When Should I Worry About...

Are Egg Whites Healthy? (Healthier Than Whole Eggs?)

June 8, 2023 - Katie McCallum

Whether scrambled, hardboiled, in an omelet or on top of avocado toast, there are a few reasons many people prefer eating just the egg whites instead of the whole egg — flavor, texture and even perceived healthfulness.

"Some people just don't like the taste of egg yolks," says Kylie Arrindell, a wellness dietitian at Houston Methodist. "And as a result of how eggs — and the cholesterol found in eggs — were talked about 15 years ago, a lot of people still assume that whole eggs are bad for us."

Using just the egg whites is easier these days, too. With liquid and powered egg white products available, we don't have to deal with the hassle of separating whites from yolks anymore — avoiding the headache of a broken yolk ruining a bowl of whites.

But should we really be so quick to eliminate egg yolks from our diets? No matter where your preferences lie and why, Arrindell shares the health considerations to take into account before choosing egg whites over whole eggs.

Egg whites vs. eggs: How they compare

From a nutritional standpoint, the primary draw of egg is that they're a low-calorie source of protein.

"The protein found in eggs — both whole eggs and egg whites — is really high quality protein, containing all of the essential amino acids we need," says Arrindell. "About 40% of this protein is found in the egg yolk, and the other 60% is in the egg whites."

Why, then, might we think to separate egg whites from their yolks, beyond the food chemistry implications of doing so during baking?

It helps to start by outlining the nutritional breakdown of each.

Whole egg (large):

  • Total Calories: 70
  • Fat: 4.5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: < 1 gram
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Protein: 6 grams
  • Cholesterol: 180 milligrams

Egg whites (from one large egg):

  • Total calories: 20 calories
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: < 1 gram
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams

In the diet-centric world we live in — where we're often looking for lower calorie options of, well, everything — choosing to eat just the egg whites may seem self-explanatory. They're are an even leaner protein source, eliminating the fat content entirely.

But the reality is that eating the whole egg provides a lot more nutritional value.

"Egg whites contain a small amount of B vitamins but, for the most part, all of the other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants found in a whole egg are lost if we're just eating the whites," explains Arrindell. "For instance, egg yolks naturally contain vitamin D. Not many foods do — it's part of the reason a lot of Americans are vitamin D deficient — and the more you can get a naturally-occurring source of vitamins and minerals directly from food, the better."

(Related: Are You Getting Enough Vitamins in Your Diet?)

Plus, eating the whole egg adds another couple grams of protein. This may not seem like a significant amount, but for people struggling to meet their daily protein needs any additional boost is helpful.

With all of these benefits, though, you're undoubtedly not alone if you're having trouble seeing past the almost 5 grams of fat and/or 180 milligrams of cholesterol. Aren't these bad for your health? Wouldn't that make egg whites the better choice?

The answer is, it's not that simple.

"Most of the fat in an egg is actually unsaturated fat, which is a good thing," says Arrindell. "Unsaturated fats, as opposed to saturated and trans fats, are the healthier types of fats to focus on incorporating to help your body function optimally."

(Related: Why Healthy Fats Are Important & Where to Get Them)

But isn't egg cholesterol bad for you?

How much cholesterol is in an egg?

There's a reason Arrindell is often asked this question. Around the 1960s, the medical community began vilifying dietary cholesterol, implying that high-cholesterol foods, including eggs, were primary drivers of high cholesterol. These were well-meaning warnings at the time, but since then, researchers have gained a greater understanding of how a person's diet affects cholesterol levels. And it's time to revisit how we think about the dietary cholesterol found in eggs.

"Consuming dietary cholesterol does not automatically translate into higher blood cholesterol," says Arrindell. "It's actually more important to consider the effect the type and amount of fat you eat each day has on cholesterol balance, rather than getting stuck on what dietary cholesterol means for it."

(Related: What Not to Eat to Lower Your Cholesterol)

Fortunately, most of the fat found in an egg yolk is the healthy type we should aim to prioritize. And Arrindell notes that, at under 5 grams, a large egg is still considered a relatively low-fat food.

"If you can get omega-3 enriched eggs, which offer somewhere between four to five times the amount of omega-3s, that's even better," adds Arrindell. "Omega-3 fats are protective, essential fatty acids — meaning our body needs them to survive but cannot make them on its own — and many people don't get enough of this particular type of fat through their diet."

Still, even healthy fats need to be consumed in moderation. It's why Arrindell says we all should limit how many eggs we eat each day (or week). That number will vary by person.

"There are a lot of studies trying to determine what that perfect number of eggs per day or week is," says Arrindell. "There's no definitive answer yet, but the general consensus so far is that it's OK for most healthy people to have up to two eggs per day or 10 eggs per week. People with cholesterol issues or cardiovascular concerns, or those at an increased risk for heart disease, should limit to four to five eggs per week."

For hard-core egg lovers who want more than that, Arrindell recommends supplementing your intake with egg whites.

Are egg whites healthy?

"Egg whites are a really lean source of protein and can certainly have a place in a person's diet, but they're not more nutritionally superior than a whole egg," says Arrindell. "As mentioned, you're not getting any fat or cholesterol with egg whites, but the downside is you're also not getting many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants either and you're getting less total protein."

It's why, ideally, people should eat the yolk in addition to the egg whites.

But Arrindell knows some people cling to the old thinking about egg yolks or dislike their flavor whereas some love eggs so much they have trouble limiting the number they eat to the recommended amount. A mix of whole eggs and egg whites is the easy fix, says Arrindell.

"I typically recommend one whole egg and then adding egg whites for volume — but, again, this recommendation can vary by person," says Arrindell. "It's always best to get specific nutrition advice from someone who knows your medical history and goals, whether that's a dietitian or a doctor. This can also help you from making certain assumptions about food choices, like reading something online or seeing something on social media and assuming eggs (or other foods for that matter) are horrible."

One health alert with egg whites is that they shouldn't be consumed raw, as this can pose a food safety risk. Both the FDA and CDC recommend cooking egg whites until they're firm before eating.

What about liquid egg whites? Are they as healthy as the real thing?

Liquid egg whites are a convenient alternative, but they're packaged and processed. Are they as healthy as real egg whites?

"There are many different brands these days, so it can definitely depend on the quality of the product and brand you're choosing," says Arrindell. "I always recommend checking the label and making sure there aren't additional ingredients beyond egg whites."

Eggs whites in a carton will always include some type of preservative, necessary to help with shelf life and consistency. But as long as you choose a quality product, liquid options aren't nutritionally different from the real thing, Arrindell says. The same goes for powdered egg whites, a dehydrated form that needs to be resuspended in water before using. Both options can be healthy alternatives to separating egg whites on your own.

And as an added benefit, both powdered and liquid egg whites are pasteurized, meaning it's safe to add these products to a smoothie or some other beverage or uncooked food item.

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Categories: When Should I Worry About...