Which egg would you choose? Read on to become an informed egg consumer.
Many of us eat eggs on a regular basis. Eggs have wonderful health benefits. They contain protein, good fats, vitamins A and D, folic acid, choline, potassium, sulfur, and phosphorous. These nutrients are important for your bones as well as your brains, heart, vision, and overall health. Unfortunately, I have noticed that most people are very confused about what all the labeling means and which eggs to buy. Today, I like to give you guidelines so you are prepared the next time you purchase your eggs.
What do the labels mean? The labels are divided into two categories – what the hens are fed and their living conditions.
Let’s take a brief look at some of the different types of eggs you can purchase.
Conventional: These are the least expensive supermarket eggs that come from chickens that are fed food which include genetically modified (GM) grains, GM soy, and pesticides. Unfortunately the GM feed contains chemicals that can accumulate in your body and have been linked to numerous diseases. Conventional hens are confined to cramped, wire-floored cages, often stacked in high towers with no room for the hens to even spread their wings. Antibiotics can be given to prevent and treat their illnesses and parasites. It is an unhealthy way to live. These are the least desirable eggs.
Organic: Organic eggs marked with the USDA organic seal come from hens that are not given antibiotics and are fed an organic diet of feed grown without conventional pesticides and fertilizers. “Organic” does not give us much information about the chickens’ living conditions or what they were actually eating. Organic standards today do include a requirement for outdoor access for the laying hens. Unfortunately, research by the Cornucopia Institute uncovered that organic eggs can be produced by industrial-scale companies. Thousands of hens are confined to henhouses that only offer them tiny porches to satisfy the “outdoor access” requirement.
The good news is that the Cornucopia Institute has created standards and evaluated organic egg farms to see how the chickens actually live. You can get a copy of the egg report here. This listing has been very helpful for me because I can usually purchase brands that have been given positive reviews when I go to a supermarket.
Cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised: These labels tell us about the hens’ living conditions. The most delicious and nutritious eggs come from hens raised in pastures where they can roam, eat bugs, seeds, and grass while basking in the sun. A 2007 study found pasture-raised eggs contained more Vitamin A, D, E, Beta-carotenoid and Omega-3s and less cholesterol and saturated fat than conventional eggs.
We can even see the difference by looking at the eggs. The yolk of an egg from a pasture-raised chicken is always darker and more orange color compared to the pale yellow yolk of an egg from a chicken living in cramped quarters (conventional egg). So, to answer our question – the egg on the left from the pasture-raised hen is the healthier option.
Cage-free means that the hens do not live in cages. They have some room to roam around in a henhouse but typically do not have outdoor access.
Free-range and pasture-raised according to the USDA regulations only means that the chickens have outside access with no specifications as to the quality and duration of the outside exposure.
The Certified Humane Raised and Handled® designation on the egg carton assures us that the hens have ample access to roam outside. The Certified Humane “Pasture-Raised” hens have more outdoor time and space than the Certified Humane “Free-Range” hens. Pasture-raised is the gold standard.
Some other labels you may see:
Vegetarian: This just means that the hens are fed a vegetarian diet which may consist of genetically modified soy and unhealthy grains. Chickens are not vegetarians and need to eat protein such as insects for proper development. These eggs are not the best choice.
White vs. brown eggs: No difference. The color is based on the breed of the bird.
All natural, farm fresh: Totally meaningless. There are no standards or even definitions for these terms.
Omega-3 enriched: This just means that the farmers add flaxseed to the chickens’ feed. The eggs from pasture-raised chickens naturally have the highest amount of important anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids.
Certifications: Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved and American Humane Certified assess egg farms according to a strict set of animal welfare standards. United Egg Producers Certified (UEP) label is completely misleading. They have guidelines developed by the food industry that recommend cage space less than the size of a piece of paper for each bird.
The bottom line: If you go to the supermarket, your best bet is to buy organic, pasture-raised eggs. When I go to Whole Foods, I purchase Vital Farms eggs. I also get pasture-raised eggs from my local farm or farmer’s market. Often times the local eggs are of excellent quality but haven’t gotten the organic designation due to an expensive certification process. It is best to find out how the hens live and what they eat.
For more information and an insightful video, please visit the links below:
Enjoy your eggs!