Egg white versus whole egg. You may have thought this debate was settled. After all, bodybuilders consume lots of egg whites, especially when dieting for a contest. Chicken egg whites are considered a “perfect” protein food, with even fewer calories and less fat per gram of protein than a skinless chicken breast. But are egg whites really perfect or could the addition of the yolk, as nature intended, make them even better, at least some of the time? The Barbell investigates the advantages and disadvantages of eating just the white of the chicken egg versus eating the whole egg. Scrambled, poached, fried, or boiled, let’s check the stats, science, health concerns, and cost of the egg white and the whole egg.
WHOLE EGG STATS
Size: extra-large (56 g.)
Protein: 7 g.
Carbs: 0.4 g.
Fat: 5.3 g.
Saturated Fat: 2 g.
Cholesterol: 208 mg.
EGG WHITE STATS
Size: extra-large (56 g.)
Protein: 4 g.
Carbs: 0.3 g.
Fat: 0.1 g.
Saturated Fat: 0 g.
Cholesterol: 0 mg.
THE CASE FOR EGG WHITES
The case for egg whites is that the non-yolk part of chicken eggs is much lower in calories and much lower in fat than the whole egg but is still packed with protein, and therefore it’s great for dieting or for adding muscle without adding fat. (Neither the white nor the yolk has significant amounts of carbohydrates.) The calorie difference between the egg white and the whole egg is all about the fat content, because there are many more calories in fat than protein: 9 calories per gram of fat versus 4 calories per gram of protein.
So, if you prepared a meal of extra-large egg whites and one of extra-large whole eggs, both with 28 grams of protein, the stats would look like this:
7 egg whites, 133 calories, 0 saturated fat, 0 cholesterol
4 whole eggs, 320 calories, 8 g. saturated fat, 832 mg. cholesterol
From a diet perspective, it’s no contest. Egg whites give you all of the protein with only 42% of the calories and none of the saturated fat.
And also none of the cholesterol. Heart health is the other reason people prefer egg whites over whole eggs, but, as we’ll soon see, that one is not nearly so clear-cut.
THE CASE FOR WHOLE EGGS
So why consume all the extra calories and fat grams in a whole egg? The yolk contains the majority of the micronutrients in eggs, including vitamins A, D, K, and the B complex, as well as iron, zinc, phosphorous, selenium, lutein and zeaxanthin (good for the eyes), and choline (good for the brain and nerves). The yolk is like a multi-vitamin mineral supplement.
And as for the saturated fat and cholesterol, blood cholesterol levels don’t seem to be negatively impacted by whole eggs. One study compared men and women eating three whole large eggs per day (640 mg. cholesterol) and those eating no eggs (0 cholesterol) for 30 days. The study concluded the cholesterol in egg yolks does not raise the LDL cholesterol particles in the body associated with the development of cardiovascular disease. How can that be? Research has shown that most of the cholesterol in our body is made by our liver, and it doesn’t come from cholesterol we eat. The liver is stimulated to make cholesterol primarily by saturated fat and trans fat in our diet. But an extra large egg contains no trans fat and little saturated fat—about 2 grams.
Saturated and monounsaturated fat, both of which are in egg yolks, are important for maintaining higher testosterone levels, and so is cholesterol. Cholesterol also helps maintain the integrity of muscle cell membranes, helping them function properly and avoid breakdown. Therefore, the fat and cholesterol from yolks appears to provide benefits for those who do strength training, evidenced by the muscle and strength gains made by subjects consuming whole eggs in studies like this one and this one.
That said, too little saturated fat is not an issue for most non-dieting carnivores, while too much is a frequent problem. If you’re consuming too much saturated fat from things like beef, pork, and dairy products, forgoing egg yolks will help lower your saturated fat intake into the heart-healthy range.
And then there’s the question of cost. If you’re eating only the egg whites, you’re throwing away a lot of yolks that you paid for (or you’re paying more, per gram of protein, for liquid egg whites). Let’s return to our 28 gram comparison above. If a dozen cage-free, extra-large eggs costs $3.39, that’s about 28 cents per egg. So, here’s the cost of the two servings above with their equal amounts of protein:
7 egg whites: $1.96
4 whole eggs: $1.12
If you averaged that daily for a year, the difference would be more than $300. And if you doubled the daily tally of egg whites (not exorbitant for bodybuilders) versus whole eggs over a whole year the difference would be more than $600.
EGG WHITES AND WHOLE EGGS
Because of their low calorie and fat counts, egg whites are an excellent source of protein when on a diet. At other times, whole eggs have advantages: more nutrients, testosterone boost, cost, and (for most people) taste. It doesn’t have to be either/or. When not on a diet, you can combine whole eggs and egg whites. Together, two extra-large eggs and four extra-large egg whites have 226 calories, 30 grams of protein, and 4 grams of saturated fat—so, an infusion of quality protein, more flavor than whites alone, and reasonable calorie and fat counts, and all for about $1.68. Yes, go with egg whites only when on a strict diet or to cut your saturated fat intake, but at other times you may want to include a yolk or two with your whites. In the egg white versus whole egg debate, it can be either/or, but it can be both, too.