The creamy yellowy-orange middle of an egg packs a lot of the staple food’s nutritional value, and 40 percent of its protein—yet the yolk has taken some serious heat throughout the past few decades because of one buzzy word: cholesterol. (One egg contains about 185mg.)
“For a long time, there was this fear that eating cholesterol would increase our LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or ‘bad’ cholesterol,” explains Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.S.D., assistant professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University. For decades, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended limiting cholesterol to 300mg per day.
But as of 2015, the guidelines no longer recognize cholesterol as a nutrient we need to be concerned about overconsuming, as research has shown “no relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol.” So, no, you don’t need to avoid egg yolks and other cholesterol-containing whole foods for the sake of your heart health.
Egg whites may be a popular order, but the yolks contain the good stuff, including:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fats, ALA and DHA, found in egg yolks are beneficial for heart health.
Not only does vitamin D play a huge role in bone health, it’s also important for immune function. “We’ve done research that even suggests that vitamin D impacts muscle function in athletes,” says Pritchett. One egg contains 10 percent of your daily D needs—and it’s worth noting that vitamin D is hard to come by in other non-fortified foods.
This antioxidant is fat-soluble, meaning it needs fat (and not water) in order to be absorbed in the body so it can then fight free radicals, says Pritchett. Good thing vitamin E is found in the fatty part of the egg: the yolk.
This nutrient might fly under your radar, but just one egg packs almost 30 percent of your daily recommendation. “Choline plays a role in the areas of your brain that are responsible for memory and learning,” says Pritchett.
“Carotenoids are a type of phytochemical, a compound that acts as an antioxidant in the body,” explains Pritchett. Often associated with leafy green vegetables, carotenoids are also found in egg yolks. The carotenoid lutein, in particular, supports eye health and vision.
You’ve probably heard of amino acids, which are the compounds our bodies break protein down into. Whole eggs are a complete protein, meaning they pack all nine of the essential amino acids our body needs, says Pritchett. Plus, they’re a good source of leucine, a particularly buzzy essential amino acid that plays a key role in muscle protein synthesis. (Muscle protein synthesis is the process by which your muscles use amino acids to repair and grow.)
Related: Your Ultimate Guide To BCAAs