Brown, white, organic, cage-free, pasture-raised: What eggs should I be buying?
Shopping for eggs can be a little confusing…
You get to the egg aisle and stare at all the options—free-range, organic, cage-free, Omega-3 fortified, pasture-raised eggs—and become more confused by the minute.
Something tells you you should avoid the cheap large, white eggs, so you go for the middle-priced brown free-range eggs because they seem to offer something more, you think. You’re not sure why, but you remember hearing brown eggs are healthier than white…
Not so fast!
Did you know that the only difference between brown and white eggs are that brown eggs came from brown-feathered chicken and white eggs from white-feathered chickens? There is absolutely no nutritional difference between the two: One large egg, brown or white, contains 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat. They also both provide you with 5 percent of your daily Vitamin A needs and 10 percent of your Vitamin D needs. A pretty good source of nutrients for both.
But what about the rest of the egg labels these days? Do they matter?
It depends on what your priorities are—and it depends on whether you live in the United States, Canada, the UK or otherwise—but generally speaking, yes they do.
When it comes to the United States, the sad reality is that the majority of the egg-laying hens live in close-quarters in cages barely big enough for them to be able to stretch out their wings. So if you care about the quality of life of your chickens and hens, then CAGE-FREE tells you they likely had more space to spread their wings. But that’s really all it tells you.
FREE-RANGE is a similar story: It means the hens get to go outside and run around, as opposed to being confined to a small cage, or they are just “given access” to the outdoors whether they go or not.
As for OMEGA-3 Enriched, it just tells you Omega-3 fatty acids (most commonly in the form of ALA) have been added to the eggs or Omega-3 rich foods have been fed to the chickens, so if you’re not eating enough fish or aren’t taking a fish oil supplement, these eggs might be the ones for you.
Organic, on the other hand, tells you the eggs are non-GMO and regulations are put in place to restrict the use of antibiotics and hormones, while PASTURE-RAISED tells you the animals were raised for at least some portion of their lives on a pasture or with access to a pasture, and not continually confined indoors.
The shortcoming with all of the above labels—cage-free, free-range, free-run, Omega-3, organic and pasture-raised—however, is there are still many unknowns, such as what the hens were fed and what their living environment was like, unless you really do your research or go to the source (i.e. local farmer).
Your best bet is to stick with eggs that have a combination of labels such as USDA Certified Organic Pasture-Raised eggs, meaning the hens were raised following an agreed-upon standard of practice and were allowed optimal living conditions.
The following articles provide more detailed information in regards to these different labels:
The takeaway: Navigating egg best practices is tricky at the best of times. My best advice: Get to know a local farmer—a Farmer’s Market is great for this—and discover how they’re running their farm. Despite most hens being kept in cages, there are still many great egg options out there, so take the time to find a good one in your local market.