From eating a well-balanced diet to getting enough exercise, more people than ever are making a huge effort to live a healthy lifestyle. But as wellness and fitness become more popular, what we know about nutrition and exercise has advanced. We now know that a 20-minute HIIT session can give you the same benefits of a longer, slower cardio workout and that a plant-based diet is your best bet if you’re concerned about disease prevention.
One area that people still seem pretty unsure about, though? Whether eggs yolks are healthy. Do a poll of your friends and family, and you’ll probably get mixed responses—especially if you ask your parents, who likely think it’s egg whites–only all the way. But just like other areas of the wellness arena, thoughts on egg yolks are evolving.
Here’s what experts say about whether you should be eating egg yolks—and, more importantly, why.
The Egg White Obsession
You’ve probably seen a friend ordering an egg white–only omelet at brunch, especially if they’re watching their weight. But is this actually the best move if you’re trying to be healthy? “The egg white fascination began with the ‘low-fat/no-fat’ diet trend in the ’90s,” explains Autumn Ehsaei, RDN. “Eggs are an animal product, and therefore they contain saturated fats and cholesterol. The yolk is where those components are housed, whereas the white is mostly just protein with some vitamins and minerals.” Okay, that makes sense. You want to cut down on fat and get that protein, so you skip the yolks. But that’s not the whole story.
“When nutrition guidelines suggested limiting fat and dietary cholesterol in the diet, people became wary of eating the yolk, and egg whites became king. While the whites of eggs are indeed a great source of protein, the yolk has its own benefits, too,” Ehsaei says. More on that later. “We now know that dietary intake of cholesterol does not affect blood lipids to the extent that we thought, so eating cholesterol from healthy foods in appropriate amounts is not much of a health concern for most people.” So if you hate only eating egg whites, this is excellent news.
Yes, Egg Yolks Are Healthy
Yep, that’s right. Here’s why. “Egg yolks contain healthy fats, tons of vitamins and minerals, and they complete the whole nutritious egg package, which offers some of the most bioavailable sources of protein and nutrients that we can eat as humans,” Ehsaei says. That means your body is able to absorb and process the protein and nutrients in eggs better than it can from some other food sources.
And while egg whites contain some of the egg’s protein, the majority of an egg’s nutrients are in the yolk, notes Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, EP-C author of "Body Kindness" ($14). In fact, 40% of the egg’s protein is in the yolk, so if you’re looking to up your protein intake, there’s no reason not to eat the whole thing. And FYI, when you eat a whole egg, you get six grams of high-quality protein and all nine essential amino acids for just 70 calories.
Aside from the protein, eggs also have the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. “Luckily, the yolk is where the fat of an egg is also found, including some wonderful unsaturated fats, so all those fat-soluble vitamins are easily absorbed,” notes Ehsaei. “The yolk also holds many other nutrients such as vitamins B6 and B12, iron, calcium, folic acid, zinc, biotin, and choline, among others.” In other words, a lot of the good stuff is in the yolk, so you don’t want to miss out on it.
Your Daily Limit
So even though the yolk is healthy, some people wonder if they should be limiting their egg yolks consumption if they’re trying to cut down on their fat intake, and this is where expert opinions vary a little. “As a general guideline, I typically tell my clients that one to three whole eggs per day is a good amount,” says Eshaei. “More than that is where I would probably start to supplement with the egg whites only.” She offers this advice with the caveat that nutrition is very personal, and everyone has different needs. If you’re not sure if you’re eating too many or too few yolks, check in with a nutritionist about your individual nutritional requirements.
Scritchfield, on the other hand, says there’s no reason to sweat it when it comes to thinking about a daily egg yolk limit. “I don’t recommend limiting the number of eggs per day because on average, Americans already consume a little less than one egg a day. That's not overdoing it,” she says. “For example, when I eat eggs for breakfast, I usually have three, but I don’t eat the same thing every day, so it averages out. If you love eggs, they are good for you, and you don’t need to limit them unless you have a real medical reason. Even people with high cholesterol or heart disease risk can have six to seven whole eggs a week.”
So what’s the bottom line here? Essentially, you shouldn’t be afraid to eat the yolks—especially if you’re not dealing with any health issues that make cholesterol or fat consumption a concern. After all, much of the fat in eggs is the healthy kind. So go ahead, enjoy those poached eggs at your next weekend brunch—100% guilt-free.