Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
15 Feb

Dear Mark: Raw Eggs

raw eggA glassful of raw eggs incites mixed reactions for many of us. It’s routine for some and revulsion for others. Commonly associated with bodybuilders and boxers (the Rocky scene) who want to bulk up, a lot of folks who fit neither category include them on a regular basis for simple nutritional reasons. However, there’s more to the picture, as this reader’s email suggests.

Dear Mark,

I have searched the site to see if there is any pros/cons of eating raw eggs. I know in the past, CW says that eating raw eggs can create a biotin deficiency in our bodies. I like having a couple of raw eggs in my whey protein drink after a workout. Do you have any information that would be helpful in the use of raw eggs?

Eggs in general are a nutritional (and wholly Primal!) powerhouse with impressive supplies of selenium, iodine, phosphorus, molybdenum, choline, lutein, vitamins A, B2, B5, B12, E, D and K. Add to this a healthy 5.5 grams of protein, 20% of your RDA for tryptophan and essential fatty acids. But what’s the specific draw to raw eggs?

A lot of folks choose to eat raw eggs because some nutrients can be diminished by heating. (Although this is true of cooking just about anything, cooking also makes certain nutrients more bioavailable – hence the constant pull and push between the raw foodists and traditional cooks.) Some people feel any change in the chemical structure is to be avoided. Others don’t. Although some vitamins (like vitamins C, B6 and B9) are more fragile and lose potency during heating (the more/longer heat, the more loss), other nutrients are enhanced. As reader Tuscoyote noted in the forum a few months ago, researchers have found that egg protein is more bioavailable when heated. (Thanks for the NPR link, Tuscoyote!) Here’s the study referenced in that interview. The study showed that egg protein is more digestible (94% versus 55-64%) when heated, probably due to alteration of the protein’s structure and the ability of digestive enzymes to infiltrate peptide bonds. Whether you eat your eggs heated or raw (or a little of both) in part depends on your goal in eating them to begin with.

As for drawbacks, there’s the well-circulated salmonella risk, which isn’t the dire prospect it’s often made out to be. The risk has been estimated as 1 in 10,000 (CDC) or 1 in 30,000 (Risk Analysis journal). And though washing eggshells can reduce much of the risk, it doesn’t eliminate it entirely. Salmonella can be present in the yolk due to infection in the hen’s reproductive tissue.

Of course, not all eggs are created equal when it comes to salmonella or nutrition. Not only are organic, free range eggs more nutrient-dense, one study found them to be significantly less contaminated than battery cage hens. Hens that graze and eat a natural diet as well as have more space to roam (to avoid living in feces) are naturally healthier. While the survey determined a quarter of battery cage groups to be contaminated, only 5% of those that were both organic and free range showed contamination. (Free-range, non-organic came up at 6.5%.) Simple refrigeration can keep any salmonella bacteria from multiplying, which minimizes the risk of actual illness from contaminated eggs. In those who are very young, pregnant or immune-compromised, salmonella risk is more of a consideration.

As you mention, eating raw eggs carries the eventual risk of a biotin deficiency. Although egg yolk is actually a rich source of biotin, the white contains avidin, a glycoprotein that bonds with biotin, preventing the nutrient’s absorption. Avidin is generally inactivated when cooked, which makes the biotin in the yolk fully available for absorption by the body. You don’t have to rule out raw eggs by any means. I wouldn’t advise eating them daily for long stretches of time without a biotin supplement (supported within a B-complex intake, since these vitamins work synergistically). If you’re eating them just a few times a week, the risk for deficiency isn’t as great, but I would still do a supplement or at least make sure I was getting a hefty amount of biotin rich food (swiss chard, tomatoes, carrots, liver and others) the days I eat raw eggs. As a compromise, some folks will just eat the raw yolks alone and cook up the whites later.

All that said, raw eggs can be part of your Primal fare. (There are advantages to cooked eggs, but it’s however you enjoy them.) If you like raw eggs, I’d say have at it – with the above info in mind. If you would rather cook them, I’d suggest going easy on the heat to avoid overcooking. Some folks suggest choosing cooking methods that leave the egg yolk intact and soft (like sunny side up or poached) because of concerns about oxidizing the cholesterol. I’m not too concerned about the small amount that might result from my breakfast routine. For myself, I take a middle road (mostly for taste). Sometimes I do my omelets, but just as often these days I’ll poach them so the egg white is cooked and yolk runny. Just had two for breakfast in fact.

Let me know your take on raw versus runny versus fully cooked. For those who go raw or not, how do you eat them? Thanks for all your questions and comments, and keep ‘em coming!

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. Hi Mark, great write up. I stumbled upon your site when looking up for info on eating /drinking raw eggs. I run a cooking website dedicated to Slovak cuisine, and one of our delicious Christmas treats are no-bake rum balls made with raw eggs. One of my visitors was asking about the risk of eating them like that, without cooking the egg. See http://www.slovakcooking.com/2009/recipes/rum-balls/comment-page-1/#comment-3089

    lubos wrote on November 5th, 2010
  2. I really enjoy drinking a raw egg shake every other morning after I do push ups. I crack 5 eggs (3 whites, 5 yolks) into a quart mason jar. Then add 1/2 banana and fill to the brim with raw Jersey milk. Blend with an immersion/stick blender. It’s insanely rich and satiating. Another favorite is scrambled with cheddar cheese and dandelion greens, fresh garlic and bacon strips.

    Rob wrote on November 15th, 2010
  3. So a little late to the game here, but my naturopathic doc and trainer advises raw eggs, too. Just read Catching Fire, however, and the study sited shows less protein available to the body when raw, as was discussed above. So… what’s the verdict? I’ll eat cooked or raw but which is healthier? Anyone?

    Liz wrote on December 8th, 2010
  4. Raw organic eggs mixed with some heavy cream and nutmeg makes such a perfect and quick and easy breakfast, especially for if you’re on the go. Fills me with energy too.

    Zach wrote on December 16th, 2010
  5. I grew up eating raw eggs. My vegetarian mother ate them raw until she passed away at age 91. In our family that was kinda young to die. I eat 3-4 raw eggs every morning from my own free-range chickens. I don’t mix them, because it is best if you just put them in a glass one at a time and gulp them down. I’m going on 60 and haven’t had a problem yet with a biotin deficiency or salmonella. My 91 year old mother never took any medication her whole life, except maybe an asperin. I don’t need to take any either. Eating raw eggs is a part of the reason why I’m healthy. Ever wonder why a doctor will ask you if you are allergic to eggs before he gives you the flu shot? Just eat raw eggs and you won’t get the flu, but eat them from healthy chickens.

    Granny wrote on December 28th, 2010
    • Doctors ask if you are allergic to eggs before a flu shot because the vaccine contains egg white. But hey, eggs are so good for you, they may well help keep the flu at bay.

      Jacque wrote on June 16th, 2011
  6. Mark I love this post! I actually grew up eating raw eggs but stopped once I turned about 25. Thanks so much for this great post!

    Stacy Lawson wrote on December 29th, 2010
  7. Raw eggs are great for protein shakes, such as this one which I created:

    INGREDIENTS:

    1 tablespoon of raw almonds
    1 tablespoon of raw cashewnuts
    1 tablespoon of mixed dried raisins/currants/ sultanas
    1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
    1 whole raw egg
    150ml of natural unsweetened yogurt
    2 tablespoons of cod liver oil
    4 tablespoons of coconut cream
    1 medium-sized banana

    DIRECTIONS:

    1. Use a food processor to grind the nuts, dried fruits and cinnamon into a fine mixture, and empty into a blender.

    2. Add in all the other ingredients and blend into a smoothie.

    3. Serve chilled.

    Gruesome wrote on February 27th, 2011
  8. *-Wow, this is amazzzing!

    Molly Yang wrote on April 5th, 2011
  9. *-I don`t really eat rw eggs 😐 But I`ll like to try it some day (:

    Lilly`X.&Blong`Y.

    Lilly Xiong wrote on April 5th, 2011
  10. i have just start eating raw eggs they taste bad but … its day one on eating

    kyle wrote on April 26th, 2011
  11. Cool I’m glad I can find accurate answers so easily thanks.:)

    Joe zannoni wrote on May 18th, 2011
  12. I just eat them raw.

    Hassan wrote on June 1st, 2011
  13. I had a great recipe for a smoothie I drank when pregnant that had raw eggs in it.

    I know the raw egg thing freaks some people out, but you just have to make your own decisions.

    Maryn Leister wrote on June 5th, 2011
  14. Great info, Mark. I stopped eating raw eggs because of the protein bioavailability issue, but with this info I may re-incorporate them to a degree. I don’t like the idea of throwing protein down the drain though (I lift weights and am bulking right now.) I used to make a shake with 6-8 raw eggs, a splash of milk, and 4 TBSP of ghiradelli hot cocoa powder-all blended. It was indistinguishable from chocolate milk!

    Reid wrote on June 15th, 2011
  15. I started eating raw eggs in Japan as SukiYaki – lightly mix eggs in a bowl and dip your hot fatty steak and vegetables in the raw egg then eat – outrageously delicious!

    Jacque wrote on June 16th, 2011
  16. After raising chickens I got into the habbit of eating raw eggs. If you like the taste if cream cicles, heres a really quick and tasty way to eat a raw egg. Crack open one raw egg into a glass. Add a 1/4 cup or so of cranberry juice (I tend to use light, no sugar – as I only do enough for the taste). Then throw in a show of heavy cream. Take a fork and do a light mix to break up yold and separate white(this is the secret of getting down a raw egg, having it alrweady separated so it doesnt get stuck in the throat and cause it to come back up). Its delicious and fast! Give it a try

    J

    Jeremy wrote on July 17th, 2011
  17. I’m wondering if fermenting raw eggs would inactivate the avidin.

    Specifically, I’m wondering if a put a dozen raw eggs in a batch of sauerkraut and let the whole thing ferment for two weeks, would the avidin still be active enough to bind with the biotin?

    Tony wrote on July 23rd, 2011
  18. i would scramble them on half max heat cook the whites completely, but have the yellow half cooked so that it’s runny but chewy. Sounds gross, but very delicious

    anthony wrote on July 31st, 2011
  19. i eat a dozen raw eggs a day…. Whites only…. 4 when i awake 4 before i lift and 4 after….. I put em in a coffee cup and throw em bak. R the yolks as healthy for u? I usually just throw them out but occasionaly use em as a face wash

    kyler wrote on August 5th, 2011
  20. i gave my cat a raw egg yesterday – he loved it. He is old – is it a good routine to start? What are the health benefits for him? Thanks everyone!

    sam wrote on August 26th, 2011
  21. Worry not about avidin. If you eat raw carrots, raw beetroot, sprouts, raw cabbage, in short, heaps of raw vegetables you will get heaps of biotin, not to mention an abundance of trace minerals, living water, free amino acids, vitamins and co-factors. Wild beasts eat them whole; snakes swallow them whole. We love to complicate things because in our limited process of learning through abstraction be have to separate, divide, denote everything into its parts then observe how certain parts react with other parts, then conote and try to build a complete picture again, often making erroneous propositions and conclusions. WHEN IN FACT things work in synergy, they are integral, they compliment. For instance vitamins isolated don’t work for us very well, but with all the other raw componants it becomes highly bioavailable.
    I reckon raw, unmixed, one at a time in a glass as mentioned above, followed shortly afterwards by a raw vegetable salad with avocado.

    Benedict wrote on September 11th, 2011
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    sex shops wrote on September 12th, 2011
  23. i like to cook my eggs this way….after water is boiled, turn off heat, then crack the egg/s into the water. let them sit in water for about 2min, you will have nice softly poached eggs with still runny yokes, longer if you want firmer yokes. this way i can multi task at same time without worrying over cooking the eggs. basically is poaching eggs without the vinegar and heat.

    rachael wrote on September 18th, 2011
  24. I drink them raw with sugar and then have a pomegranate juice ready on the side, to wash down!

    Paul wrote on September 20th, 2011
  25. Oh eggs are soooo tasty! I’ve had a few raw ones before but prefer fried sunny side up, runny yolks with tabasco and salt n pepper! Add a piece of toast to absorb the leftover yolk juice wow.

    I’ve been thinking about trying the prairie oyster drink: a raw egg yolk w/ dashes of hotsauce, worchestershire sauce and salt n pepper. A hangover cure but sounds good!

    Dillon wrote on October 6th, 2011
  26. I eat 4 raw eggs per day,but i havent experience any change yet .How long will this take.

    DON IRESH wrote on October 20th, 2011
  27. 2 words before u consume raw egg.
    bird flu

    ss wrote on October 23rd, 2011
  28. Just read that study on the bioavailability of raw vs cooked eggs. Pity, I had just gotten into the habit of having 3 raw eggs in my milk every day for lunch, and loved the taste but even more so the convenience of not having to boil them in the morning.

    Guess I’ll go back to boiled eggs – 50% vs 90% protein digestion is significant to me.

    spacediver wrote on November 6th, 2011
  29. I used to feed our dog a couple raw eggs a day. The dog got weaker & weaker and after about a month could hardly stand. Started cooking the eggs and he came back to normal, which is frisky, in a few weeks.

    Tim Heineman wrote on November 8th, 2011
    • There’s a substance – forgot what it’s called – in egg whites that protects the yolk, but it also inhibits the absorbtion of some nutrients. Cooking the white removes/denatures most of it. Some people also see problems with eating raw egg whites – so if you’re going to give raw eggs, stick to the yolk, or cook it, as you now do if you want to keep the white. Though most of the nutrition is in the yolk, the white just has protein and some trace elements, but nothing more.

      Milla wrote on November 8th, 2011
  30. milk and raw eggs mixed together along with some honey .

    kanwar wrote on November 16th, 2011
  31. i eat uncooked eggs, i started gaining waight

    kk wrote on December 5th, 2011

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