Here’s a typical scenario.
You head to the supermarket to get your groceries. You fill your cart, check-off most of the items and finally head to the cold section to get some eggs and milk. When you get there, you’re faced with an isle of eggs of various colors, sizes and labels to choose from. You quickly scan through the different health claims, certification labels and compare prices trying to figure out the best option, and wonder when did buying eggs become so confusing?
Isn’t an egg just an egg? Apparently not these days.
We have brown eggs, white eggs, and even eggs rich in omega-3. Some are labeled “organic”, “all natural”, “free-range” or “cage-free”, and others are “organically fed” or “vegetarian fed”. Some have yellow yolks while others are bright orange.
What do all these labels and colors mean and ultimately, which one is the best?
When nutrition becomes too confusing, always go back to basics. This means, look for eggs that come from chickens that eat what they’re supposed to eat, move the way they’re supposed to move, and be raised, treated, and slaughtered humanely.
Brown or white shells make no difference. The color of the shell and yolk vary with the breed but the color of the yolk also ranges with the hen’s diet.
So What Are Chickens Supposed to Eat?
Before genetically modified corn and soy became the staple feed for most mass-produced animals, chickens are naturally supposed to forage in a pasture, dig for grubs, insects, worms, and seeds and eat wild grasses.
Chickens can also hunt other animals like frogs, mice and snakes too! (Did you know?) Pasture-raised eggs are in line with how nature intended it and are obviously more nutritious for us too.
So how and where do we find these eggs? Let’s examine the labeling terms more closely…
By definition, the egg laying hens are given organic feed, must have access to the outdoors and are not given antibiotics.
However, these guidelines don’t guarantee the best quality eggs.
Most mass-produced chickens are given manufactured “organic feed” that contain corn, soy and other grains, which is not the natural diet of a chicken. Also, having access to the outdoors does not guarantee that the chickens ever go outside or have access to green pasture. These may be better than conventional factory farmed eggs, but the best choice is still to find truly pasture-raised eggs.
More on that later.
I laugh when I see this label on eggs. I mean, aren’t all eggs, even the mass-produced ones that come from antibiotic-pumped hens, naturally laid?
This term has no meaning whatsoever except to make consumers believe that the chickens are healthier than what – “un-natural” artificial eggs?
Don’t be fooled in thinking that “all natural” is providing you with better quality eggs. It’s just a marketing and sales gimmick.
“Allowed access to the outside” is how the USDA defines free-range.
This means that there needs to be a door on the cage or shed to the outdoors but the chickens can still eat substandard food and live in cramped conditions. The term “range” can also vary from being a real green pasture to a small patch of concrete or dirt.
Unfortunately, most mass-produced “free-range” chickens never even venture outside because they typically aren’t allowed to leave the shed until they’re a few weeks old and by then they have grown accustomed to the indoors.
This just means that the hens don’t live in cages.
It doesn’t mean that their living conditions or feed are any better than the other overcrowded hen houses. Again, this doesn’t give much indication about the quality of the egg.
Many people buy those cardboard boxed eggs from the supermarket thinking that their eggs are “organic”. “Organic fed” eggs are not to be mistaken with certified organic eggs.
This just means that the hens are given organic feed that is free from pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and genetic modification.
It does not ensure that the chicken has access to the outdoors and is free from antibiotics. It also doesn’t ensure that they are being fed a high quality diet the way nature intended.
Chickens are omnivores, not vegetarians. The term vegetarian probably evokes images of a happy chicken pecking away in a grass-filled pasture making consumers believe that it’s healthier for them but in actuality, it’s a better indication that the egg is an industrial product.
Due to the increased consumer demand for more omega-3 sources, even egg producers have jumped on the bandwagon and are feeding hens flax, linseed or an omega-3 supplement.
However, plant-based omega-3’s (ALA) are only converted into EPA and DHA in very small amounts so these eggs aren’t really a good source of omega-3. And due to the fragile nature of omega-3 fats, these eggs are more perishable than non-omega-3 eggs.
In my opinion, if you’re looking to get more sources of omega-3, consider eating more fish or supplementing with krill oil which are far better sources of essential fats than eggs.
To be in good health, not only do we need to concern ourselves with what we eat, but also what our food eats. Clearly, the best choice is to find a local farm that offers organic pasture-raised chicken eggs.
I purchase my eggs from Greenheart Organic Farms here in the UAE. They have always been very honest and transparent about their farming methods and practices earning my trust in them.
Otherwise, your next best options would be organic, cage-free, free-range eggs. The added cost might be difficult to swallow at first, but your long-term health is worth the price.