Many people are very confused on whether or not they should eat eggs. The truth is that eggs are a very healthy source of protein and other vitamins and minerals, however all eggs are not created equal. This makes shopping for them quite confusing. Being knowledgeable regarding the wording on the carton can make shopping easier and help you feel confident about the quality off the eggs you are purchasing. I actually have my own chickens. Trust me when I say they eat an organic diet full of seeds, proteins, bugs and plenty of greens. Prior to owning chickens, I purchased my eggs at The Central Texas Farmer’s Market or from Whole Foods. Vital Farms sold at Whole Foods and Natural Grocers are by far the best eggs you can purchase from a store.
General nutritional information for chicken eggs:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
Let’s discuss the difference in eggs:
What all of them have in common is that they come from chickens, but they vary depending on how the chickens were raised and what they were fed.
- Conventional Eggs– These are your standard supermarket eggs. The chickens are usually raised in an overfilled hen house or a cage and never see the light of day.
They are usually fed grain-based food, with no nutritional value, supplemented with vitamins and minerals. May also be treated with antibiotics and hormones.
- Organic Eggs– Were not treated with antibiotics or hormones and received organic feed. May have had limited access to the outdoors.
- Pastured Eggs– Chickens are allowed to roam free, eating plants and insects (their natural food) along with some commercial feed.
- Omega-3 Enriched Eggs– Basically, they’re like conventional chickens except that their feed is supplemented with an Omega-3 source like flax seeds. May have had some access to the outside.
Chickens in cage-free systems are still usually living in very crowded hen houses with thousands of other chickens. In fact, some of these houses are so crowded the hens do not have any room to move around. This means the hens are walking around in their own waste and waste from other hens, which is a breeding ground for bacteria. Thus, cage-free hens are often given antibiotics to prevent disease and hormones to increase yield. The cage-free hens (unless labeled organic) are also likely given GMO and pesticide ridden feeds. Food is similar to conventional eggs.
This is a common claim you’ll find on egg cartons, and it draws to mind pastoral images of hens wandering around a farmyard in the sunshine, obtaining their foods naturally. In fact, many eggs labeled free-range are raised in a manner similar to cage-free animals, with the exception that they have a door or ramp to a small outside yard, which most hens never use. There is little difference between free-range eggs, cage-free eggs, and conventional eggs.
The best option is to find a local Farmer or Farmer’s Market, getting to know the farmer and asking questions about housing and feed. If this is not an option, pastured or free range eggs are your best bet. As I stated above, Vital Farms is a great option. They are more nutritious and the hens are allowed free access to the outside and eat a more natural diet. The third option should be Omega-3 enriched eggs. If you can’t get either pastured or Omega-3 eggs, then try to find eggs that are either cage-free or organic. We are not just what we eat, but what the animal ate as well.