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Does Anyone Other Than Rocky Need to Drink Egg Whites?

Rocky didn’t need to do it either, did he?

In the early 1900s, consuming raw eggs was still a common practice. A snapshot of this era was perfectly encapsulated in an exchange from 1920, when nationally syndicated medical columnist Dr. William Brady fielded a question from a reader who claimed to drink raw eggs every morning. The reader’s question wasn’t about whether or not the practice was okay, but whether or not the eggs were required to be fresh in order for their consumer to receive “full benefits” from them. 

“It is immaterial, so long as the eggs taste all right,” Brady answered, matter of factly. 

One full century removed from this era, drinking eggs is a far less common practice than it once was, but there are still folks out there who will insist that drinking eggs is a good idea, and that it can unlock hidden health benefits.

I’ve actually never heard of this before. Can you actually drink eggs?

Anyone who has ever watched a Rocky film knows the answer to this question. Sylvester Stallone introduced millions of people to nature’s original protein shake as he, in his role as prizefighter-in-training Rocky Balboa, groggily arose from the bed of his filthy Philadelphia apartment at 4 a.m., listened to a depressing forecast predicting a high of 28 degrees Fahrenheit for the day, then marched five paces to his refrigerator, cracked five eggs into his glass and guzzled all of them in under six seconds while yellow embryo dripped down his mouth and onto his ash-grey sweatshirt. There was no cinematic legerdemain involved in the scene at all; Sly got his 30 grams of protein the hard way. (I desperately hope he didn’t have to perform too many retakes.)

Hulk Hogan hilariously replicated that feat during multiple training segments of 1980s WWF TV programming, and it always played out to the horror of whomever it was he was trying to push his raw-egg-heavy dietary practices on, whether the target was Mean Gene Okerlund, Hillbilly Jim or Vince McMahon. In fact, I spent roughly all of 2005 pulverizing whole raw eggs in the blender contained in the tiny kitchen of my Northwestern apartment, because Hogan insisted the shells of the eggs were a great source of calcium. (Eye of the Hulkster, brother!)

So yes, you can drink eggs. It appears that doing so was practically a rite of passage in the fitness industry once upon a time. But that certainly doesn’t mean that you should drink raw eggs now.

If drinking eggs was once so prevalent, why don’t more people do it today?

For three reasons:

1) In 1998, a definitive study was conducted on the digestibility of cooked and raw egg proteins. An average of more than 90 percent of the protein from the cooked egg was absorbed by the subjects’ bodies, while only 51 percent of the protein from the raw eggs was similarly absorbed. Therefore, if the ultimate objective in drinking raw eggs is to extract the benefits of the protein contained within those eggs, you’re always better off cooking them.

2) Raw or undercooked eggs are proven to be sources of many disease-causing germs, including the Salmonella germ. The Centers for Disease Control estimated that one out of every 20,000 eggs contains the Salmonella germ, which means that on a per-dozen basis, there is roughly a one-in-2,000 chance that your carton of eggs contains a Salmonella-contaminated egg. These odds aren’t high, but considering Salmonella is responsible for more than one million infections, tens of thousands of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths annually in the U.S. alone, why risk your life over an uncooked bird embryo?

3) If you’re drinking raw eggs solely for their protein benefit, protein is now added to practically everything, and in forms that are imminently more digestible than raw eggs. So if imbibing protein is your thing, food science has produced more efficient and far less dangerous alternatives to the concoctions quaffed by Rocky and the Hulkster. 

Okay, but Egg Beaters is basically an egg white, and the packaging makes it look so drinkable!

In this case, yes, it would be safe to drink egg whites, but this is a special case owing to the pasteurization of these particular egg whites. Egg Beaters egg whites have been maintained at a high temperature (130 degrees Fahrenheit) for long enough to kill all of the microorganisms contained therein. Therefore, you can safely drink Egg Beaters and other prepackaged, pasteurized forms of egg whites with full confidence that you won’t contract some sort of illness from doing so.

However, this still hasn’t answered the question of whether or not you should drink egg whites. Again, if this is all about protein intake, 32 ounces of Egg Beaters contains 100 grams of protein, which is just over three grams of protein per ounce — but your body will still only absorb about half of that protein in its uncooked form. Meanwhile, 14 ounces of Muscle Milk contains 40 grams of readily absorbable protein, which is just under three grams of protein per ounce. Also, there’s no question that it’s going to taste a whole lot better than slimy egg whites, with a superior mouthfeel as well. 

In the immortal words of Chris Rock, just because you can do something “don’t mean it’s to be done.” Whatever your plans are when drinking raw eggs, there is a better, more efficient way to accomplish the same objective. Unless you’ve really crunched the numbers and decided the three cents it costs to heat your stovetop for five minutes each morning is outside the parameters of your budget, you should simply cook your eggs or drink a protein shake. That said, it’s when you try to drink your eggs and cook your protein shake that you’re officially doing too much.