Is it a good idea to throw out the egg yolk when cooking omelets?
No longer painted as a villain in heart health, restrictions on egg consumption by major American health organizations have eased up, and the newest U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines allows eating up to one egg a day, yolk and all, within a healthful eating plan. Yet the stigma of the high-cholesterol yolk has been tough to crack, even though skipping it skimps on the most nutritious part of the egg.
The egg yolk - with about 213 milligrams (mg) per serving - is one of the most concentrated sources of cholesterol in the diet, though there is recent debate over how high-cholesterol foods really impact heart disease. Recent studies show that the relationship between dietary cholesterol and blood levels of cholesterol, the type that causes heart disease, is very complex and highly individual. Research has failed to provide conclusive evidence that one egg a day can raise your blood cholesterol or risk for heart disease. Studies show that eating eggs may cause a small rise in LDL ("bad" cholesterol) in some people - though the increase is in a subclass of larger LDLs, which are less likely to contribute to plaque in the arteries - and an accompanying rise in "good" HDL cholesterol. Still, the American Heart Association advises that if you have high LDL levels, you should cut your dietary cholesterol levels to 200 mg per day.
But there's a lot more to egg yolks than cholesterol. Yolks contain high quality protein and essential vitamins and nutrients. One of the most powerful benefits of the yolk is the concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids responsible for its rich, golden color. They are key components in the human eye, and eating foods that contain these nutrients preserves good eyesight and prevents vision loss. High levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in the diet are associated with the lowest incidence of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss among the elderly. Tossing the yolk in favor of the perceived healthier egg white tosses out 100 percent of the carotenoids, essential fatty acids, vitamins A, E, D and K, as well as most of the calcium, iron and folate in the egg.
While spinach and some other foods are excellent sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that lutein in eggs is three times more available to your body, compared with an equivalent amount of cooked spinach. What better reason to get cracking on the budget-friendly, accessible egg? Just be sure to shy away from less healthy pairings, such as eggs fried in butter or served with bacon, and partner moderate amounts with vegetables in omelets, quiche and stir-fries.