In 1976, Sylvester Stallone made chugging raw egg protein the symbol of strength in the original "Rocky" movie, but will incorporating raw-egg smoothies and raw-egg shakes into your diet regimen help you build muscle and strength more quickly? The short answer is: probably not.
Aside from the potential risk of salmonella associated with consuming raw eggs, it's actually more beneficial to eat eggs cooked, instead of drinking them raw, because the protein is more easily digestible. It's better to skip adding raw egg to your shakes and smoothies and eat them separately.
The Dangers of Raw Eggs
Salmonella is a group of bacteria responsible for most cases of food poisoning. Because poultry naturally carries salmonella, egg yolks and egg whites can become contaminated with the bacteria before the shell even forms during egg production. Shells can also become contaminated after the egg is laid if it comes into contact with the chicken's feces.
The Food and Drug Administration estimates that around 79,000 cases of food poisoning each year are caused by eggs that are contaminated with salmonella. The risk is still fairly small, though, with only 1 in 20,000 eggs carrying the bacteria.
Most people recover from the foodborne illness after about a week of uncomfortable symptoms, like diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach pain, but some people with comprised immune systems may need extra attention and care.
There's no way to tell if an egg contains the bacteria, aside from getting sick within six to 48 hours after eating a contaminated egg. Eggs that look fresh and smell OK may still be contaminated, so the best way to prevent food poisoning from salmonella is to cook it to a safe internal temperature. For eggs, that's 160 F or higher.
The Protein in Eggs
It's not just the potential for food poisoning that makes raw eggs an inferior choice. It's actually a better idea to eat eggs cooked, because your body can absorb more of the protein from them.
According to an older study that was published in the Journal of Nutrition in October 1998, your body absorbs 50 to 60 percent of the protein from raw eggs, but that number goes up to 91 percent when eggs are cooked.
Eggs also contain a protein called avidin that prevents the proper absorption of the B vitamin biotin. Your body uses biotin to keep your hair, nails and nervous system healthy and to metabolize the carbohydrates you eat. When you eat eggs raw, the avidin binds to biotin, and your body can't absorb it.
However, when you cook the egg, the heat breaks down the avidin and releases the biotin. When the biotin is free from the avidin, you can absorb the vitamin and it's able to carry out its jobs in your body.
The Nutrient Difference
Egg yolks are also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, two compounds classified as carotenoids that are extremely beneficial to your eye health. In fact, they're so important for eye health that, of the 600 carotenoids available in nature, these are the only two found in high amounts in your eyes.
A Word on Allergies
Eggs are one of the most common allergens, and the 2015 report in Nutrients notes that allergies often come about when egg proteins are absorbed intact, or without being broken down properly during digestion.
Because heating the egg when you cook it starts to break down the proteins before you eat the egg, eating cooked eggs may produce less allergic response than eating raw eggs. This is good news for people who have slight allergies or a nonthreatening food sensitivity to eggs.
But of course, if you're highly allergic or eggs trigger a life-threatening allergic response, you'll need to stay away from them altogether.
Using Pasteurized Eggs Instead
If you still prefer to add raw eggs to your shakes and smoothies instead of eating cooked eggs, there's a compromise you can make: pasteurized eggs.
A pasteurized egg is heated just enough to destroy any potentially harmful bacteria, like salmonella, but not so much that it's cooked through. Pasteurization doesn't change the taste, texture or chemical properties of the egg; it just makes it safer when eaten raw.
However, the American Egg Board explains that the heat process associated with pasteurizing does reduce the amount of certain heat-sensitive vitamins in the egg, like riboflavin, thiamin and folic acid.
The board also notes that there have been no recorded outbreaks of food poisoning from salmonella in eggs linked to pasteurized egg products, so if you want to add raw eggs to your shake or smoothie, pasteurized is the way to go. Pasteurization of liquid eggs or frozen egg products is required by law, but not so for shelled, whole eggs. So read your labels and make sure you're choosing the right kind.
Making a Raw-Egg Shake
If you decide that a raw-egg shake fits into your personal health goals, it's important to concoct a properly-balanced shake with the right blend of proteins, fats and fiber-rich carbohydrates.
You can start with a pasteurized raw egg for protein, then add a handful or two of berries for fiber and finish with a good source of fat, like avocado or liquid coconut oil. Sprinkle in some greens, like frozen spinach or frozen kale for texture, add your favorite nondairy or grass-fed dairy milk and then blend until it reaches a consistency you like.
- American Egg Board: "Pasteurized Eggs"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "What You Need to Know About Egg Safety"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Salmonella and Eggs"
- Nutrients: "The Golden Egg: Nutritional Value, Bioactivities, and Emerging Benefits for Human Health"
- Nutrients: "Bioactive Egg Components and Inflammation"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Digestibility of Cooked and Raw Egg Protein in Humans as Assessed by Stable Isotope Techniques"
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: "Salmonella Questions and Answers"
- American Optometric Association: "Lutein & Zeaxanthin"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Eggs, Whole, Raw, Fresh"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Collagen Peptide Drink Mix"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Grass-Fed Whey Protein"