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Yolks vs. Whites: The Truth About Eggs

Should you just eat the whites, or is the whole egg best? 

There are few things more polarizing than the simple egg. Some people swear it’s best to only eat the whites, since eliminating the yolk cuts way down on fat, calories, and cholesterol. That’s why so many breakfast restaurants offer an egg white omelet—with no cheese, of course—as a way for people to feel they’re ordering something super-healthy. Meanwhile, others scoff at that idea and claim you need to eat the yolks or you’re missing all the nutrients. Those people dip toast in their runny yolks with glee, as if they’re liquid gold. So… who’s right?

First, let’s start with the basics. A large egg has about 70 calories, 4.75 grams of fat, and 186 milligrams of cholesterol. It also has 6 grams of protein. To compare, just the egg white from a large egg has only 17 calories, practically no fat or cholesterol, and 3.6 grams of protein. You can start to see why so many see the egg white as an ideal diet food.

But don’t be too quick to toss that yolk. While it’s true that the yolks contain all of the cholesterol, that might not be something you need to wring your hands over. That’s because for most people, saturated fat and trans fats are the main culprits in raising blood cholesterol levels. In other words, you should be more worried about the bacon fried in butter that accompanies those eggs. Also, the majority of the fats in egg yolks are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. In fact, a large review of studies found that eating up to one whole egg—yolk and all—a day was not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke.

And there’s another reason to keep the yolk in your next omelet: That’s where almost half the protein and most of the nutrients are. A lot of the vitamins and minerals found in eggs, like vitamin A, vitamin D, folate, and calcium, are almost completely in the yolk. So are lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients important for eye health. Adding a whole egg to a veggie-based meal, like a raw salad, was found in a small study to increase the vitamin E your body absorbs from the vegetables.

That said, if your doctor has recommended you watch your cholesterol levels, it may be worth switching some of your eggs to just whites, and making them part of an overall heart-healthy diet.

Looking for new ways to incorporate eggs into your own diet? Try a twist on eggs benedict with eggs Italiano, make an egg thread soup with asparagus, or add cooked eggs to this curried salad with cashews. Just want to use the whites? Try using more whites than whole eggs next time you make a breakfast casserole or an omelet, like this one with broccoli and parmesan.

Find more great health and wellness stories at EatingWell.com/Strive.