How To Choose Eggs: Understanding Egg Labels
By Nicole Kiley, MSc, RD
Have you ever stared at a shelf of eggs and thought, “How do I choose?” You are not alone! Below we break down the regulation behind egg labels and hopefully help to simplify your next grocery shop!
Caged (Commercial White Egg)
Most eggs sold in the supermarket are from caged hens that are grown on a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO). Many environmental, animal, and health activists have been very public about the poor living conditions of these birds. With up to 4 birds in a 16-inch cage, birds are confined and unhealthy. These chickens are given antibiotics and hormones and are fed a mixture of grain, soy and in some cases, animal byproducts.
Cage-free birds are no longer trapped in a cage, but still do not have access to the outside. There is no regulation on antibiotic or hormone use, nor the feed given to cage-free hens.
Like caged and cage-free, vegetarian fed does not regulate living conditions nor the use of hormones or antibiotics. This label does certify that the chickens have not been fed animal byproducts. Does anyone else find it comical (more sad) that we need a label for this?
Consistent with the above, this label does not regulate living conditions or chemical use, however, it does mean that chickens were fed omega 3-rich foods (e.g. flax). Eggs from these hens contain higher amounts of omega 3 fatty acids.
Organic eggs come from antibiotic- and hormone-free hens that have been fed a diet free of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. This label does not establish requirements for living conditions and there is some beak trimming allowed. On a positive note, organic eggs are laid and verified by third parities, which reduces the chance of fraudulent labeling. Now we are getting somewhere!
Free-range doesn’t necessarily mean pasture-raised. Technically, hens used to have access to the outdoors, however there are no standards on time spent outdoors or space within living quarters. This is a tricky label!
Pastured chickens live outside and are free to eat green grass, grubs, bugs, and whatever else they naturally find. These happy hens are free to socialize and roam as they naturally desire. Beak trimming and forced molting (a process of stressing the hen, usually through starvation, so the hen will produce larger eggs later) are prohibited.
The color of the egg shell is determined by the breed of the chicken, not the quality. You will notice, however, that pastured eggs often have a variety of color and spots and not all eggs look the same. This is good!
Is Pasture-Raised All It’s Cracked Up to Be?
Unfortunately, in the case of eggs, you get what you pay for. A pasture-raised egg has a deep vibrant orange yolk. Its nutrition profile is hard to deny, as pasture-raised eggs are rich in Vitamin A, D, E, K2, B-12, folate, riboflavin, zinc, calcium, beta-carotene, choline and omega 3 fatty acids. A study conducted by Mother Earth News in 2007 found happy pastured hens to produce superior eggs compared to caged hens. In an analysis of 14 flocks across the United States, pasture-raised eggs were found to 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
• 3 to 6 times more vitamin D
Happy hens = healthy eggs!
Nicole is the Head Registered Dietitian at The Dolce Diet. She believes that long-term health is achieved through an individualized approach to nutrition that is not only evidence-based, but also sustainable and enjoyable. Serving both our private clients and professional athletes, Nicole aims to empower individuals with confidence and education, fully equipping them to reach and maintain their health goals.