How can something so simple be so complicated? Years ago people just bought a dozen eggs at the grocery store without bothering to see what type they were, how they were fed and where they came from – they were just simply eggs.
Let’s crack the code on eggs and explain what the differences are besides just the cost:
- The breed of the hen determines the shell color and egg size. If a hen is a Leghorn it lays white eggs, and if a Rhode Island Red hen it lays brown eggs and so forth. The shell color does not determine the nutritional content of the egg or what the hen was fed.
- The color of the yolk does determine the diet of the hen. Hens fed wheat diets produce pale yellow yolks; hens fed corn have almost colorless yolks, while hens fed plant-based diets have more heavily pigmented yellow-orange yolks.
What about the specifications on eggs?
- Cage-Free: indicates the flock of hens was able to roam freely inside and enclosed area such as a building or room with unlimited access to food and fresh water. Note the USDA does not require the hens have any access to the outdoors.
- Free-Range: indicates the flock of hens was able to roam freely inside a building, room or area with unlimited access to food and fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors, which may not be fenced or covered. However, free-range does not ensure the hens ever actually stepped outside.
- Pasture-raised or pastured: unfortunately the USDA has not developed an exact labeling policy for this term. Farmers who use this term have hens who roam the farm wherever they wish, and eat a wide variety of foods, including grasses, seeds, worms, and adult insects.
So what’s the bottom line on which eggs to buy? Certified organic eggs are a good place to start since they ensure the hen was fed only organic food, which means the eggs have not accumulated high levels of pesticides from the GMO corn fed to typical hens.
Then go with pasture-raised if you have access to buying them since they are more challenging to find unless you shop at Farmer’s markets or health food stores. The ultimate best eggs are those from local farms where you can ensure what you are receiving.
Why go to the trouble of figuring out which eggs to buy?
Pastured eggs contain double the amount of omega-3 fats, triple the level of Vitamin E, and seven times the amount of beta-carotene. The beta-carotene phytonutrients lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been shown to dramatically lower age-related macular degeneration and assist in eye health are linked to the quality of the yolk.
Although egg whites contain protein, consuming just whites means you are missing out on all important nutrients contained in the yolk – carotenoids, omega-3 fats, fat-soluble vitamins, B-vitamins and Choline and the way the hen was fed determines the levels of these nutrients.
Certified organic, pastured eggs are the simple solution. The complicated part is trying to find them. When I am able to purchase them, I buy a few dozen. They keep refrigerated for up to 30 days and are the best quality protein your money can buy.
So check your egg facts so you don’t end up with egg on your face.