Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse, but for a while, egg yolks have been demonized in the health-food industry as causing blood-cholesterol levels to skyrocket. Is it true? It's time to set the story straight on the nutritional benefits of an egg.
The Truth: Not only are eggs a fantastic source of lean protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, but they contain some pretty important nutrients.
One large egg has roughly 186 milligrams of cholesterol — all of which is found in the egg’s yolk. Since dietary cholesterol was once thought to be the major cause of unhealthy blood cholesterol, egg yolks have been demonized and health nuts stick to eating strictly egg whites. Now, don’t get me wrong — egg whites are a great, healthy source of protein, but there is definitely room for WHOLE eggs in a healthy diet. As long as you haven’t been advised otherwise by your doctor, you can enjoy the many nutritional benefits of a whole egg. So, yes, you can have an egg and eat the yolk too! Here are a few reasons why.
The real threat to high cholesterol are trans fats and added sugars, not dietary cholesterol. Years ago, when scientists learned that high blood cholesterol was associated with heart disease, foods high in cholesterol were thought to be the leading cause of unhealthy blood cholesterol. Now, 25 years later, scientists have come to the conclusion that cholesterol in food is not the true villain — trans fats have a much greater effect on blood cholesterol. Your body actually needs the cholesterol in meat and eggs to make testosterone, which helps to increase energy and helps to build more calorie-building muscle. In fact, one study at the University of Connecticut found that the fat in egg yolks actually helps to reduce LDL (“bad” cholesterol). So banish the old notion that an egg, specifically the yolk, is hazardous to your health. According to the American Heart Association, the recommended limit of dietary cholesterol is 300 milligrams for people with normal LDL (bad) cholesterol levels — and one egg contains 185 milligrams of dietary cholesterol. (If you have a history of high cholesterol or heart disease in your family, though, you may want to consult your doctor about how to limit your cholesterol intake.) Whole eggs are full of beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Whole eggs are a nearly perfect food, with almost every essential vitamin and mineral our bodies need to function. It is one of the few natural food sources of vitamin D and contains 7 grams of high-quality protein. Whole eggs are also full of omega-3 fatty acids and deliver many of the B vitamins and nutrients — B6, B12, riboflavin, folate, and choline — that, in fact, are believed to help prevent heart disease. L-arginine, an amino acid found in eggs, is critical to the body's production of protein and the release of growth hormones. Another amino acid found in eggs, leucine, also helps the body produce growth hormones as well as regulate blood sugar levels. The yolk itself contains most of these vitamins and minerals, plus half of its protein. When you eat only the egg whites, you’re missing out on all of these nutritional benefits and are getting only 3.5 grams, or half, of the protein.
It’s all in the preparation. If you’re frying your eggs in saturated-fat-laden butter and serving them with saturated-fat-laden bacon — they will have a negative impact on your cholesterol levels. Instead, heat olive oil on low heat in a cast-iron skillet to cook your egg the healthiest way. When cooking omelets, frittatas, or any other dish that involves a larger quantity of eggs, I like to use a mix of whole eggs with egg whites. The reason is that whole eggs do have a decent amount of fat. So, if you’re cooking something with more than two eggs, I recommend subbing in egg whites for some of the whole eggs.
The Bottom Line: Whole eggs are a power food packed with essential vitamins and minerals our bodies need — a majority of these vitamins and minerals are found in the egg yolk. Eating whole eggs in moderation is not bad for your health, but when making dishes with a large quantity of eggs, try to balance the count of whole eggs and egg whites.