, you like your eggs with the yolk intact, know that there’s plenty of good nutrients lurking in that yellow liquid. And, as the American Heart Association points out, the research on egg nutrition has been inconsistent in the past because eggs are typically eaten with foods that have high levels of saturated fat. But, if the rest of your breakfast is healthy, there’s no reason to cut egg yolk out of your life completely. (As with any food, moderation is key.)

Amber Sayer
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Amber Sayer is a fitness, nutrition, and wellness writer and editor, and was previously a Fitness Editor at Byrdie. She…
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