Remember when buying eggs was easy? Now you’re faced with confusing labels: Farm Fresh, Organic, No Hormones, Omega-3, All-Natural, Cage-Free, Free-Range….
One of the best ways to eat healthy is to also make sure your food comes from healthy animals, but, with all of these labels, how do you know which eggs are best?
Anders Kelto, of NPR, says many of those labels probably don’t mean what you think they do.
Farm-Fresh and All-Natural
Kelto writes that, according to the vice president of the U.S. Humane Society, the labels “Farm Fresh” and “All Natural” are almost meaningless. At least, the eggs aren’t coming from healthy chickens scratching about on a picturesque farm. In fact, those chickens have a 95% chance of being raised indoors.
In commercial production, indeed, cages are the norm. The 6 million dollar study from the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply charged with finding healthy ways to ensure egg production is ONLY studying cage methods. Farm-Fresh and All-Natural are not legal definitions, so, unless the label on the carton specifically says otherwise, you’re buying eggs from chickens that are raised in cages.
If the carton says “Cage-Free,” the chickens are not in cages, but they are still not roaming free. They are almost certainly packed into a crowded building. This is one of the methods that the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply is studying.
“Free-Range” has a legal definition. It requires that the chickens have “access” to the outdoors. For chickens living in a building, this may mean that there is a small opening to a small area outdoors. Lately, some manufacturers have been criticized for saying that their chickens “don’t want to go outside” as an excuse for not teaching or encouraging the chickens to use the access. Free-range may be good, but you certainly need to know the company to be sure.
No Hormones, No Antibiotics, Vegetarian
These labels, while true, are not very helpful. Typically, chickens raised for egg production don’t receive hormones or antibiotics, anyway, and since chickens are not naturally vegetarian, it’s unclear how this is beneficial.
Organic and Omega-3
“Organic” has a legal definition in egg production. It means free-range (see above), no synthetic pesticides, no hormones, and no antibiotics. These chickens are still most likely raised indoors.
Most eggs with increased Omega-3 are laid by chickens fed flax seed.
So, what should you buy if want the best eggs from the healthiest chickens?
There’s only one label that ensures the best product: Pasture-Raised.
If you want your eggs to come from “happy chickens” that roam around a farm, you are looking for “pasture-raised” chickens. There will still be a range of quality on these farms, so knowing the producer is still your best bet.
According to Mother Earth News, the extra effort of finding these eggs is worth it. Compared to conventionally raised eggs, the eggs from pasture-raised chickens have
- 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