Eggs can be really confusing. Here, in an excerpt from my book, Eight Steps to a Real-Foods Kitchen, I give you the low-down on how to select the best, most tasty and healthful eggs. What, exactly, does it take to make A Good Egg?
As with other farm products, there is a vast difference between the quality of pasture-farmed chicken eggs and those produced on factory farms. Pastured chickens are humanely raised, out of doors, with access to pasture and sunshine, and in an area where they can forage for their natural diet. In addition, they are fed wholesome grains. Chickens require an additional grain supplement to give them the nutrients necessary to be healthy. The bugs and worms in their diet mean that the resulting meat and eggs will naturally be higher in good omega-3 fatty acids. The egg yolks will be darker and richer, and will taste better. Pastured egg shells may come in shades of brown, white and aqua. The color is an indication of the breed of chicken and has no bearing on quality. The best source for finding high-quality poultry and eggs is a local farmer who raises pastured chickens. You can also find them in natural grocery stores. Expect to pay more. But for what you pay, you are ensured that the chicken was humanely raised, and that you are getting the best nutritional benefit from your purchase. Find local farmers by visiting your farmers’ market.
Eggs are confusing these days. Prices range from quite cheap to incredibly high, and the labels make it difficult to understand what you are really paying for. Here are some of the differences:
Plain eggs—usually the least expensive. These eggs are from regular chickens which live their lives in extremely crowded and unsanitary conditions in cages that are stacked on top of each other in factory warehouse farms. Because they are so stressed from their environment, the chickens tend to peck at each other. To prevent damage from pecking, often their beaks and wings are painfully clipped. They are fed cheap feed that is nutritionally deficient. The eggs they produce are a far cry, nutritionally, from what eggs are supposed to be.
Cage-free—You might visualize chickens roaming around in free conditions when you see “cage-free,” but this simply means that the chickens are not kept in cages. They still are likely to live in crowded, stressful conditions and have their beaks and wings clipped.
Free Range—Again, you might picture chickens with freedom here, but “free range” simply means that there is a small door somewhere in the warehouse to let the chickens have access to the out of doors. “Out of doors” might be a three-foot square dirt patch for an entire warehouse of chickens. Like “cage free,” “free range” can be deceiving.
USDA Certified Organic—Chickens are fed certified organic feed and are likely to have had exposure to some sunlight. This is an improvement because at least you are not getting pesticides and GMOs in your food. The Certified Organic label does not address the conditions that the chickens live in or whether or not they are treated humanely.
Vegetarian feed—This may sound like a wonderful thing, but chickens are supposed to eat bugs and worms. An entirely vegetarian diet means corn and soy. This is not the healthiest diet for a chicken and therefore does not produce the healthiest eggs.
Omega-3 enriched—again, this may sound great, but eggs naturally contain omega-3 when the chickens are able to eat bugs and worms. The flax seed usually used in the feed when eggs are omega-3 enriched is not a natural part of the chicken’s diet.
Pasture-raised eggs—these are the eggs you want to purchase for the greatest health benefit. Chickens that are pasture-raised have access to pasture and sunlight. They get the variety of foods necessary for optimum health. And, they just plain taste better. Try it and see.
Also for a delicious start to any day check out my Best Eggs Ever Recipe here.
Camille Watson is a health educator, speaker and published author of the book Eight Steps to a Real-Foods Kitchen. Her passion is to give individuals and groups the knowledge and tools they need to take back their health. If you are interested in learning more about achieving health through delicious, whole foods and lifestyle transformations, email email@example.com to attend one of her cooking classes or to schedule your free Health Strategy session.