Have you ever been confused by egg labeling? “Free range” vs. “cage free” vs. “organic” vs. “omega-3 enriched” vs. “pasture raised?” Have you ever wondered why some cartons of a dozen eggs cost .99 cents and others cost $8 at your local supermarket?
Just yesterday I scored some “liquid gold” (what I refer to as local, organically-raised, pastured eggs) and thought it would be a great time to discuss some of the ins and outs of egg nutrition and sustainable farming.
Once an egg-white omelette eater myself, I now truly appreciate the incredible nugget of nutrition the WHOLE egg offers. I think many people have now come to realize that there’s no reason to fear the cholesterol or fat content of an egg yolk. But, I’m not sure that people really understand that the nutrition packed in an egg depends entirely on what the chicken who’s laying that egg EATS! While egg whites are pretty much made up of pure protein, egg yolks can be rich in antioxidants, fat soluble vitamins (A, D and E), B vitamins, phosphorus and iodine (if the chickens get to live the life they are meant to).
Egg labeling can be confusing at best. Much of this is due to a whole lot of titles that lack strict guidelines and are used for marketing purposes. There are more, but here are some common ones you will see:
• Free Range: Prohibits cages, requires access to outdoors (small door or concrete slab counts), and does NOT regulate feed.
• Cage Free: Free space to roam (but no access to sunlight), allows beak cutting, does NOT regulate feed, does NOT regulate antibiotic use.
• Certified Organic: Prohibits cages, prohibits use of antibiotics, requires access to outdoors, requires organic feed, allow beak cutting, allows forced molting.
• Omega-3 Enriched: Allows cages, fed feed rich in omega-3 fatty acids (note that pastured eggs have up to twice the amount of omega-3s of factory farmed eggs).
• Pastured (Pasture-Raised): Requires hens get to hunt, peck and graze outdoors (on their natural diets), available at farmers markets and some supermarkets.
While huge commercial egg producers (housing tens of thousands of chickens) can claim their eggs are “free range” or “cage free” as long as they are not kept in individual cages and have access to peek outside for a minute or two, they certainly aren’t roaming freely and eating their native diet. And, being fed a mixture of soy, corn and synthetic feed in place of greens, seeds, insects and worms on pastures free of herbicides and pesticides will certainly keep the cost down, but will also impact the nutrient quality of the eggs they lay. If you do find good eggs they will likely be higher in vitamin A, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and beta carotene.
For me, it’s easy to feel good about the quality of my eggs when I pick up those multi-colored ovals with grass and dirt still on them and crack them open to find a deep, rich orange yolk.
But, how do you find such gems? These days they are few and far between. Check your local farmers markets, the resources listed below, or maybe even raise your own!!
I highly recommend watching this great VIDEO of Dr. Mercola interviewing Joel Salatin (a modern pioneer of sustainable farming) of Polyface Farms on raising chickens. They symbiotic relationship of animals and our planet is fascinating to me.
It may not be your time to raise your own hens, or even seek out local and sustainable sources. That’s okay. But, if the time is right and you are interested in making a difference in the availability of quality foods, such as pastured eggs, remember that your choices in what you buy or who you support will help make a difference in other people awareness and your health.