Eggs: Friend or Foe?
Updated: Aug 27, 2022
When it comes to eggs, quality matters, but the vast amount of options available in the grocery store can be overwhelming to the eyes. Perhaps the only thing that stands out is brown eggs versus white eggs.
So, does the color of the shell affect the egg’s nutrients? The answer is no. It is the breed of the hen that determines the color of its eggs, and the nutrient levels are not different in white and brown shell eggs.
Nevertheless, depending on how the hens are raised, the color of the egg yolks may differ. For example, hens fed a diet rich in yellow-orange plant pigments will have an egg yolk with a darker yellow versus hens fed a diet consisting of corn or soy.
Now, let’s briefly stroll along to explore the various kinds of eggs out there.
As its name suggests, cage-free eggs come from hens that are not confined to a cage. Although these hens are housed indoors (i.e., in large barns), they potentially have the option to go outside.
The amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the egg yolk can be increased by feeding the hens a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as flax seeds. Because these hens require a non-standard feed, their eggs may be costly.
According to the USDA’s National Organic Program, organic eggs are considered eggs that come from hens that were not raised in cages, had access to the outdoors, fed an organic feed, and were not given hormones or antibiotics.
Pasture-raised eggs come from hens raised in a pasture field where they feed on insects, grass, seeds, and weeds. These hens are also fed high-quality feed which explains why they are expensive. Overall, these hens consume mostly a natural diet as well as have more sunlight exposure and movement.
Remarkably, studies have shown that compared to eggs derived from caged hens, pasture-raised eggs have twice as much vitamin E, 38% higher vitamin A concentration, twice as much long-chain omega-3 fats, 2.5 times more total omega-3 fatty acids, and less than half the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Clearly, the nutritional profile reflects the type and quality of diet the hens consume.
Vegetarian eggs come from hens fed a diet free from animal by-products. Of note, organic eggs are vegetarian eggs but vegetarian eggs are not necessarily organic. It is important to note that the natural diet of chickens consists of worms and bugs and thus chickens are not naturally vegetarian.
The Bottom Line
Based on the above information, pasture-raised eggs are perhaps your best friend. Pasture-raised eggs are indeed costly, so organic cage free eggs can also be included in your circle of friends.
Chickopedia: What consumers need to know. National Chicken Council. https://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/chickopedia/. Accessed March 19, 2022.
Food Safety and Inspection Service. Shell Eggs from Farm to Table | Food Safety and Inspection Service. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/eggs/shell-eggs-farm-table#:~:text=There%20are%20three%20consumer%20grades,condition%20of%20the%20egg%20shell. Accessed March 19, 2022.
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Karsten HD, Patterson PH, Stout R, Crews G. Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. Cambridge Core. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems/article/abs/vitamins-a-e-and-fatty-acid-composition-of-the-eggs-of-caged-hens-and-pastured-hens/552BA04E5A9E3CD7E49E405B339ECA32. Published January 12, 2010. Accessed March 19, 2022.
Purchasing different types of eggs. Purchasing Different Types of Eggs - UF/IFAS Extension: Solutions for Your Life. https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/archive/hot_topics/families_and_consumers/purchasing_eggs.shtml. Accessed March 19, 2022.
Research shows eggs from pastured chickens may be more nutritious. Penn State University. https://www.psu.edu/news/agricultural-sciences/story/research-shows-eggs-pastured-chickens-may-be-more-nutritious/. Accessed March 19, 2022.
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