Organic, omega-3 enriched, cage free, free range—learn why these aren’t necessarily the best or only qualities you should be looking for in your eggs.
The benefits of eggs
Eggs are a wonderful food to include in your diet, providing an “eggcellent” source of complete proteins, choline, vitamin E, vitamin A and carotenoids (as long as you eat the yolk too). They are also rich in beneficial cholesterol (if you still need more convincing on the essentiality of cholesterol, read here).
However, selecting the best eggs for your plate needs a little consideration. Here’s how to become a savvy egg-shopper.
What’s the problem with most commercial eggs?
Common large-scale, commercial rearing practices mean that most eggs come from chicken that have never seen the light of day, and caging is widely used, meaning that the chickens haven’t had even the space to roam around indoors.
Antibiotics and hormones are de rigueur, to offset the effects of poor living conditions and maximize yield. Poultry feed most often consists of mashed grain such as sorghum, corn, cottonseed, or soybean oil meal, instead of a traditional hen’s diet of foraged seeds, plants, insects and worms.
In short, commercial egg-laying hens are reared in crowded conditions, entirely indoors, and with GMO/high pesticide feeds that are a far cry from their natural diet.
How does this affect the egg we end up buying at the grocery store?
Well, nutrients take a hit: vitamin E content is reduced by half, and omega-3 content is reduced by more than half. Beta-carotene is reduced by up to an astounding seven times. Vitamin A is also reduced by about a third.
Is organic a better choice?
Organic is a step up from non-organic when it comes to eggs, but it’s not the complete solution. In the egg world, organic simply means that hens have been fed an organic feed. It doesn’t mean that the hens were pastured or even given roaming room.
What about omega-3 enriched?
Again, omega-3 enriched is a step up, but what this usually means is that a conventional hen feed has been supplemented with a source of omega-3s such as flax seed. You’d need to check the packaging to find out whether the hen has also been allowed to forage outside.
Free range or cage free?
Free range means the hens have the option of going outside, into an environment that is not defined, but may still be mostly reared inside. Cage free just means that the indoor hens are not reared in cages, but it doesn’t indicate that the chickens are allowed to go outside. Your best bet is to look for ‘pasture raised’ instead.
What’s the best solution?
Ideally, seek out eggs that have been pasture raised on small, organic farms. Direct from the farmer or farmer’s market is a great option. Some local co-ops and stores also carry local small-farm eggs, raised with integrity (and better nutrition).
Don’t lose your head though—do the best you can to source high quality foods, but if you can’t find the perfect solution, eggs are still a nutritious and good food to eat.