An egg is an egg, right? What is the difference between all these egg choices at the grocery, and what do they mean?
First, let’s start by looking at how a hen naturally lives. On a farm, hens frolic about outdoors, pecking for bugs and worms (sources of protein), eating grass, and their feed. Feed can contain a variety of things, so organic, soy-free is best for egg quality.
Those cheap ones on sale for a buck a dozen are from egg producing “farm” factories. The hens are kept in tiny cages, beaks cut to not peck each other to death, and kept under lights and shocked to lay eggs more frequently. They lay eggs for a much shorter period of time due to the stress of the environment and fatigue from laying eggs constantly. Once they stop producing, they go to the slaughter house. These hens are fed genetically modified feed, often containing pesticide residue and even arsenic has been found from medications given to the hens. Oh yeah, they are given medications, including antibiotics and anxiety meds mixed in the feed.
The toxins found in the feed end up being stored in the fat of the bird (another reason not to eat conventional chicken meat) and the eggs produced are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 is what increases your risk of heart disease and obesity. American diets are very high in omega-6, and low in omega-3 which is beneficial to the body.
These hens are not in cages, but live in crowded conditions (with clipped beaks) and still never see the outdoors. The feed is the same unless specifically labeled, and can contain antibiotics and other drugs to keep diseases down in the crowded houses. This is a slight step up, since the birds can move, but the stress levels are still high, and they are constantly breathing in the ammonia from the dirty conditions.
Now, this one can be good, or can mean nothing, depending on the farm. Free-range just means that the hens have access to the outdoors, but in a crowded house like the one pictured above, they may never see the outdoors. Free-range could also mean that they really do go outdoors, so you need to know the source of the egg to determine this.
These hens are given added flax in their diet. Unless otherwise specified, the feed is still genetically modified and contains pesticides, but they do add a little flax!
In our culture, vegetarian became synonymous with “healthier.” If you remember from above, what do hens naturally eat? Bugs and worms for protein are on the list. If a hen is vegetarian fed, the protein is probably coming from soy, in which case will cause an increase in soy content in your egg. See the dangers of soy here.
Hens raised for organic egg production are given feed that is organic, and are often vegetarian fed (see above.) They may not be given antibiotics or synthetic chemicals, and have fresh air. Fresh air does not mean that they live outdoors, however.
These are the eggs coming from a farm, typically a smaller, family-owned farm near you. These eggs are sold at Farmer’s Markets, from the farm itself, or even on Craigslist.
Pasture eggs usually have the highest nutrient level due to the hens being able to roam and eat bugs, worms, and grass along with their feed. They also get sunshine which creates the much needed Vitamin D that is deficient in housed hens. You can ask the person raising the hens what the feed contains, if it is organic, does it contain soy, etc.
Mother Earth News did a study comparing pasture eggs to commercial eggs and found these differences in nutrient values:
- 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
- 4-6 times more vitamin D
Our farmer’s market carries pasture eggs for $4.50 a dozen. Yes, this is a lot more than the dollar a dozen variety at the grocery, but for that extra $3.50 I’m eating an egg that has far more nutrients and does not lead to a high increase in omega-6 values.