The Real Deal on Egg Labels

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There is a lot of confusion going around about eggs…Are eggs good for you or are eggs bad for you? Well according to research, eggs are actually GREAT for you. They are a complete protein packed with vitamins and healthy fats. And I don’t just mean the egg white, but the whole entire egg, including the nutrient packed yolk.

So quit wasting the best half of the egg and gobble up that egg yolk too!

If you need a little more convincing be sure to check out my explanation in last weeks blog post. Eggs are a nutrient packed food IF you are eating the right kind of eggs. Unfortunately, egg labels can be VERY misleading and can easily lead us to ASSUME facts about eggs that aren’t true.

Until recently, I too was fooled, and usually bought cage-free eggs. Little did I know that “cage-free” did not mean what I thought it meant. I envisioned chickens running around in the yard, pecking in the grass, and getting lots of sunlight. I was TOTALLY wrong!

The reality is that the nutrition found in an egg is dependent upon the nutrition of the hen that it comes from. So if the hen is eating a poor diet and living in deplorable conditions, well those eggs aren’t going to be very healthy either. The best source of eggs is from a chicken that’s raised the way nature intended, not feeding on grains in crowded barns.

Below I’ll give you the quick run down of the different types of eggs labels and give you some tips on which eggs are the healthiest and where to find them.

Vegetarian Fed

Sounds harmless enough, right? Yes, from the standpoint that these chickens aren’t fed any animal by products (eww!) but the problem is that chickens aren’t vegetarian, so why would you feed them an all vegetarian diet? And furthermore this only means they aren’t eating their natural diet or getting access to the outdoors, because if they were they’d would no longer be eating a vegetarian diet, but instead a diet with protein from bugs, grubs, and other insects found in open pastures.

Instead, they are given a diet of corn, soy, and cottonseed, which is often genetically modified (genetic modifications are a scary topic for another day). The problem with feeding chickens the WRONG foods is that it creates the same problems it does in humans. Sickness and nutrient deficiencies.

Who wants an egg from a sick chicken or one that lacks healthy vitamins and minerals? This lack of nutrients means you are eating less Vitamin A, Vitamin E, beta carotene and less heart and brain healthy Omega-3’s.

Cage-Free

This one fooled me for the longest time! Just because an egg label says cage free does not mean it’s running around outside in the grass and getting it’s daily dose of sunshine. These chickens are often uncaged but housed in barns or warehouses without access to the outdoors. Not only do they never get fresh air but the may be in dark barns without windows or sunlight!

Furthermore, these chickens often live in overly crowded, unsanitary conditions. Essentially these labels say nothing about how the chickens are raised, as do many other misleading labels. Additionally, it says nothing about their diet nor is there any outside auditing to ensure “cage free” compliance.

Free-Range, Free-Run, or Free-Roaming

I had never heard of free-run eggs, until earlier this week. A friend in Canada, Joe Symchyshyn, who happens to be a wonderful photographer took these egg box photos and sent them to me. Like you, he had questions about what the heck this label meant:

Free Run Egg Labels

FreeRunEggs

So maybe it’s a Canadian term, but any term such as free-run, -range, or -roam can be very misleading.

While free-range chickens used for eggs have access to the outdoors, the frequency and duration of these outdoor visits are unknown as well as the amount of space they are given to roam around in. According to the label above there is no mention of the outdoors. It actually sounds more like a cage free chicken, roaming free in the barn but never going outdoors. Basically, they aren’t in cages, but still don’t get fresh air, sunshine, and a natural diet of bugs, grubs, and green plants. Furthermore, there are no guidelines on what these free range chickens eat.

Omega-3

So how do you get more Omega-3’s in the diet of chickens? Well there are two ways. The conventional way is to mix omega-3 sources into the chickens fed in the form of flaxseed or algae. Sounds super healthy but the truth is that these plant sources of omega-3’s aren’t as absorbable in the body as omega-3’s from animal sources like fish.

Furthermore, research has show that these eggs do contain more omega-3’s but the problem is the difference is usually insignificant or it’s been shown that some of these eggs only contain HALF the omega-3’s claimed on packages! Now that’s frustrating. However, I would still recommend these over a plain label egg.

The second way is to eat pastured eggs, but I’ll get to that soon enough!

Natural

Don’t be fooled by this one. Natural is not regulated and is basically meaningless. There are no guidelines for this one, so ANYONE can add the words natural to their egg label. It’s just a marketing ploy. And this goes for most foods, not just eggs.

No Added Hormones

This is another marketing ploy used by food companies. The FDA  prohibits the use of hormones in poultry. It just another way to make you think these eggs are healthier over another.

Organic

These chickens are feed organic food that is pesticide free and herbicide free. These animals are antibiotic free as well. Remember ALL eggs are hormone free, unlike other varieties of meat where organic labeling does mean the difference between hormone-free or not, so don’t be fooled with hormone-free labeling or seeing that as a benefit of organic eggs.

Organic labeling tells us nothing about how the chickens were raised, if they had access to the outdoors, if they were fed a vegetarian or more natural omnivorous diet. However, I would still pick these eggs over non-organic eggs as they do contain less chemicals.

Because organic certification is costly, some farms choose to forgo the certification, but still raise their chickens on organic foods. On store bought eggs there’s no way to determine this from the label, but you can do always talk to local farmers about how their chickens are raised or do some research on the company. This is why I’m such a fan of buying locally and visiting the farmer’s market.

Pastured, Pasture Raised, or Free Farmed

So what is the best option? Organic pastured eggs! As a first choice I would select organic pastured eggs, secondly pastured eggs,  next organic, and put all other conventional eggs in last place. Pastured eggs have access to the outdoors, are able to roam freely and eat their natural diet of insects, grass, and other plants, and are treated  humanely.

HappyPasturedEggBUT always do your homework! I would suggest buying LOCALLY pastured eggs from a farm or farmers market whenever possible. This gives you a chance to talk to the farmer and see how the chickens are raised, see what they eat, and find out if they have frequent access to the outdoors. Farmer’s markets are a great way to meet local farmers or you can just do a quick internet search for farms in your area.

If a local farm or farmer’s market isn’t an option, you can always do some research on the company, such as looking up their website, or shop at a local health food store which may have a higher quality egg selection. You can also visit the Cornucopia Institute’s website for an organic egg scorecard. They’ve rated various brands of organic eggs based various factors such as access to pasture and commitment to organics.

Lastly, a good indicator if you’re eating the healthiest eggs possible is by the color of the yolk. The healthiest eggs will have a bright orange yolk, while often conventional eggs have a pale yellow yolk.

The most important thing to remember, that even if you can’t get pastured or organic eggs, that conventional eggs are still going to be better than grabbing a bowl of sugary, grain cereal or a bagel for breakfast.

Did you unscramble any information in this post? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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