I’m training for a half-marathon this summer, and I have backyard chickens that create an abundance of eggs. (Seriously, so many eggs. Want a dozen? How about three dozen? Come by my house around 6.) These two details prompted a colleague to ask whether I’d ever considered drinking a raw-egg shake, Rocky Balboa-style. He wasn’t suggesting I do this, I don’t think, just posing the question. My response: Wait, people actually do that?
A quick Google reveals: People actually do that.
“It is definitely still a thing that people do. The popular reason right now is because a nutrient called choline is more available in raw eggs than its cooked counterparts,” Matthew Walrath, founder of Beyond Macros nutrition coaching, tells me. Choline play a role in neurotransmission, Walrath says, helping “recruit muscle fibers” that could potentially increase your body’s output. (Author’s note: I am not a lifter. I just want to finish a half-marathon without embarrassing myself.)
But Walrath isn’t advocating for a morning raw-egg smoothie, and neither are the other experts I consulted. They cite concerns about salmonella and other bacteria that outweigh the modest benefits an athlete could gain from raw eggs. And, it turns out, there are safer and more appetizing ways to get protein and choline into your body.
“A small number of eggs are contaminated with salmonella, a nasty foodborne illness. Why take the risk?” says Mascha Davis, a private-practice dietitian in L.A. and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
I ask her if there are any circumstances under which she’d recommend consuming raw eggs.
“Nope. Pretty much never.”
Cooking eggs helps guard against salmonella, which some raw-egg proponents claim only exists on the outside of the egg’s shell. Some say that washing the egg’s exterior and then consuming the raw contents protects them against salmonella, but the Egg Safety Center says that’s not correct: “Bacteria can also be inside an uncracked, whole egg…. Scientists have found that salmonella enteritidis has the ability to grow both in the egg yolk and white.”
Cooking eggs also helps your body absorb their protein. Contrary to some pro-raw-egg postings, both Davis and Walrath tell me humans are better able to digest cooked egg protein. It’s thought that some inhibitory proteins are denatured during cooking, which makes them easier to absorb. “You’ll get much better and safer nutrition from cooking them,” Davis says. A study in the Journal of Nutrition, cited by the Egg Nutrition Center, puts the digestible protein of a raw egg at just half that of a cooked egg.
As for other nutrients—vitamin D, for example—it’s important to think critically about raw-egg claims such as the often-cited statistic that raw eggs contain 36 percent more vitamin D than cooked eggs. Walrath says the actual amount of vitamin D in an egg is so negligible that this percentage is nutritionally “meaningless.”
And what about the choline thing?
“You’ll still get some choline from a cooked egg, so if you’re already eating eggs, that’s a good thing,” Walrath says. He tells me he prefers a choline supplement called Alpha-Gpc, which can be purchased in capsules online.
“Personally, because of the availability and low price of Alpha-Gpc and because there is choline in cooked eggs, I’d rather not risk the bacterial contamination of drinking raw eggs. Granted it’s a low risk percentage, but why be that sick?”