If you’re a fitness freak and just got pumped from watching a “Rocky” movie, you may be tempted to start drinking raw eggs prior to or after intense workouts. Eggs are an excellent source of protein and certain nutrients, which are great for building and repairing muscles. The health risks of consuming raw eggs are not great, but they likely outweigh the marginal benefits.
Nutrition of Eggs
Eggs are a complete source of protein, which means they contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs to build its own protein-based tissues such as muscle, skin, hair and fingernails. All animal-derived food contains complete protein, but eggs are an especially rich source that your body absorbs rapidly and efficiently. A regular-sized egg contains about 6.5 grams of protein, which your body completely absorbs within approximately two hours of consumption. The only other protein source that’s absorbed more quickly is whey powder. Eggs are also great sources of choline and selenium, vitamins A and D and most B-complex vitamins. Eggs contain many minerals, electrolytes and flavonoids in trace amounts.
Risks of Raw Eggs
The primary health risk associated with drinking raw eggs is salmonellosis, which is a type of food poisoning caused by the Salmonella enterica bacteria. Salmonella infection typically leads to diarrhea, cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever. In severe cases, salmonellosis can be fatal, especially in young children, the elderly and those with weakened immunity. Salmonella can live on the exterior of shells and contaminate the yolk or egg white when the egg is cracked. It’s also possible for the bacteria to permeate imperfections in thin-shelled eggs, which is often an indication of a malnourished or unhealthy hen. The likelihood of salmonella poisoning from consuming raw eggs is not very high. The U.S. Department of Agriculture claims the chance of an egg being covered with salmonella is only one in 30,000 eggs. A healthy immune system usually prevents salmonella infection, so the actual health risks are miniscule for most people.
Health experts once thought that your body better absorbs raw eggs, but cooked eggs are virtually 100 percent absorbed by your body. Some studies have concluded that the protein in cooked eggs is up to 40 percent more bioavailable to your body than protein from eggs that are not cooked. On the other hand, some nutrients in eggs are heat sensitive -- particularly the flavonoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are strong antioxidants -- so eating eggs raw is likely to preserve more of them. A distinct benefit of using raw eggs in homemade mayonnaise and salad dressings is enhanced flavor and texture, but drinking raw eggs is certainly not delicious by any stretch of the imagination.
There just doesn’t seem to be any clear benefit to drinking raw eggs, unless of course you are in a situation where you have no means of cooking them. To reduce your risk of bacterial contamination, thoroughly wash the exterior of eggs before you crack them. Iodine, vinegar or lemon juice are all good natural antibacterial agents that you can mix with water to help disinfect eggshells. You can also buy higher quality eggs -- such as free-range or organic varieties. Discard eggs that have any exterior imperfections such as perforations or hairline cracks.
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
- Public Health Nutrition: From Principles to Practice; Mark Lawrence and Tony Worsley
- Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw et al.
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.