Today there are many labels on an egg carton meant to steer one to the best, most nutritious choice. But do these labels accurately describe what's really in your eggs?
"Free-Range" or "Cage-Free" is a popular term meant to connote chickens living off the land with ample space to move about, plenty of sunshine, and fresh air.
However, the USDA allows producers to use these terms as long as their fowl are not kept in small pens or battery cages (deplorably small metal spaces crammed with chickens). This means the birds are not necessarily roaming a pasture; it could very well mean they are not roaming at all. Kept in over-crowded factories devoid of fresh air and sunlight, often times these spaces do not have windows. This missing element is crucial as it supplies vitamin D to the chicken; no D to the chicken, no D to you!
"Organic" is another catch-phrase people look for when buying their eggs.
Sadly, organic as a good thing when it comes to "commercial organic" eggs is bunk! Jam-packed in tight spaces with more fowl than foot room, these birds are anything but healthy; they are not fed antibiotics yet live in a breeding ground for disease. (Hence the "farmers" who raise these chickens and procure these eggs often wear space-age, bacteria protecting, white suits when handling them.)
Due to these unclean conditions, the USDA has mandated that all organic eggs be bathed in cleaning agents and chlorine. And while many companies tout their cleansers to be organic, it is still bleach - not meant to be consumed nor used on consumables!
"Vegetarian" is yet another term people assume assures them a healthier egg choice.
Frankly, vegetarian diets and chickens don't go together! Chickens are bug and worm eaters by nature; they are not meant to survive on veggie diets. To compensate for the protein not offered to them by free roaming, most farmers choose soy (a controversial ingredient) in feed for these chickens, meaning it goes right to you.
As well, corn is often used with the soy. Corn and soy are two of the most common genetically modified (GMO) products today. It is understood that if something is labeled "organic", it does not contain GMOs. However, without third party checks and balances constantly in place, one has no way of knowing if the large, "commercial organic" farmers are feeding their chickens feed completely devoid of GMOs. I'm just saying - it's not like you can meander over to their farm and check things out.
"Fertile" not only gets print space on cartons but commands a higher price point than non-fertile eggs.
Originating in folklore, it is believed that fertile eggs have more nutritional value than non-fertile eggs, but this theory has not been proven via any known tests.
"Omegas" are all the new rage, printed largely on egg cartons
Pastured chickens and hens feeding on bugs, worms, dirt, and the occasional compost thrown into the field by their farmers lay eggs rich in omega-3. High levels of omega-3 fatty acids lower our "bad cholesterol" and raise our "good cholesterol". As well, omega-3 contains valuable nutrients and in turn helps build our immune systems. The grain-fed chickens and their eggs are high in omega-6. When we are oversupplied with omega-6, our "bad cholesterol" rises, and our "good cholesterol" stays low.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO KNOW?
The American diet is heavy with omega-6 and light with omega-3. In fact, our diets have been so high in omega-6 for so long, we really need to focus almost exclusively on eating omega-3 rich foods to balance the levels out.Chickens that are pastured get high rates of omega-3 just by being chickens living a chicken life, the way nature intended. These omegas are different than the omega-3 found in supplements like flax.
It should also be noted, according to the Maitoba Agricultural Department, that unless tests are performed consistently, there is no way to tell how much flax is being eaten and absorbed by the chicken. That said, because flax is highly estrogenic, "commercial organic" egg farmers pump up these chickens with this flax, disregarding the fact that omega-3 from animals are different than omega-3 from flax or fish.
So Should You Buy Non-Organic Eggs?
Aside from the many disturbing farming methods and sub-par attributes associated with non-organic, commercial eggs, the USDA's approval of Roxarsone should be reason enough to avoid these eggs as an option. Roxarsone is an additive used in chicken feed and is the most common additive used to promote growth, kill parasites, and improve pigmentation of chicken meat.
However, Roxarsone is an arsenic-based additive. Yep. Arsenic! Apparently, in its original form, Roxarsone is relatively benign. But under certain anaerobic conditions, within live chickens and on farmland, the compound is converted into more toxic forms of inorganic arsenic. Arsenic has been linked to bladder, lung, skin, kidney, and colon cancer, while low-level exposures can lead to partial paralysis and diabetes. Apparently, Roxarsone was banned in Europe but not in the US. Nice.
Did you know that pastured chicken eggs have five times as many nutrients as commercial organic eggs? Do your homework to choose safe and nutritious non-commercial organic and pastured eggs for your breakfast!
"Pastured" Versus "Commercial Organic"
Pastured chicken eggs, meaning from actual free roaming, bug/worm/compost/grass/dirt pecking hens and chickens have five times the nutrient value of commercial organic eggs. Below are the latest findings from MotherEarth News.
Pastured to Commercial Eggs Have:
- 5 times more vitamin D
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta-carotene
The MotherEarth News wasn't the only one doing research on this. Check out the many other studies they cite:
- In 1974, the British Journal of Nutrition found that pastured eggs had 50% more folic acid and 70% more vitamin B12 than eggs from factory farm hens.
- In 1988, Artemis Simopoulos, co-author of The Omega Diet, found pastured eggs in Greece contained 13 times more omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids than U.S. commercial eggs.
- A 1998 study in Animal Feed Science and Technology found that pastured eggs had higher omega-3s and vitamin E than eggs from caged hens.
- A 1999 study by Barb Gorski at Pennsylvania State University found that eggs from pastured birds had 10% less fat, 34% less cholesterol, 40% more vitamin A, and four times the omega-3s compared to the standard USDA data. Her study also tested pastured chicken meat and found it to have 21% less fat, 30% less saturated fat, and 50% more vitamin A than the USDA standard.
- In 2003, Heather Karsten at Pennsylvania State University compared eggs from two groups of Hy-Line variety hens, with one kept in standard crowded factory farm conditions and the other on mixed grass and legume pasture. The eggs had similar levels of fat and cholesterol, but the pastured eggs had three times more omega-3s, 220% more vitamin E, and 62% more vitamin A than eggs from caged hens.
- The 2005 study MotherEarth News conducted of four heritage-breed pastured flocks in Kansas found that pastured eggs had roughly half the cholesterol, 50% more vitamin E, and three times more beta-carotene.
SO WHAT'S AN EGG LOVER TO DO?
If you are hankering for a chicken or hen egg (hen eggs are denser in nutrients), the hierarchy goes like this:
- PREMIUM GOLD STANDARD: Eggs from chickens in your own backyard raised on biodynamic soil. Biodynamic soil is the most nutrient dense and yields the most worms, as well as gets richer in nutrients over time. Biodynamic eggs have a deep yellow (sometimes almost orange) color and are very rich. You may find one egg of this variety lasts you through the day and fills you in a way unparalleled to commercial organic eggs.
- GOLD STANDARD #A: Eggs from chickens in your own backyard feeding on your organic compost, worms, bugs, and grass while getting plenty of sunlight and clean air.
- GOLD STANDARD #B: Biodynamic eggs from a farmer you TRUST.
- SILVER: Pastured eggs from a farmer you TRUST! Assure the birds are pastured/bug/ worm/dirt/grass pecking and get lots of fresh air and sunlight.
*Keep in mind: If you have true pastured, high-quality-pecking chickens, the eggs are best not refrigerated. Eggs come with a protective coating on the outside of the shell that keeps bacteria out and helps seal in nutrients. Nutritionists have said they see better results with clients who eat eggs kept at room temperature. This coating is broken when refrigerated or washed.
If you're having difficulty finding a farmer in your area, ask around at your local farmer's market. (Farmers do not always put their eggs on the table, and most cannot produce quantities vast enough to command a booth for eggs alone - another good sign that these eggs are on the up and up. Be wary of the "pastured chicken farmer", who can produce large quantities and sell at multiple farmers' markets. Space and nutrient dense dirt for lots of chickens is not easy to come by and is expensive. Be double wary if the large quantity egg farmer is selling the eggs at a low price point.)
Non-commercial "organic" or "pastured" eggs may not be celebrity perfect but are beautiful in their organic irregularity: varying sizes, shapes, texture, and even color! You may discover during certain times of the year that their yolks are deeper yellow than others and super rich. You may also find less of these nutrient-dense eggs are needed to satiate your protein fix.
While these eggs may not come in fancy packaging or bear long-winded descriptions, they will be just what they say they are - and that is the real deal!
WHAT TO REMEMBER MOST ABOUT THIS ARTICLE:
Since when did buying eggs become so confusing? There are countless specialty labels on egg cartons to choose from, but it is important to understand each label clearly to find out what is really in your eggs. Even the popular egg terms of cage-free and free-range may be misleading since the USDA allows these egg producers to label their eggs as such as long as the chickens are not kept in small battery cages. Still, this does not mean that cage-free eggs come from chickens roaming a pasture; the chickens could still be in undesirable conditions without sunlight so that your eggs are severely lacking in vitamin D. The best choice by far to get the nutrition you need from your daily egg is to look for non-commercial organic or pastured eggs for a healthy dose of protein and a nutritious boost to your breakfast!
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