It wasn’t long ago that plunging a crisp sweet potato wedge into a silky, runny egg yolk was only for a treat. A few years ago, eggs, and especially egg yolks were supposed to be limited in a healthy diet because they were deemed high in saturated fat and cholesterol. We were told that the cholesterol in egg yolks could contribute to our blood cholesterol levels and lead to nasty things like increased risk of stroke or heart disease. But then the tables turned. It was generally decided that dietary cholesterol like that found in egg yolks did not raise blood cholesterol levels and eating a few egg yolks – as part of a healthy diet – cautiously got the go-ahead once again.
We’re talking about a primal lifestyle after all, and I doubt our hungry ancestors would have chanced upon a nestful of eggs, cracked one open and then immediately thrown half of the insides away before eating the rest.
And it’s a good job, too, because they’re packed with nutrients such as Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, and modest amounts of sodium, potassium, and magnesium. They’re one of the few foods which contain Vitamin D and they also have some Vitamin B6 and calcium. Egg yolks are also a good source of choline, a compound that we need in order to keep our nervous system, cell growth, and liver function healthy. Not bad. Plus, there’s no denying that alongside a pork sausage or crispy salmon fillet, they do taste pretty incredible.
But what about egg whites? Well, while we were all frowning and fretting over yolks, egg whites seemed untouchable. They were touted as a good, low fat source of protein, leading to fluffy egg white omelettes being whisked up and served to the health-conscious, while the oily, golden yolks and all their nutrients, were thrown away. But what’s actually in a gloopy, gelatinous egg white? Is there any point in eating them at all? Judging by the number of egg yolk omelettes that I see these days on social media, it seems that many people have decided not. But I think we have to be careful not to go the other way, and write off egg whites completely. The whites of the egg might not pack the nutritional punch of the yolks, but they deserve our attention all the same.
Why Eat Egg Whites?
One egg white provides 22% of your recommended daily allowance of protein, 6% of your sodium, and 4% of your potassium. They also contain small amounts of magnesium (although it’s still a small amount, the whites actually contain more magnesium than the yolks), choline, and vitamins B12 and B3. They also provide a small amount of the antioxidant selenium, which keeps our immune system healthy.1
That’s quite a lot of nutrition that would otherwise end up in the bin.
When To Separate Eggs
Perhaps we should start to think of eggs as less of a yolks vs whites debate and more in terms of enjoying them as a whole food. We’re talking about a primal lifestyle after all, and I doubt our hungry ancestors would have chanced upon a nestful of eggs, cracked one open and then immediately thrown half of the insides away before eating the rest.
Nutritionist and Lunchbox Doctor Jenny Tschiesche agrees. “Egg whites have been held in such high regard for so long especially amongst people in the world of bodybuilding and those looking to reduce their cholesterol due to their high protein and low fat and cholesterol content,” she told us.
“As science progresses however, we know that there’s so much nutrition in the egg yolk and about 99% of the fat too. If we want to reap the benefits of eggs and enjoy them as part of a balanced diet then really we should be including both the yolk and the white. That way we get the best of the protein and the fat which helps us to absorb fat-soluble nutrients, as well as the broadest range of nutrients.”
The NHS website advises the same: not differentiating between yolks and whites, but encouraging them to be “enjoyed as part of a healthy balanced diet” – preferably cooked without added fat or salt.2
The only time you need to think about the yolks and whites of an egg as separate parts, says Jenny, is when you have an egg allergy. And even then, it’s not so clear cut. “The most allergenic part of the egg is the white,” she says. “So some people may be able to tolerate the egg yolk and not the white. Though I would suggest that it is so hard to separate the two fully that one might be better using egg alternatives such as chia seeds and flaxseeds combined with water for baking purposes.”
I love the bubbly crispness around the edges of a fried egg white and the bulging, glossy yolks too much to favour one over the other. For me, I have the whole, beautiful egg firmly placed in my breakfast bowl as often as I can.
So what do you think? Are you eating egg yolks, egg whites, or the whole egg together?
- (Anonymous) (2011, October 11). The Nutritional Value of Egg Whites Versus Egg Yolks. In A Healthier Michigan. Retrieved from: https://www.ahealthiermichigan.org/2011/10/11/the-nurtional-value-of-egg-whites-versus-egg-yolks-what-do-you-use/
- (Anonymous) (n.d.). The Healthy Way To Eat Eggs. In NHS Choices. Retrieved from: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/eggs-nutrition.aspx