I remember hearing this slogan on TV when I was a kid. After years of eggs getting a bad rap, this song was part of the campaign to assure the public that eggs are good for you.
Now that we know eggs are indeed healthy (sources below), the confusion seems to lie with what type of egg to purchase. Out of all the labels, what are the healthiest eggs to buy?
Cage free. Certified Organic. Omega-3 enriched. Free-Range. Pastured. Conventional eggs. Vegetarian diet.
With all these choices, no wonder we are all so confused! Unfortunately, a lot of the egg labels are a scam and just a waste of money. Yep. Even the brown eggs in the carboard container with the reassuring “free-range” label plastered on the front. The truth is, if you bought them in a grocery store, you are probably purchasing nutritionally inferior eggs–even though you may be paying an arm and a leg! There is such a thing as a superiorly healthy egg that is worth your money, though!
Egg Labels Defined
The Ones That Aren’t Really Worth Your Money
Free-Range: Usually free-range hens live in barns and are uncaged. They have some access to the outdoors, but the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access is variable. Because the USDA has inadequately defined “free-range” to mean “allowed access to the outside” and there is no requirement for quality or time outside, producers can interpret this in many ways. Access may only be leaving small doors open on the barns. The hens may or may not ever go through these small doors to reach the outside. If they do make it outside, there is no guarantee the hens will touch good pasture. They may only end up on concrete and never supplement their diets with worms, insects, green plants, etc. There are no restrictions on what the birds may be fed.
Cage-Free: The egg-laying hens live inside barns. While they are not caged, they usually are not allowed outside. By not being in a cage, they can walk, nest and spread their wings, but they cannot supplement their diets with seeds, insects, worms and green plants. Cage-free eggs bought from the grocery store generally have the same nutritional value as conventional grocery store eggs.
Vegetarian-Fed: The bird feed does not contain animal byproducts. Animal byproducts are not a natural source of food for chickens.
Basically, all of these labels mean nothing (nutritionally speaking) except that you pay more money.
Omega-3 enriched: The hens are fed a diet enriched with Omega-3. This enriched diet causes the eggs they lay to be higher in Omega-3. While the nutritional values are not nearly as good as pastured eggs, this option is better than conventional eggs.
Certified Organic: The birds are fed an organic, vegetarian diet that does not contain antibiotics or pesticides. Hens have access to the outdoors, but generally live inside large barns. There is not a requirement for the amount of time spent out doors, or for the quality of the outdoor environment. Access to the outdoors is limited and the hens may seldomly, if ever, have the chance to forage plants and bugs. Because the birds haven’t been exposed to antibiotics or pesticides, this is a better choice than conventional eggs, but the nutritional value of the egg may still be reduced.
The Healthiest Eggs To Buy
Pastured eggs (from a local farmer): the birds are out on the pasture and eat a natural diet—made up of all kinds of seeds, green plants, insects and worms. Usually grain or laying mash supplements the diet. Hens are allowed access to pasture, but also have a pen to house them and protect them from predators.
According to a Dallas chicken farmer, some type of grain supplement in the diet is inevitable due to the foraging nature of chickens. If they are on a farm, they will find some grain to eat, even if it was meant for another animal.
Not only are pastured eggs from a local farmer more humane towards the birds, pastured chickens make much healthier eggs!
Mother Earth News compared pastured eggs with commercial eggs (that you would find at a grocery store) and found pastured eggs may contain:
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene
You can even see a major difference in appearance as well. Pastured eggs are deeper and richer in color compared to commercial eggs. The shells of pastured eggs are much harder to break.
That’s pretty incredible, isn’t? Well, it is the incredible, edible egg! In our family, the nutritional value and humane treatment of the birds makes the pastured egg worth its weight in gold.
Not sure where to find pastured eggs from local farmers?
Don’t want to pay more than a few bucks for eggs?
Raise chickens and gather the eggs yourself!! Then you don’t have to pay anything except for the cost of caring for the chickens! This is a goal of mine.
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