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.
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.
A 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 nine 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.