Are Raw Eggs Safe To Eat? | Ask The Fitness Nerd

[ 47 ] November 27, 2008 |

Is eating raw eggs healthy, or even safe? Just because Rocky did it, doesn’t mean you should be using raw eggs in your diet. 



Dear Fitness Nerd,

One of the guys at the gym recommended drinking raw eggs in place of one of my protein shakes. He said eating Image of Man Eating Raw Eggseggs raw, instead of cooked, is more natural and healthy and makes more of the proteins available to the body. Is there any truth to this? I’ve heard that eating raw eggs can make you sick. Who is right? Thanks – Mark (Shaker Heights, Ohio)

Great question Mark.

The whole idea that athletes, boxers and bodybuilders should drink raw eggs is one of the most persistent and enduring diet myths out there. While it certainly is true that some athletes do eat or drink raw eggs, this isn’t necessary, or even healthy. Just because someone does something, doesn’t mean it makes sense.

Eating Raw Eggs: How Did It Get Started?

The idea that eating raw eggs is a better way to build muscle or become strong goes back over a century. 

In the 1890s a fitness and nutrition guru named Bernarr Macfadden recommended eating a diet of raw eggs, coupled with whole grains and fruits. Bodybuilder Charles Atlas – father of the Dynamic-Tension training plan popularized by  ads in comic books — was a big fan of eating raw eggs, and included them in his diet recommendations. Ironically, Atlas probably picked up the idea of eating raw eggs from Macfadden, who dubbed Atlas “The World’s Post Perfectly Developed Man” in 1921. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger advocated drinking raw eggs mixed with cream when he was preparing for his first Mr. Olympia.   

However, the idea that eating raw eggs is somehow more healthy and will make you get bigger in the gym really got a boost in the PR department in 1976 when millions of people watched Rocky Balboa down pitchers-full of raw eggs while he trained to take on Apollo Creed in the the original Rocky movie.  The enduring popularity of the movie ensures that new generations of Rocky-wannabes get re-exposed to the raw egg myth nearly every weekend on cable T.V.  After all, if it worked for the Italian Stallion or Arnold, it must be a good idea, right?

Not so fast.



So Why Would You Think Raw Eggs Are Healthy?

Like all myths, there is usually a grain of truth and some decent rationalizations underneath the surface. And the myth that eating raw eggs is healthier than cooked eggs is no exception.

Eggs, whether raw or cooked, are extremely high in digestable protein. They also are high in B Vitamins, which can help with cellular repair and improve energy levels, as well as Phosphorus and Choline. Before the advent of modern protein powders like whey protein, eggs and milk were one of the staples of muscle-building diets, because they offered a concentrated form of protein and calories.

So the addition of raw eggs to your diet from a protein perspective made a lot of sense. And since you could just skip the hassle of cooking them, there was also a convenience appeal to eating or drinking raw eggs. 

There also are a number of myths that have arisen around eating raw eggs, including that they cause gynecomastia(“man boobs”) as well as a increase sperm count or semen volume. There is no clinical evidence to support either of these claims. The connection between consumption of raw eggs and increased sperm count probably comes from the reputation of eggs for being high in amino acids, vitamins and minerals that support reproductive function. But there is no direct correlation between the two.

Are Raw Eggs Healthier Than Cooked Eggs?

Raw egg advocates argue that raw eggs are healthier than cooked eggs because cooking somehow reduces the nutritional value of the egg and protein. However, the science doesn’t really support this.

There is no clinical evidence or peer-reviewed research to indicate that cooking eggs reduces the availability of protein or significantly degrades vitamin or nutrient content. While the modern raw food movement would like to paint all foods with a broad brush that says they are healthier and more “natural” when not cooked, there really is little scientific evidence to back this up.

In fact, certain nutrient or phytochemical levels are actually boosted or enhanced during cooking, for example the anti-oxidant lycopene that’s present in tomato products. Heating tomatoes makes lycopene more available to the body, not less available.

1997 study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that the protein in cooked eggs was actually 40% more bio-available to the body than when uncooked. In practical terms, this means that you’d have to eat seven raw eggs to absorb the amount of protein available in five cooked eggs. So cooking actually ehances the biological value (BV) of eggs, versus degrading it. 

Raw Eggs, Avidin and Biotin Deficiency

Eating raw eggs can also interfere with the absorption of a key vitamin: biotin (also known as “Vitamin H.”) Raw egg whites contain a protein called avidin, which binds with biotin in the gut and prevents it from being absorbed by the body. However, cooking the eggs deactivates the avidin. So long-term and regular consumption of raw egg whites may contribute to biotin deficiencies.

Raw egg advocates will argue that the biotin that’s naturally available in the egg’s yolk will make up for the deficiency, but they are missing the point: the avidin in the egg white has already bound with the biotin in the yolk, rendering it useless to the body.

Additionally, consuming raw egg whites will also cause avidin in the egg whites to bind in the stomach with biotin from other foods or supplements that were recently consumed, effectively blocking their absorption as well. Of course, we’re not talking about a raw egg here or there as part of a homemade Caesar salad dressing, but rather the regular consumption of large amounts of raw eggs or raw egg whites.

Are Raw Eggs Safe to Eat? Say Hello To Salmonella Poisoning

There is also an additional, more serious health risk associated with eating raw eggs: salmonella poisoning.

Salmonella enterica is the bacteria that causes salmonellosis, or salmonella poisoning. Infection with S. enterica can cause diarrhea, fever, vomiting and cramps. In severe cases, salmonellosis can be fatal, especially in children, the elderly or people with compromised immune systems. Some people with salmonellosis may also develop reactive arthritis later in life.  

Salmonellosis is typically spread through the consumption or handling of raw or undercooked eggs,  and raw meat, poultry and dairy.  In the case of eggs, the egg’s shell normally protects the yolk and egg white against contamination. However, salmonella present on the shell can infect the yolk and egg when the egg is cracked, or can permeate the interior of the egg through microscopic cracks. This is why it’s always a good idea to wash eggs before cracking them, as well as throwing out any eggs that do have cracks. Cooking kills the salmonella bacterium, however, even if it has contaminated the yolk or white.

Salmonella Risk of Raw Eggs May Be Lower Than Originally Thought

In the late 1990s, the U.S. government reported that as many as 20% of all U.S. chickens were contaminated with salmonella. However, by 2005, that had dropped to 16%. 

A 2002 study by U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the risk of egg-borne salmonella was less than previously thought.  The USDA study found that of the 69 billion eggs produced each year in the U.S., only 2.3 million are contaminated with salmonella. That’s 1 in every 30,000 eggs. Even then, the salmonella may have not even penetrated the shell, so smart handling and additional washing of the egg can decrease that risk.

Children, the elderly and immuno-compromised should probably avoid raw eggs entirely. If you are a healthy adult, you have to make your own decisions about the occasional consumption of raw eggs in dishes or dressings. While the odds of contracting salmonella from eggs is fairly slim – 1 in 30,000 — there are risks, so be aware of them. Health experts advise people to store eggs in the refrigerator, use them within two weeks, cook them thoroughly, and not eat them raw.

If you are eating raw eggs daily because you think they are somehow more healthy than cooked ones, eat at your own risk, but realize there’s really no reason for it. Eat ‘em scrambled and you’ll do just as well. And if you’ve ever tried to down a glass of raw eggs, you’ll now they taste better cooked, anyway.

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Is eating raw eggs healthy, or even safe?
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Comments (47)

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  1. CulinaryStudent (1 comments) says:

    Your math on the percentages of bio-availability for raw vs. cooked egg protein is wrong. "In practical terms, this means that you’d have to eat nine raw eggs to absorb the amount of protein available in five cooked eggs." 40% of 5 is 2. 5+2(40% more)=7. To get to 9 from 5 you would need 80% more availability of protein as opposed to 40%.

    • Michael Gorlitsky (2 comments) says:

      Your correction on the math on the percentages of bio-availability for raw vs cooked egg protein is wrong. “40% of 5 is 2. 5+2(40% more)=7. To get 9 from 5 you would need 80% more availability of protein as opposed to 40%”
      60% of 10 is 6. 6+4(40% more)=10. To get 7 from 5 you would need ~15.57% (5phi/7) more availability of protein as opposed to 40%.
      MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH
      OK you win: 40% more means subliminally in addition to the percent of the thing that is currently in the process of being worked on in the person’s linear, concrete mindset.
      But just think of what we could accomplish if only we phrased comparative operations in terms of the realization of the operation rather than the process of operating on the realization. I think this is kinda why kids hate algebra when they’re real little: the wording is obnoxiously and deceptively calculator-friendly rather than people friendly. If the language really wanted to be efficient it’d just say: “cooked = 1.4(raw)”, but nooo it has to be calculator friendly AND people friendly at the same time but that doesn’t work unless you’ve been trained through a video game like WoW or Diablo 3 to recognize exactly what that wording means as a direct algebraic translation.

      • Michael Gorlitsky (2 comments) says:

        NVM I just realized it’s a/b = (b-a)/(a+b) and doesn’t require any kind of phi nonsense.
        To figure out the ratio of 5 equaling 7 under my new way of looking at comparative ratios, you simple take 7-5 and divide it by 5 + 7, giving you 16.66666666..%
        5phi/7 was only close b/c the numbers I was using were deliberately low positive integers, so 1/(a+b) didn’t stray too far. Ironically, to continue talking about exactly how far my percent strayed as a result of using phi, I would have to use % increase in the context of how that culinary student was intending it.

  2. Matt (194 comments) says:

    CulinaryStudent, thanks for the math check. You’re correct of course. Funny how many people have read this (including myself) and never caught it.  I’ll update it. Thanks again for the heads-up. Appreciate it.

  3. StrongandFit (4 comments) says:

    I "eat" raw eggs all the time.  It hasn’t caused any problems for me.

  4. Eggman (1 comments) says:

    What’s a egg?

  5. Dryadhater (1 comments) says:

    Try eating 4 cooked eggs then try eating 4 raw eggs. Notice the difference how you feel more full by eating 4 raw eggs opposed to the cooked variant. Then notice how you feel more energy after eating raw eggs opposed to the cooked variant. Makes one wonder doesn’t it? :)

  6. Janene B. (1 comments) says:

    I love drinking a protein shake in the morning consisting of 1 raw egg, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 banana or peach, and a little sweetener, all thoroughly mixed together in the blender.  Could 1 raw egg taken this way be harmful?  Would it be better to just drink maybe 2 to 3 a week as opposed to each day?

  7. Scott (5 comments) says:

    On occasion I thoroughly enjoy two or three unmixed quality raw eggs(free range organic type) plopped into a glass of milk pre-mixed with a bit of maple syrup.  Hits the spot; averaging at most a few times per month, if at all.  Let your body direct you if you’re living to perform well, and have the awareness to make sense of what your body indicates to you in response to what you eat.

  8. Donna (1 comments) says:

    Her morning drink sounds good!!

  9. mmc (1 comments) says:

    ” the avidin in the egg white has already bound with the biotin in the yolk, rendering it useless to the body.”

    Does that make any sense? How is the avidin in the white bound with that in yellow? They are quite far apart.

    Also, the salmonella thing is silly. Just buy organic eggs, not mega-factory nightmare from hell eggs.

  10. Anon (1 comments) says:

    I personally say do whatever works. I’ve been taking raw eggs for the past two years now and I’ve gained 30 pounds of lean muscle, have excellent cholesterol, and have experienced no sign of biotin deficiency. I do not take multi-vitamins or any other supplements. I have never gotten salmonella poisoning.

    Raw eggs work. Better than cooked? Couldn’t tell you. But there’s no reason to NOT do it. “Scientific evidence” on the matter goes back and forth and so far as I can see, there’s nothing decisive on either side. But for me, if it isnt broke, don’t fix it. Sticking with raw eggs.

  11. Jessia Stinar (1 comments) says:

    hopefully this post does not appear several instances (it appears to freeze once i try to post my comment.. undecided if it’s truly posting), but all I really wished to say was good post and thanks for sharing.

  12. Jack (3 comments) says:

    With so many experts out there in the field of medicine and nutrition, one might think that there shouldn’t be so many sick people in the US.  You’re not going to find much truth on TV, on mainstream news, or from medical doctors.  Do what feels right.  DO a test…eat raw eggs and compare it to how it feels when you cook them.  There’s lots of info. out there on raw foods and I’m not just talking about fruits and vegetables.  Plenty of folks eat raw eggs, milk and meat and are healthy and strong.  The healthiest people I know (stamina, lack of sickness, lack of taking FDA drugs, and ability to have good sex) eat raw mixed with cooked foods.  Chinese medicine advocates eating more cooked foods during the colder months and more raw during warmer months.  There’s a lot to learn on the subject of diet (outside of what they teach you in college) and it’s worth looking into.

  13. nikkolai (1 comments) says:

    thanks for this !

  14. Chris E. (1 comments) says:

    My name is Chris. I’m 5’6 and started working out at 117lbs. I started eating 12-18 raw eggs a day two months ago for weight gain and to help build muscle mass. I also eat a lot of  other healthy foods. I have gained 10lbs in 60 days. So, today I am 127lbs and I credit the raw eggs for the 10lbs! :)

  15. Kate Dawson (3 comments) says:

    If their is evidence to say that no nutrition is lost through cooking the eggs then why take the risk? If you get the same amount of protein and calories through scrambling them, why take the risk of salmonella poisoning and Avidin/Biotin deficiency?

  16. Jon (1 comments) says:

    I haven’t read any conclusive studies on the benefits of raw V cooked eggs but I do believe there are health risks with raw hence I go with cooked.

  17. jake (3 comments) says:

    i cant afford an entire egg ;’(

  18. chris (12 comments) says:

    I dont know what kind of nerd you really are, but if you were into science a bit more you would know that heat denatures protein. The extreme heat of cooking the eggs no matter how you cook them  destroys the proteins in it. The raw egg  is a natural way to the purest form of all the branch chain aminos. The branch chain aminos are the building blocks to all the right protein that your body needs.  Cooking the eggs leads to there destruction as a nutrient for your body. and the biotin issue..well ill take the protein in its best natural form and deal with the gray hairs. lol

  19. Dan K (1 comments) says:

    Personally I eat raw eggs out of convenience and out of the fact that I don’t really like the taste of cooked eggs much. I can eat a few cooked eggs and be fine but anymore tends to gross me out. On top of that when I do eat cooked eggs I only eat them with the yolks raw.  Which as far as I know still brings the risk of salmonella infection.  I was already aware that the protein in eggs is more bio available when cooked but I figure if it comes down to not eating many eggs or eating them raw I’m going to go with raw. Plus to add flavor and to increase the chances of not getting sick I add cinnamon which has documented antibacterial effects and a splash of virgin olive oil which also does.

  20. will (1 comments) says:

    So i’m 14 and looking to boost my muscle gain, i played football and now that it’s the off season im looking to put on some weight. I’m 135 and can lift almost as much as anyone on my team, even the guys that are like 40 lbs more than me. I go to after school workouts that last for an hour. I try and drink a lot of milk since the whey powder is expensive, so thats why i went on here, to see if raw eggs are okay. If anyone has good tips to gain lean muscle i’d appreciate it.

  21. Anonymous (4 comments) says:

    Oh thank god, i just ate a raw(washed the shell thoroughly) egg and was feeling dizzy and had a headache, I thought there could be some serious danger in it besides salmonella. I’m ok now. Phew.

  22. Chris Schilke (1 comments) says:

    I liked your post on whether raw eggs are good to eat.  I don’t think the whole egg is because as you point out there are substances in the white that block the absorption of available nutrients(Biotin).  I had been developing arthritis in my hands and decided to begin to eat raw egg yolk and the results were spectacular for me.  Another point: you compare cooking egg to cooking tomato and I don’t feel that’s a fair comparison.  Only opinion as I’m not a scientist.  The bottom line for me is that I agree with your position on eating raw eggs if it includes the whites.
    Chris Schilke

  23. Shane (2 comments) says:

    I eat six raw eggs every day, and I’ve been doing so for the past two years.. that means I’ve consumed ~2190 raw eggs over the past two years.  They have NEVER made me sick.  I do it because I don’t feel like cooking eggs and cleaning pans all day, but I also believe that ANY food is better in it’s natural state. Always cage free and organic.

  24. Tom (2 comments) says:

    Been taking raw eggs for over 20 years – no bad reaction, salmonella, etc.  It works wonderfully.  Read scientific literature from turn of the century for more accurate studies.  Today’s literature is too skewed by government FDA propaganda.

  25. J Skoog (1 comments) says:

    Can people with penut allergies be allergic to chia seeds?

  26. trena (2 comments) says:

    but coulnt eating raw eggs get you salmoilla.

  27. trena (2 comments) says:

    I do NOT think that your idea of eating eggs is good because you could get

    SALMONILA

  28. Trevor Hunt (1 comments) says:

    raw eggs are easier to swallow than they are to eat cooked. With a daily multivitamin you can ensure that you will not be deficient in biotin and gain maximum results in terms of muscle growth and development. Salmonella is sometimes in the eggs of chickens and highly resistant strains can exist, but this is not deadly; and raw eggs are quick, easy to down, virtually tasteless ( unless you break the yolk with your teeth lol) and healthy. There are benefits to both, a healthy person who is exercising will have a better immune system that will tolerate strains of infection like salmonella more effectively.

  29. creative1 (1 comments) says:

    I read that salmonella poison is usually from the egg SHELL, not the egg itself.

  30. Ryan (2 comments) says:

    i make a high powered protein shake after my workout that consists of 2 cups of organic low fat milk, 4 organic eggs and 2 packs of sugar free choclate carnations instant breakfast for flavor.  Thats a shake thats high in protein as well as vitamins and minerals.  If you do the math thats 50 grams of protein coming from natural sources instead of buying the protein powders sold at GNC.  I’ve put on 7lbs of lean muscle doing that in the last month while doing cardio 5 day a week on the cross trainer.  Went from 234 to 241 just like that.

  31. Elvis Duran (1 comments) says:

    Adding other foods and stuff reduces the benefits of the actual thing its self. For instance many people drink coffee and like to add flavor. Coffee is rich in antioxidants adding sugar, cream and or milk kills the benefits of the antioxidants you could be getting. It was said so by my doctor. Thanks for the info. Sources?

  32. dani (1 comments) says:

    Heres a good way to answer your question. Is the guy that gave you the advice in good shape? If so, try it out hehehe

  33. Gary (2 comments) says:

    I realize this article is quite old, but I just read it and there are comments from only a couple months ago. The sentiment is well written and I do not wholly disagree with what I read. However, there are a few things to take into consideration. First, cooking foods high in cholesterol can damage the cholesterol. This is something very important when cooking meat, especially fish. Raw fish is much more healthy than cooked fish, due to the high levels of “good” cholesterol. This same principle works for all meats, including eggs. The longer and more thorough you cook meat – the more the “good” cholesterol gets damaged. Also, an ancient trick of eating eggs has recently been proven by scientific research: eat the egg raw, yes, but only eat the yellow fluid inside the yolk. Discard all the rest: don’t eat the white, don’t eat the yolk sac. This would be the case if you were wanting only the cholesterol your brain and heart needs. Just slit the yolk with a razor blade and spoon out the yellow goo. Yum. But obviously people are eating eggs for more than just the perfect cholesterol in the yolk sac. That raw yellow fluid is pretty much a cholesterol gold mine.
    As for salmonella, if you’re healthy with a strong immune system… don’t even worry about it. The worst you’re going to get is a temporary case of the squirts, maybe cramps. If you want to get into eating raw eggs, eat just one the first time. Give your body a chance to deal with the salmonella, because salmonella is present in every egg – even the organic or free-range ones. Trust me. Believe me. Salmonella is in every kitchen, every restaurant, every grocery store, in every toilet, on everyone’s unwashed hands. It’s a bacteria. It’s everywhere, and you ingest it every day in some amount or another. So ease into eating your raw eggs. If you get the squirts or cramps or such, don’t panic. Let yourself recover and try again later, reducing your dose of eggs (thus reducing the introduction of salmonella into your system). Over time your body will kick salmonella’s butt and you’ll have no worries. This is why guys can eat 12-18 raw eggs per day and not get sick. Their immune system is prepared for the salmonella bacterium. BUT! I figure even then you’d still get sick on occasion from the bacteria present in raw eggs, just like you’ll get sick from salmonella on occasion from your local restaurant. It’s all about volume, and the immune system is fickle and controlled by many, many factors.
    I agree with the comments with people telling us to simply listen to our bodies, but just because one raw egg makes you sick DOES NOT mean it’s bad for you. Shoot, when someone is out of shape and takes off and runs a couple miles… it can make them VERY ill! Cramps, nausea, dizziness, even fever (overheating). Does that mean they should stop running? Or merely take more time to work the body up to the challenge?
    Good honest article with good comments. Thanks, even if I am late to the party.
     
     

  34. mungiu (1 comments) says:

    raw eggs are good, they DECREASE cholesterol level. Go learn some biology please before posting such articles.
    Do you even know that the level of cholesterol in blood does not mean a persona will suffer from cholesterol disease?

    OMG .. such not so smart people 

    • Matt (194 comments) says:

      Andrei, thanks for sharing your opinion. The article was not about cholesterol. The article was about the safety of eating raw eggs as well as whether raw eggs provided additional nutritional value over cooked eggs. I’m very aware of the research around dietary cholesterol, as well as the research that has shown that regularly eating eggs does not result in higher-blood cholesterol levels. Thank you though for your rant, even if it was off topic and off point. I’m now going to eat some eggs.

  35. nad (1 comments) says:

    natural things are always best………..eating raw egg and running ummmmaaahhhhh!

  36. Sway (1 comments) says:

    See drinking 7 raw eggs or even 10 eggs isnt hard. The problem is cooking and eating 7-10 eggs in one sitting. That is nearly impossible. Its convenience mostly.

  37. Edith Cowell (1 comments) says:

    I LOVE eating raw eggs. Been having them for the past three years and never had a problem. I say, take this article with a grain of salt!
     
     

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