Have you ever been on a fat loss diet? Are you into fitness or bodybuilding? If so, then I have little doubt that the question of egg whites vs whole eggs has been on your radar at one time or another. My psychic abilities tell me that you probably fall in one of these groups:
1. You believe that eating egg whites is the superior way to get more protein, keep calories low and burn more fat (and you might also believe all that yellowy, cholesteroly stuff is bad).
2. You are convinced that whole eggs (including that yolky goodness) are a superfood loaded with nutrients, and people who eat egg whites and throw away the yolks must be dumb bodybuilders, and don’t do science.
3. You’re totally confused by all the conflicting advice about egg whites vs whole eggs because diet “experts” are always at war and no one can agree on anything, not even in the studies.
Well, there’s actually another group. It’s more like the sensible middle. It’s the scientific group too, so don’t diss “the studies” if you haven’t read them and don’t know the difference between correlation and causation. There’s actually more science on this topic of egg whites vs whole eggs available for inquiring minds than ever before.
But if you’re not going to read every one of the scientific studies (they’re pretty dry), at least read this post. I guarantee it will answer all your questions, and entertain at the same time… It’s kind of a long one, so grab a coffee, get comfortable and read on!
Some proof that folks are mightily confused about egg whites vs whole eggs even to this day comes in the form of the dozens of emails I get every week like this one, from Michael:
Q: Tom I’m really confused about eggs. I’m not even sure if you can answer this or not, but to me and I’m sure many more of your readers, it’s a very confusing and important topic. I only use egg whites because I did always believe that the yolks are bad because of cholesterol and saturated fat. But with so many people coming out saying we are missing all the best nutrients by throwing out the yolks, it’s very confusing and I don’t know what to believe anymore. Could you please help clarify this issue? -Michael
A: Let’s start answering this question with the health side of things. Then we’ll get into the more fun bodybuilding and fat loss side of the issue, shall we?
The evidence about eggs and health has reached a tipping point where experts are finally changing their tune. Scientists have been saying for at least a decade that one or two whole eggs a day is not unhealthy for most people. One of the newest studies found that a dozen eggs a week had no negative health effects.
Why Eggs Were Demonized In The Past, And What Science Says About Whole Eggs And Health Today
For years, consumers were bombarded with messages about how high cholesterol foods would increase risk of high blood cholesterol and heart disease. Even today, a lot of people still feel certain that dietary cholesterol is dangerous. At the very least, they are confused by conflicting advice.
This story goes all the way back to the 1940s. That’s when scientists found a correlation between saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and high blood cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. But correlation does not equal causation.
If you do some Googling, you can come up with some hilarious examples of correlation not equaling causation. Like how eerily the sales of organic food correlate with autism. (Does eating organic food cause autism?). Or, the number of people who drowned falling into a pool uncannily correlates to the number of films that Nicholas Cage appeared in. (Therefore, Nicholas Cage movies cause drowning in pools, right?)
I’d go on and on but just search for “spurious correlations” if you want to learn more. Here’s what I’m trying to say..
Based on a correlation between cholesterol and heart disease alone, this lead mid to late-20th century public policy makers to set guidelines to reduce cholesterol in the diet. The American Heart Association said to limit cholesterol to 300 milligrams a day. A large egg has 186 milligrams, so it would take less than two eggs to put you over – and that is why so many people started avoiding whole eggs.
Once the idea was out there, it was hard to break free from it. But over the years, new research kept coming out and it finally started getting more clear that cholesterol in food wasn’t necessarily the problem. Your body needs cholesterol, and you actually make about 1000 to 2000 mg per day in your liver. It’s an important substance used to make hormones, produce vitamin D, build cell membranes and help with digesting fat.
The whole misunderstanding happened because people were confusing cholesterol in food with cholesterol in the bloodstream – high-density lipoproteins or HDL, aka the “good” cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins or LDL aka the “bad” cholesterol. The LDL is considered bad because it’s the kind that can cause a buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
As it turns out, eating multiple whole eggs daily can in fact raise total blood cholesterol, but it doesn’t always have a negative effect. Here’s an example of why: In one study, the test subjects eating three eggs a day did see an increase in cholesterol, but it was HDL not LDL. In another study, two eggs per day increased LDL, but the HDL also increased. The end result was a wash – no negative effects.
Also, the human body has a feedback loop that regulates cholesterol. When most people take in more cholesterol from the food they eat, their body makes less cholesterol of its own.
And, the rest of your diet matters too. If someone eats more eggs, but they’re also eating more processed foods and refined fats or oils, especially if they’re low on healthy omega-3 fats, that can also have a negative impact on blood cholesterol. This is another reason why it’s so hard to disentangle cause from effect.
The newest research has shown that in most people’s bodies, if you eat more eggs and nothing else changes in an otherwise healthy diet, the cholesterol in the eggs usually doesn’t translate into increased cholesterol in the blood, into a bad ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol, or heart disease. (Phew!)
As far back as 2006, evidence was already adding up that made scientists doubt whether eggs were a bad guy after all. For example, a study from the University of Massachusetts published in the Journal of Nutrition concluded, “Our data shows that eating an egg a day isn’t a factor for raising cholesterol.”
Research Like This Has Kept Confirming The Same Thing, Right Up To To This Day
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2018, people with diabetes or pre-diabetes who followed a 3 month “high egg diet” (12 whole eggs per week) showed no adverse changes in cardio-metabolic markers compared with people who followed a low egg weight loss diet (that had a limit of 2 eggs a week). The researchers said it looked like it was safe to eat more whole eggs than some national guidelines were still suggesting.
In a 2019 umbrella review of research literature published in the journal Public Health And Nutrition, the scientists said, “Overall, the evidence suggests that egg consumption is not associated with increased risk of heart disease.”
So it seems eggs have been exonerated for the most part.
It may be premature to tell the entire population that eating yolks in “unlimited quantities” is a good idea. And yet there are plenty of self-proclaimed nutrition experts (any keyboard warrior with instagram followers) saying exactly that.
“Eat all the whole eggs you want” may not be good advice for health reasons as well as calorie (fat loss) reasons.
First, genetics play a role in how individuals respond. At the University of Connecticut, researchers found that most people – about 70% of the population – have only a mild increase or no change in plasma cholesterol even when they’re fed large amounts of dietary cholesterol. They’re called “hypo-responders.”
But about 30% of people do experience a rise in blood cholesterol after eating eggs. They’re known as “hyper-responders.”
Fortunately, even in hyper-responders, some scientists say that an increase in total cholesterol is not necessarily a cause for concern. For example, if LDL increases, but HDL also increases the same amount, the risk for cardiovascular disease may not increase because the ratio of HDL to LDL was maintained.
But there are also outliers where real caution is in order.
For example, hypercholesterolemia is a genetic disorder where the body can’t remove LDL from the blood, and that causes elevated levels. This is why some scientists are still wary about making a single recommendation for eggs and assuming it applies to everyone.
Nutritional Value And Health Benefits Of Whole Eggs vs Egg Whites
Okay, enough about the cholesterol and heart disease stuff. What about all the people you hear online saying, “The best nutrients are in the yolk!” Is there any truth to this?
In the book, the Omega-3 Connection, Dr. Andrew Stoll said, “Egg yolks, long banished from the breakfast table, are extremely good for you. The yolk contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are the light-absorbing biochemical pigments that are powerful antioxidants. Lecithin, another component of egg yolk, is an important constituent of all cell membranes.”
Eggs are a great source of high-quality protein, and the protein is split almost evenly between the yolk and the white. One large egg has 6.3 grams of protein with 3.5 grams of protein in the white and 2.8 grams in the yolk.
Some people say that whole eggs are more “complete foods” than egg whites, which might be accurate from an overall nutrient perspective, but the egg white is absolutely a “complete protein” if you’re talking about having all the essential amino acids.
Some critics of this trend to eat more eggs point out that the yolk also contains arachadonic acid, which may be inflammatory. But other experts say that even if you ate a dozen whole eggs a day, it’s not likely to be arachadonic acid causing problems, but an imbalance between the arachadonic acid and the omega 3 fatty acids because so many people are deficient in omega 3’s today.
A solution some experts propose is using omega-3 eggs. Omega eggs have more omega-3 fatty acids because the hens are fed foods like flax seed, fish oil or a special type of algae. Artemis Simopolous, is an author and medical doctor who has recommended eggs from free-ranging hens. In her book the Omega Diet, here’s what she said:
“The eggs from our free-ranging hens contained 20 times more omega 3 fatty acids than the standard supermarket eggs. They had a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids of 1 to 1 while the supermarket eggs had a lopsided ratio of 20 to 1.”
Sounds good. But… The downside of omega-3 eggs is that they don’t give you nearly as much omega-3 as eating fatty fish itself. You might as well eat some salmon every week and then you meet your needs more efficiently.
So How Many Whole Eggs Can Or Should You Eat?
There are numerous studies now showing no negative effects of eating one or two whole eggs every day. There is just about ZERO evidence for a healthy person not to eat a one or two whole eggs a day – even every day of the week.
On the other hand, even to this day, not many researchers or doctors seem willing to stick their necks out and say, “Eat all the whole eggs you want.”
I’ve wondered about this myself for a long time: Is there a limit to the number of eggs you could eat per day – as long as you stay inside your calorie budget and don’t push out other important nutrients?
I reached out to Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, a medical doctor who is also a bodybuilder and fitness expert, to see if I could get an answer. Here’s what he told me:
“My general rule of thumb is to keep your diet consistent and then just test yourself. So if the only thing in your diet you change is the amount of whole eggs and your cholesterol doesn’t change, then the number of eggs you’re eating is likely fine.”
Egg Whites And Fat Loss
When comparing egg whites vs whole eggs, the tide has now turned so much in favor of whole eggs that when bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts keep recommending egg whites, they often get blow-back, like:
“You meathead! All the good stuff is in the yolk! Why are you throwing away the best part of the egg?”
Happens to me all the time…
I post a meal plan or a recipe and there are egg whites, but no egg yolks, and sure enough, people come out of the woodwork leaving snarky comments about how uneducated I must be about nutrition. Meanwhile, I’m the one who read every research paper listed at the bottom of this page. They’re the ones doing intermittent-bulletproof-coconut-keto-paleo because they read about it while they were in line at the grocery store.
But seriously, when you consider how many whole eggs to eat, there’s more to it than nutritional value and health impact. You also need to consider how those eggs fit into your calorie and macro goals. Whole eggs are not low-calorie foods, whereas egg whites are extremely low in calories.
Remember that anything you add or increase in your diet has to push out something else if it’s still going to fit into your calorie and macro targets for the day. Even if eggs are 100% healthy beyond a couple a day (which scientific research has not universally confirmed), we still have to remember that too many calories of anything, even healthy foods, will get stored as fat.
One reason bodybuilding and fitness-minded people still use egg whites a lot is not because they think egg yolks are unhealthy to every person in any amount, but simply due to how the calories can add up if you use a lot of whole eggs. Whole eggs are fairly calorie dense, while egg whites are extremely low in calories, which explains why egg whites are one of the top choices for lean protein on calorie-restricted fat loss and bodybuilding diets.
Even though I do use egg whites often, in all my years of bodybuilding, even back in the late 1980s, and 1990s, I never threw away all my yolks. My daily meal plans typically contain one or two whole eggs, sometimes with as many as 6-12 egg whites.
Why not ALL whole eggs? Well you could do that, but using more whites than yolks provides the high protein without so many calories. Using all whole eggs would be more appropriate in a low carb diet (especially keto), and I usually use more balanced diets with moderate amounts of natural carbs to fuel my training.
Take a look at this egg whites vs whole eggs comparison:
3 whole large eggs: 225 calories, 18.9 g protein, 15 g fat
8 egg whites & 1 whole egg: 211 calories, 34.3 g protein, 5 g fat
Do you see what was accomplished here? I didn’t remove egg yolks because I’m afraid of cholesterol. I removed most of the egg yolks because I was on a calorie budget and I was on a higher protein diet and I wanted more protein with fewer calories. Make sense?
Also, if you follow my blog, then you know about the latest research on protein metabolism, which says that 18 grams of protein is not even enough in one sitting to optimize muscle protein synthesis. But if I eat 8 egg whites and 1 whole egg, then I’m well into optimal per meal protein territory.
Another reason that bodybuilders use liquid eqq whites so often is for convenience. They can pour them from the carton right into the skillet and they don’t have to do all that shell cracking and egg white separating. Also, this way, they avoid “egg yolk guilt” (feeling like they wasted food by throwing out the yolk).
Whole Eggs And Bodybuilding – “Better Than Steroids?
Let me leave you with a funny story.
When I started bodybuilding as a teenager, I latched onto the teachings of a bodybuilding guru trainer from North Hollywood named Vince Gironda.
Gironda trained all the top movie stars back in his day including Erik Estrada, Clint Eastwood, Tommy Chong, Carl “Apollo Creed”Weathers and too many others to mention.
He was also the Trainer of bodybuilding champions such as Larry Scott, the First Mr. Olympia, and believe it or not, he was Arnold’s first trainer when Joe Weider sent the budding young star to America from Austria.
Gironda had been saying from day one (back in the 1950’s and 1960’s) that the whole egg was”nature’s perfect food” and he compared them to “natural steroids.” (That was a great line… the guy was good at marketing).
On some of his low carb “muscle definition” diets, he said you could eat as many whole eggs as you wanted and even scramble them in butter. He said that he had some of his champion bodybuilders on two dozen or even up to three dozen eggs a day!
I didn’t really understand what a ketogenic diet was at the time, but being an obedient, guru-following teenage bodybuilder, desperate for muscle, I did what he said. I ate up to 3 dozen whole eggs a day for months on end (usually only 2 dozen, but I swear it’s true, I really did eat 36 eggs a day on many occasions).
Well, there was no miraculous steroid-like effect, and I didn’t drop dead of a heart attack either.
But one thing I did notice is that I did not lose fat like Gironda said I would.
The reason should be obvious: three dozen whole eggs is 2700 calories (more if you use extra large or jumbo eggs). I was at nearly maintenance calories from the eggs alone, and eggs weren’t the only thing I was eating. (There was lots of steak too).
Gironda, like many other low carb gurus, did not place any restrictions on calories, only on foods (carb restriction). Some people called Gironda a genius, years ahead of his time, but this was one flaw in his program. Even on low carb diets, you STILL need a caloric deficit to lose body fat.
After this daring eggsperiment, my approach changed and I went back to more “normal” quantities of eggs and I started removing some of the yolks to keep me more easily within my caloric deficit without losing the high quality protein. But I never cut all the yolks because of their nutritional value, and yes it is true, you do need to keep some fat in your diet.
To this day, I still keep one or two yolks in my omelets and scrambles. Sometimes more, as long as it fits in my calorie budget and I hit my macro targets, but I also use egg whites when I want to boost protein while keeping the calories down.
Here Are Some Key Take-Home Points To Remember
The weight of all the current science says that for most people, eating one or two whole eggs per day does not have negative effects on blood cholesterol that increase cardiovascular disease risk. Nutrition research also confirms that including some whole eggs can add valuable nutrients to your diet.
But before you increase your intake of whole eggs arbitrarily, (or troll egg white eaters on the Internet), keep in mind that controlling blood cholesterol with nutrition can be a complicated science in some cases, based on health status, genetics and the rest of a person’s diet and lifestyle.
If you’re looking for advice on what to eat for cardiovascular health, the best answer you can get won’t be from a trainer, including me. The best thing you can do is go get a blood lipid panel done and talk to a doctor you trust about the results of that test. Don’t trust your health to what diets are trending on google or featured on the covers of supermarket tabloids.
And please consider what I’ve shared as general information only, not medical advice. This has simply been an update of the latest scientific research – and a personal anecdote or two – and I hope you found it helpful.
Train hard and expect success,
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About Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder, fitness writer, and author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of Bodybuilders and Fitness Models and the national bestseller, The Body Fat Solution, which was an Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine pick. Tom has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Oprah Magazine, Muscle and Fitness Magazine, Ironman Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine, as well as on dozens of radio shows including Sirius Satellite Radio, ESPN-1250 and WCBS. Tom is also the founder and CEO of Burn The Fat Inner Circle – a fitness support community for inspiration and transformation
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