By Helen West
Eggs are loaded with a variety of beneficial nutrients.
However, the nutritional value of an egg can vary greatly, depending on whether you eat the whole egg or just the egg whites.
The nutritional value of an egg can vary greatly, depending on whether you eat the whole egg or just the egg whites.Shutterstock
This article takes a detailed look at the nutritional profile of egg whites and explores whether they’re a healthier choice than whole eggs.
Nutrition Facts of Egg Whites and Whole Eggs
Egg whites are the clear, thick liquid that surrounds the bright yellow yolk of an egg.
In a fertilized egg, they act as a protective layer to defend a growing chicken from harmful bacteria. They also provide some nutrients for its growth.
Egg whites are made up of around 90 percent water and 10 percent protein.
So if you remove the yolk and choose just the egg white, then the nutritional value of your egg changes considerably.
The chart below shows the nutritional differences between the egg white of a large egg and a whole, large egg (1, 2):
As you can see, an egg white contains fewer calories and micronutrients, as well as less protein and fat, than a whole egg.
Bottom Line: An egg white contains fewer calories than a whole egg. It is also lower in protein, cholesterol, fat, vitamins and minerals.
They’re Low in Calories but High in Protein
Egg whites are high in protein but low in calories. In fact, they contain around 67 percent of all the protein found in eggs (1, 2).
Additionally, this protein is high-quality, complete protein. This means it contains all nine essential amino acids in the amounts your body needs to function at its best (3).
Due to their high protein content, eating egg whites may have some health benefits. Protein can help curb your appetite, so eating egg whites could make you feel fuller for longer (4, 5).
Getting enough protein in your diet is also really important for maintaining and building muscle, especially if you are trying to lose weight (6, 7).
Given that whole eggs provide you with only slightly more protein for quite a few extra calories, egg whites can be an appealing choice for people who are trying to lose weight.
Bottom Line: The egg whites from a large egg contain 4 grams of protein and only 17 calories. This can make them a good food choice for people trying to lose weight.
Egg Whites Are Low in Fat and Contain No Cholesterol
In the past, eggs have been a controversial food choice due to their high saturated fat and cholesterol content (8).
However, all of the cholesterol and fat in eggs is found in the egg yolk. Egg whites, on the other hand, are almost pure protein and contain no fat or cholesterol.
For years, this meant that eating egg whites was considered healthier than eating whole eggs (9).
But studies have now shown that for most people, the cholesterol in eggs isn’t a problem (10, 11).
Nevertheless, for a small number of people, eating cholesterol will raise blood levels slightly. These people called are “hyper-responders” (12).
Hyper-responders have genes that predispose them to high cholesterol, such as the ApoE4 gene. For these people or individuals with high cholesterol, egg whites may be a better choice (13, 14, 15).
Additionally, given that egg whites contain almost no fat, they are significantly lower in calories than whole eggs.
This can make them a good choice for people trying to limit their calorie intake and lose weight.
Bottom Line: Egg whites are low in cholesterol and fat. This makes them a good choice for people who need to limit their cholesterol intake, as well as those trying to lose weight.
Risks of Eating Egg Whites
Egg whites are usually a safe food choice. However, they do carry some risks.
Although egg whites are safe for most people, egg allergies can occur.
Most egg allergies are experienced by children, who often outgrow the condition by the time they reach the age of five (16).
An egg allergy is caused by your immune system incorrectly identifying some of the proteins in eggs as harmful (17).
Mild symptoms can include rashes, hives, swelling, a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes. People can also experience digestive distress, nausea and vomiting.
While it’s rare, eggs can cause a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylactic shock. This causes a number of symptoms, including severe swelling in your throat and face and a drop in blood pressure, which could be deadly if combined (18).
Salmonella Food Poisoning
Raw egg whites also pose a risk of food poisoning from the bacteria Salmonella.
Salmonella can be present in the egg or on the egg shell, although modern farming and cleanliness practices can minimize the risk.
Furthermore, cooking egg whites until they are solid significantly reduces your risk of this problem (19).
Reduced Biotin Absorption
Raw egg whites may also reduce the absorption of a compound called biotin, which is found in a wide variety of foods.
It’s a water-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in energy production (20).
Raw egg whites contain a protein called avidin, which can bind to biotin and stop it from being absorbed.
In theory, this could be a problem. However, you would have to eat large amounts of raw egg whites to cause a biotin deficiency.
Additionally, once the eggs are cooked, avidin doesn’t have the same effect.
Bottom Line: There are some risks associated with eating raw egg whites, including allergic reactions, food poisoning and biotin deficiency. However, the risk for most people is small.
Should You Eat Egg Whites or Whole Eggs?
Egg whites are high in protein yet low in calories, fat and cholesterol, which makes them a good food for weight loss.
Egg whites may also benefit those who have high protein requirements but need to watch their calorie intake, such as athletes or bodybuilders (21).
However, compared to whole eggs, egg whites are low in other nutrients. Whole eggs contain a wide range of vitamins, minerals, extra protein and some healthy fats.
And despite eggs being high in cholesterol, a very recent analysis found no link between egg intake and the risk of heart disease. The same review found that eating up to one egg per day might actually reduce your risk of having a stroke (22).
Moreover, the nutrients found in eggs have been linked to a host of health benefits.
Egg yolks are also a rich source of two important antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, which help prevent eye degeneration and cataracts (23, 24, 25, 26).
They also contain choline, an essential nutrient that most people don’t get enough of (27, 28).
Eating whole eggs is also associated with making you feel full and helping you eat fewer calories (29, 30).
In fact, studies have shown that eating eggs for breakfast could be helpful for lowering weight, BMI and waist circumference (31, 32).
However, if you are on a very strict calorie-controlled diet, have a family history of high cholesterol and heart disease or you already have high levels of cholesterol, then egg whites may be a healthier choice for you.
Bottom Line: Egg whites are lower in calories than whole eggs. However, they also lack many of the beneficial nutrients found in egg yolks.
Take Home Message
Egg whites are a high-protein, low-calorie food.
Yet for most people, there aren’t many benefits to choosing egg whites over whole eggs, as whole eggs provide you with many more beneficial nutrients.
That said, for some people, particularly those who need to limit their cholesterol intake or are trying to lose weight, egg whites can be a healthy food choice.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.