Ah, the holidays: Lifetime is playing holiday movies 24/7 and the air smells faintly of gingerbread-scented candles everywhere you go. (Or maybe that’s just someone’s gingerbread-scented lotion?) And for a lot of people, a big part of the season involves sipping eggnog and stealing bites of cookie dough while making holiday treats. Which raises an important question: What’s the deal with eating raw eggs? (They’re a main ingredient in traditional eggnog recipes, after all.)
It’s not just a Christmas thing, either. People often stir raw eggs into smoothies for an extra hit of protein, and they’re a starring ingredient in pretty common foods like Caesar salad dressing and Hollandaise sauce. So if everyone else is doing it…it can’t be that bad for you, right? Here’s what you should know before you start downing the ‘nog.
Are there any benefits to eating raw eggs?
Eggs in general have come a long way from the days when people were convinced they caused heart problems and high cholesterol. In fact, eggs have a lot of health benefits:
1. They’re full of healthy fats. You don’t have to be a ketogenic diet follower to know that eggs—raw or cooked—are a fantastic source of healthy fats, which help you stay full and satisfied for longer. They even naturally contain a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids (you know, the stuff that’s good for your brain and heart health), with fortified eggs containing even more of the nutrient.
2. They’re high in protein. Raw eggs have six grams of protein, just like in a boiled egg. Not only is protein a key energy source, but it will help you feel full longer, too. However, keep in mind that a small study found that the protein in raw eggs is less bioavailable (aka less easily absorbed) by the body than the protein in cooked eggs.
3. The yolks are packed in vitamins A, B, D, E, and K. Egg yolks are very concentrated in nutrients—both when cooked and uncooked. It’s got calcium for strong bones, iron for healthy blood flow, and a variety of vitamins to support your cardiovascular, nervous, and immune systems. And these nutrients don’t exist outside the yolk (so, don’t just eat the whites).
4. They help protect against heart disease. Eggs—whether eaten raw or cooked—are good for your heart thanks to their phospholipids, which are linked to lowering inflammation and helping protect against heart disease. The yolks in particular are rich in choline, a nutrient that supports brain and heart health.
The big risk of eating raw eggs
Here’s the thing though: Raw eggs have very comparable health benefits to cooked eggs. They share mostly the same nutritional profile, same vitamins, same health perks, etc. And cooked eggs don’t come with the risk of salmonella.
Basically, eggs can get contaminated by salmonella either because the hen that laid the egg was infected with the bacteria, or because the egg was laid in a dirty environment already containing salmonella. But cooking it to a temperature of at least 160 degrees F (which happens through most cooking methods) will kill any lingering bacteria.
Contracting salmonella isn’t usually life-threatening, but it’s a serious condition that could cause diarrhea and sometimes requires hospitalization in more severe cases. (And if you’ve ever had salmonella, you know it’s absolutely miserable.)
While the odds of contracting salmonella from raw eggs is pretty low (about one in 20,000 eggs is believed to be infected), the USDA stresses that no one should eat foods made with raw eggs—especially pregnant women, infants, and anyone with a compromised immune system. The exception: If you’re preparing a food that’s traditionally made with raw eggs (like eggnog, sorry!), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using pasteurized eggs, which have been treated to kill most bacteria in the egg.
Consuming raw eggs has also been linked to biotin deficiencies. Biotin is a type of B vitamin and can bring major beauty benefits, including healthier hair and nails. Raw egg whites contain a protein called avidin, which binds to biotin and thus block absorption. (Cooked egg whites do not have avidin.) However, you’d have to eat a LOT of egg whites every day in order to become deficient, so that’s more of a secondary concern to the salmonella risk.
Eating raw eggs definitely comes with risks, and the fact remains that you can get nearly all of the same health benefits in cooked eggs. So if you need those raw eggs for something, make sure they’re pasteurized. And when it comes to holiday planning, maybe try making a vegan eggnog instead—or nab an egg-free version at the grocery store instead.
Originally published December 12, 2018. Updated October 14, 2019.
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