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Whether they come from chickens, ducks, quails or any other bird, eggs have been part of the human diet for a millennium - and with good reason too. Eggs are a relatively cheap source of high-quality protein and they are easily available. They are also a great source of healthy unsaturated fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Packed with nutrition, eggs are usually consumed whole all over the world and are cooked in hundreds of different ways too.

However, over the last 50 years or so, the health benefits of whole eggs have been questioned by scientists and nutritionists. The idea that egg whites are healthier than egg yolks has now seeped into the popular imagination, and most health-conscious people are choosing to throw out egg yolks and consume just the whites. Instead of wondering about the age-old “chicken or egg” paradox, people are now more concerned about finding out which is healthier, egg whites or egg yolks.

This debate started in 1968, when the American Heart Association first said that people shouldn't consume more than three whole eggs per week as eggs (especially the yolk) have a high dietary cholesterol content and can lead to high blood cholesterol and heart disease.

However, more recent researches have indicated that consuming more dietary cholesterol does not directly lead to high blood cholesterol levels. In fact, egg yolks have a high concentration of vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds that are not easily found in other foods. So, should you eat egg yolks or are they unhealthier than egg whites? Here’s everything you need to know:

  1. Egg white and egg yolk nutritional facts
  2. Nutritional benefits of egg whites
  3. Nutritional benefits of egg yolks
  4. Takeaways

Egg whites and yolks might be packed within the same eggshell, but they have very different nutritional components. A study published in the journal Nutrients in 2019 provided the following comparative breakdown of nutrients provided by chicken egg yolks and egg whites. The measurement is in terms of average grammage of nutrients per 100 grams of raw egg yolks and whites.

Nutrient Raw egg yolk Raw egg white
Protein 2.7 g 3.6 g
Lipids (fat) 4.5 g 0.05 g
Vitamins    
Vitamin A 371 microgram (µg)  0 µg
Vitamin A precursor to beta-carotene  88 µg 0 µg
Vitamin D 5.4 µg 0 µg
Vitamin E 2580 µg 0 µg
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) 176 µg 4 µg
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 528 µg 439 µg
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) 24 µg 105 µg
Vitamin B5 (Panthothenic acid) 2990 µg 190 µg
Vitamin B6 350 µg 5 µg
Vitamin B9 (Folate) 146 µg 4 µg
Vitamin B12 1.95 µg 0.09 µg
Minerals    
Calcium 129 mg 7 mg
Iron  2.73 mg 0.08 mg
Magnesium 5 mg 11 mg
Phosphorus 390 mg 15 mg
Potassium 109 mg 163 mg
Sodium 48 mg 166 mg
Selenium 0.056 mg 0.020 mg
Zinc 2.30 mg 0.03 mg

Further, according to the US Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of egg yolks have over 300 kilocalories of energy versus 52 kilocalories in 100 grams of egg whites.

A microgram is one-thousandth of a milligram.

Remove the yolk from the egg whites, and the nutritional value of the latter changes immediately. Egg whites are made up of about 90% water and 10% protein. Egg whites contain fewer calories and yet pack approximately 67% of all the protein found in eggs.

This protein is quite potent: first, because the quantity of protein in egg whites is high, and second, because egg white proteins consist of all the nine amino acids that your body needs for energy, building muscles and maintaining muscular well-being.

Egg whites also have negligible traces of dietary cholesterol, which makes this part of the whole egg very good for those who have to minimise their calorie intake to lose weight. However, apart from proteins, egg whites have little or no nutritional value. They lack essential micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. So, while whole eggs are wholesome and a powerhouse of nutrients, egg whites are not sources of holistic nutrition.

Egg yolks often get a bad reputation because they have a high concentration of dietary cholesterol. It may seem logical to believe that high intake of dietary cholesterol can lead to high blood cholesterol, but recent studies have shown this to be untrue. Cholesterol is a vital nutrient that your liver produces, and studies have shown that proper intake of healthy high-cholesterol foods like eggs can actually suppress the liver’s cholesterol production. So, instead of being harmful, eating egg yolks can help your body regulate cholesterol production better.

What’s more, even though egg yolks do have a high cholesterol content, they’re also packed with many other vital nutrients that the whites either have trace amounts of or not at all. These vital nutrients include fat-soluble vitamins, essential fatty acids and minerals. Some of these nutrients, like vitamin A, are precursors to antioxidants and bioactive compounds that your body needs to boost its immune system, cognitive function, cell repair and muscle development. Egg yolks, therefore, are not useless, unhealthy or disposable. Instead, they should be included in your diet.

Egg whites are packed with protein, while egg yolks are packed with essential micronutrients. Your body needs all of these to derive wholesome nutrition and function at its best. Obviously, the best thing to do is consume whole eggs so that you can get all the vital nutrients.

Here are a few tips you should use while consuming eggs:

  • If you already suffer from or are at a higher risk of contracting high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure or cardiovascular diseases, ask your doctor if you need to limit your egg consumption.
  • Always check for the Agmark or Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s (FSSAI) authorization while buying eggs from the market.
  • Do not buy eggs that are old, dirty or have cracked eggshells. These can cause bacterial infections.
  • Always cook the eggs properly before eating them. Eating raw or undercooked eggs can cause salmonella infection and listeriosis.
  • Consume boiled or poached eggs instead of fried ones. Cooking in water is the healthiest method and medium of cooking.
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References

  1. Rehault-Godbert, Sophie. et al. The Golden Egg: Nutritional Value, Bioactivities, and Emerging Benefits for Human Health. Nutrients. 2019 Mar; 11(3): 684. PMID: 30909449
  2. Jones, Peter J.H. et al. Dietary Cholesterol Feeding Suppresses Human Cholesterol Synthesis Measured by Deuterium Incorporation and Urinary Mevalonic Acid Levels. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 1996;16:1222–1228.
  3. Fernandez, Maria L. Rethinking Dietary Cholesterol. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care , 15 (2), 117-21. PMID: 22037012
  4. Kuang, Heqian. et al. The Impact of Egg Nutrient Composition and Its Consumption on Cholesterol Homeostasis. Cholesterol. 2018; 2018: 6303810. PMID: 30210871
  5. DiMarco, Diana M. et al. Intake of Up to 3 Eggs Per Day Is Associated With Changes in HDL Function and Increased Plasma Antioxidants in Healthy, Young Adults. J Nutr , 147 (3), 323-329. PMID: 28077734
  6. Griffin, Bruce A. Eggs: Good or Bad?. Proc Nutr Soc , 75 (3), 259-64. PMID: 27126575
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