Do you routinely order egg whites sans their sunny centers, assuming you're benefiting both your cholesterol level and your waistline? The "white scramble" has long been considered the go-to breakfast choice for fitness fans and dieters, but progressive nutrition pros say it's time to re-think the morning meal.
If you're wondering how the yolk got so maligned, chalk it up to good intentions gone wrong. For 30 years the American Heart Association has been recommending a limit of 300mg total daily cholesterol in order to minimize your risk for heart disease, and one large egg contains 185mg—all of which is found in the yolk. Cutting out the yolk to lower your intake seems like a smart, easy move, right? According to more recent studies, that couldn't be more wrong.
"There's this persistent idea that we need to lower blood cholesterol by lowering the cholesterol we eat, but as research has evolved, it's shown that dietary cholesterol doesn't have a big impact on blood cholesterol," says Precision Nutrition coach Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS. "There are many corroborating human trials, but in one by Dr. Jeff Volek at University of Connecticut, subjects ate three eggs a day every day for 12 weeks and had no significant increase in blood cholesterol."
Our bodies produce cholesterol naturally—it's a key component in the structure of our cells—but how the body handles dietary cholesterol is even more interesting in light of the AHA's recommendation. "There's a feedback loop," explains St. Pierre. "When you eat more cholesterol, your body will absorb less cholesterol and produce less. Conversely, when you eat less cholesterol, it will absorb a higher percentage and produce more."
Your cholesterol level, it turns out, is largely determined by your genetics, stress level, and fitness habits, so trying to lower it by modifying your diet and, say, eating egg whites, is misguided. You're better off eating whole eggs for a number of reasons.
1. Egg yolks are nutrient dense.
Egg whites pale in comparison. Ninety percent of the nutrients are found in the yolk, which, in addition to cholesterol, contains calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamine, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, B12, the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E, and omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, you get lutein and zeaxanthin for better eye health and choline, which decreases inflammation and is essential for both brain and cardiovascular function.
2. Our bodies need cholesterol.
It's a precursor to many hormones in the body, including the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. It's necessary for growth, and it's found in every cell membrane, which wouldn't have structure without it.
3. Dietary cholesterol, like that found in eggs, doesn't raise blood cholesterol.
According to that aforementioned newer research, unless you have hypercholesterolemia, which affects just a tiny percentage of the population, you don't have to worry about eating yolks with your whites.
4. Whole eggs can lead to weight loss.
One two-month study showed that subjects eating two protein-rich eggs a day every day for breakfast lost significantly more weight than those who ate a bagel. Packing protein in your breakfast has been associated with lower overall food intake during the day and increased weight loss.
5. They're hearty and satisfying.
Eggs whites are basically protein and water. Who doesn't feel like they're on a diet when they're eating egg whites? Eating the whole egg is so much more satisfying. The yolk has all the flavor and nutrients—now why would you separate that from the white and rinse it down the drain?