“Lick the spoon now, before I add the raw eggs.”
Growing up, when my mom made her weekly loaf of fresh banana bread, she would always add the raw eggs as the last ingredient. My sister and I were allowed to swipe our finger in the batter and take a taste before the eggs were added. I grew up with a terror of consuming raw eggs in any form. In my mind, raw eggs contained salmonella… period. Even a bowl of brownie batter couldn’t tempt me to take one taste of the silky, rich batter.
Two years ago, when I began my journey into healing my body with food, my research led me to ask myself with an open mind, “are raw eggs safe?” I learned that raw eggs, and raw yolks in particular, are not only safe but uniquely healthful. Now, I consume three raw egg yolks each day with full confidence of the safety and the knowledge that I am providing my body with nature’s multi-vitamin.
What raw eggs are safe?
We are told that women, children and those with compromised immune systems should make a diligent effort to avoid raw eggs. Interestingly, in past generations, these were the individuals who were encouraged to consume raw eggs as a dense source of nutrition. Raw eggs are safe and nourishing if they come from the right source.
The salmonella risk is increased when hens are raised in unsanitary conditions, which is extremely rare for small organic farms where the chickens are raised in clean, spacious coops, have access to sunlight, and forage for their natural food. Conventional eggs, making up the vast majority of eggs in typical grocery stores, have an increased risk for salmonella, which is why I advise against eating conventional eggs raw. One study by the British government found that 23 percent of farms with caged hens tested positive for salmonella, compared to just over 4 percent in organic flocks and 6.5 percent in free-range flocks.
According to that study, you have a 23% risk of consuming a salmonella-infected raw egg if it comes from the battery-cage hens used in the study. That is an immense risk! According to the study, you have a 4% risk of ingesting salmonella if you eat an organic egg raw. I think that is still a significant risk – especially because I eat raw eggs daily – so why do I eat raw eggs? Because my eggs are from a group that was excluded from this study… pastured eggs.
So far, not one case of food-borne pathogens has been reported among the thousands of pastured poultry producers, many of whom have voluntarily had their birds analyzed. Routinely, these home-dressed birds, which have not been treated with chlorine to disinfect them, show numbers far below industry comparisons. At Polyface [Joel’s farm], we even tested our manure and found that it contained no salmonella.
One tip you can practice is washing your pastured eggs with soapy water before consuming them raw. If there is salmonella present, it is most likely on the shell due to contact with the chicken feces. But even without this step (which I do not practice, by the way), your chances of getting a salmonella infection is very low given the research on pastured egg safety.
Cage Free vs. Free Range Eggs vs. Organic Eggs vs. Pastured Eggs
The most important factor when purchasing eggs, either to consume cooked or raw, is to understand is the labeling of eggs.
Grade A or B eggs – Conventional eggs, sold without any specific marketing terms, are from tightly confined chickens that often never see the light of day. They receive regular doses of antibiotics and are de-beaked to prevent them from pecking themselves or each other.
Cage Free eggs – This is an utterly meaningless term and in no way ensures ethical treatment of the chickens. “Cage free” hens are usually confined in a packed shed and are also painfully de-beaked. They receive antibiotics and soy/grain-based feed (1).
Free Range eggs – The term “free range” means that the hens have some access to outdoor space – even if this is 5 minutes per day in a gravel-paved lot. The chickens are usually de-beaked, given antibiotics and fed soy/grain-based feed (2). Based on the inhumane and unnatural treatment, I would personally never consume a conventional/cage free/free range egg raw.
Organic eggs – Organic eggs come from chickens who are fed only organic, non-GMO feed and do not receive hormones or antibiotics. The hens must have “access to outdoor space” although this certainly does not guarantee than the hens can forage in grass, as they should. (3).
Pastured eggs – Pastured eggs come from hens who are allowed to roam in pasture – as nature intended! Chickens are not vegetarians, they are meant to forage for grubs and bugs in grass and manure. While supplementing their diet with some grain-based feed (not soy feed) is a traditional practice, the chickens should also be eating grubs. If you are purchasing pastured eggs directly from a farmer whom you trust, there is no need for the eggs to be certified organic. The organic certification is very pricey and many family farmers cannot afford it.
Another vote in favor for either cooked or raw pastured eggs? A study from Mother Earth News showed that pastured eggs are significantly more nutrient dense than conventional supermarket eggs. The pastured eggs boasted:
- 5 times more vitamin D
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
Egg Yolks: Nature’s Multivitamin
Did you know that the yolk is the most nutritious part of the egg? The white contains protein, but the yolk packs nearly all of the vitamin and mineral content. Also important, the egg yolk contains the fat and cholesterol. For decades, nutritionists told us to favor the whites over the yolks. That makes me so sad… It’s time to eat the yolks, folks!
- Vitamin A – Did you know that vegetables, including carrots and sweet potatoes, do not provide vitamin A? Vitamin A is only found in animal products and egg yolks are a rich sources of this vitamin necessary for balanced hormones. Since vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, it is paired with the healthful fats in the yolk so we can absorb it.
- Vitamin D – Like vitamin A, vitamin D is another fat-soluble vitamin sorely lacking from the Western diet. The vast majority of individuals do not receive adequate vitamin D from sunlight.
- Choline – More than 90% of Americans are deficient in this B vitamin and one pastured egg yolks provides 35% of your daily value of choline. Choline supplementation has been shown to reduce memory loss and choline plays and important role in the body’s detoxification pathways, because it provides methyl groups to the liver which help neutralize toxins.
- Selenium – Selenium is necessary for the conversion of thyroid hormones from the inactive form to the active form. Egg yolks are nature’s thyroid support supplement, due to the selenium content, vitamin content and healthful fats. (About 40% of the selenium is found in the white and 60% is in the yolk.)
- Iodine – Pastured egg yolks are a valuable source of iodine, with one egg yolk containing 27 micrograms of iodine.
- Vitamin B6 – Raw egg yolks contain a moderate amount of B6. This heat-sensitive vitamin is diminished with cooking, so consuming raw yolks ensures the maximum absorption of this essential nutrient.
- Biotin – An egg provides about 25% of your daily needs for biotin. This B-vitamin plays a key role in skin, hair, metabolic and blood-sugar health. 80% of the biotin is found in the yolk and 20% is in the white.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – Pastured egg yolks are particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, the anti-inflammatory fats so crucial to all aspects of wellbeing.
- Cholesterol – Humans have thrived on old-fashioned, cholesterol-rich animal fats like egg yolks since we were, er, human. In a meta-analysis of over 35,000 individuals, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that there is no significant evidence that the consumption of saturated fat is associated with heart disease. As a matter of fact, studies show that low cholesterol shares an extremely strong correlation to depression, suicide and acts of violence. The cholesterol in egg yolks provides strongly health-protective properties and plays a key role in immune strength and mental health.
Raw Egg Whites and Biotin Deficiency
One additional concern about raw egg safety is the avidin component in the egg white. According to Mark Sisson, nutrition researcher and Primal-diet trailblazer,
[Avidin is] a glycoprotein that bonds with biotin, preventing the nutrient’s absorption. Avidin is generally inactivated when cooked, which makes the biotin in the yolk fully available for absorption by the body
He thinks that a constant intake of raw egg whites may lead to biotin deficiency. Mark also shares research that shows that the protein in egg whites is significantly more digestible when cooked.
So, while raw egg yolks from pastured eggs are unquestionably safe and healthful, what about the raw egg whites? Dr. Mercola believes that Mother Nature, in all of her wisdom, knew what she was doing:
[The eggs design] put tons of biotin in the egg yolk. Egg yolks have one of the highest concentrations of biotin found in nature. So it is likely that you will not have a biotin deficiency if you consume the whole raw egg, yolk and white. It is also clear, however, that if you only consume raw egg whites, you are nearly guaranteed to develop a biotin deficiency unless you take a biotin supplement. (Read more.)
Since whole, raw eggs are a traditional food and have been consumed for thousands of years, I believe the risk of biotin deficiency is slight. However, an additional factor to consider is that the egg white, either raw or cooked, is more allergenic than the yolk and potentially problematic for those with autoimmune diseases.
Pastured eggs, both raw and cooked, provide a dense source of nutrition. Adding raw eggs – or just raw egg yolks – to your daily smoothie or whisked into homemade chocolate milk or soup is a convenient way to boost your intake of vitamins, minerals and fat-soluble vitamins. Consuming the egg yolks raw also preserves the vitamin B6 content, which is diminished with heat.
Oh yeah… don’t be afraid to lick the bowl 🙂
I’m off to go enjoy my daily smoothie fortified with three raw egg yolks (I use yolks only because I don’t tolerate the whites well, cooked or raw). Do you eat raw eggs?