These days, everyone’s confused about what healthy eggs are. A case in point:
“We’ve agreed to disagree about the kinds of eggs we buy. Whenever I go shopping, I buy the free-range kind. Whenever my husband goes, he buys the cheapest eggs he can find. I insist on buying the free-range eggs, because I know you say they’re healthier.”
“Ah, but really they’re not. At least not when it comes to supermarket eggs.” I say.
You see, according to the law, “free-range” doesn’t really mean much of anything. The thing that makes eggs healthy and nutrient-dense is when hens have access to the outdoors, to sunlight, to bugs and green grass. If a label says “free-range,” it guarantees none of those things.
In fact “free-range” can simply mean that the hens have “access” to the outside for as little as five minutes a day! They may not even choose to go outside, and when they do, they may simply be walking out into a concrete slab devoid of any bugs, larvae, or grass.
A similar thing can be said for the “cage-free” label. All that means is that rather than being crammed into cages stacked on top of each other, hens are cage-free. They can still be confined indoors for their entire lives, never seeing a day of sunshine.
Even “organic” eggs only guarantee that the chicken was fed organic feed and isn’t receiving antibiotics. They could still have limited or no access to the outside, and their diet is surely unnatural.
Healthy Eggs: What To Buy
So, faced with these meaningless labels, how can you choose the most nourishing, healthy eggs for your family?
Prioritize the purchase of eggs this way:
BEST CHOICE: Pastured eggs from a local farmer (aka Real Eggs). Chickens live their entire lives outdoors, in the pasture, picking through cow dung, eating bugs and grass, basking in the sun. Their feed may or may not be supplemented with anything other than what God and Nature provide in the field. If it is supplemented, a non-soy feed is best. Pick these up at your local farmer’s markets, use Craigslist or another local ad service to find someone raising hens who would like to part with excess eggs, or even find these at the grocery store. (Here in Austin, for example, my local supermarket chain HEB carries two brands of eggs from pasture-raised hens!)
Remember, when compared to the USDA’s nutrient data for conventional eggs coming from chickens confined in factory farms, the eggs of pastured hens usually contain:
- 1⁄3 less cholesterol
- 1⁄4 less saturated fat
- 2⁄3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
- 4 to 6 times more vitamin D
SECOND: At the supermarket, choose the eggs with the most Omega-3s and DHAs available. Those are the nutrients most commonly lacking in the eggs from “battery hens,” and some companies have specially formulated their chicken feed in an attempt to make up for the hen’s abnormal and unnatural living conditions.
THIRD: Organic eggs. Although they may not be nutritionally superior to your average “battery hen” eggs, you at least know these eggs came from hens raised without the use of antibiotics and that the hens were fed organic feed. So you at least won’t have any environmental guilt buying them.
For the rundown on organic supermarket eggs and how their standards are usually not worth the extra money you’re paying, read this post on Big-O Organic Eggs.
Healthy Eggs: What To Look For
Real eggs are amazing to behold. The average egg is made up of three parts you need to pay attention to:
- the yolk
- the thick egg white
- the thin, runny egg white
You can tell how nutrient-dense and healthy an egg is by appearance alone. You can tell if a farmer’s telling you the truth or scamming you. You can tell if the chicken who produced the eggs was happy or sad.
I’m not kidding.
When compared to conventional, battery hen eggs, the eggs from pastured chickens have these differences in appearance:
THE YOLK is bigger, taking up a larger portion of the egg. It is also a darker, more orange color when compared to the pale yellow yolks of battery hens. (Note: The color may vary based on the season and how many bugs or green grasses the hen eats, but it will always be noticeably different than the pale yellow of supermarket eggs.)
THE THICK EGG WHITE is bigger and noticeably thicker.
THE THIN, RUNNY EGG WHITE is smaller.
And, now, I present the ever growing list of Healthy Foods: What to Buy:
- Healthy Milk: What To Buy
- Healthy Cheese: What To Buy
- Healthy Meats: What To Buy
- Healthy Seafood: What To Buy
- Where to Buy Butter from Grass-fed Cows
(picture bottom: jocelynmccauliflower)