If you eat eggs, the variety you choose can make a big difference in nutrition.
Conventional, organic, free-range or pastured? Terminology can be confusing or downright misleading. Mother Earth News decided to cut through the hearsay by testing pastured eggs to see if they lived up to their reputation as a higher quality food. The results may surprise you.
The dark underbelly of certification
To some, it may be shocking to learn their pricey, supermarket organic eggs have very little nutritional difference between conventional, “battery hen” types. Or that free-range can simply mean a chicken has access to a cramped outdoor space for a few minutes a day. Like most matters concerning commercially produced food, certification can be wildly deceptive. To clarify, the Food Renegade offers the following insights about the different varieties of eggs:
Pastured – Sourced from a local farmer, these chickens live their lives outdoors, eating a natural diet of insects, worms, seeds and grass, with the occasional supplementation of grains. The animals are humanely raised with plenty of sun, fresh air and space to roam.
Omega-3 and DHA – The chickens who produce these eggs are usually factory raised, living their entire lives indoors, caged and restricted. Feed is enriched with omega-3 fatty acids and DHA, which creates a more nutritious egg.
Free-range – Visions of happy, healthy chickens frolicking in the sun and producing nutritionally superior eggs is usually little more than fantasy with this classification. In actuality, free-range hens often only have access to the outdoors for as little as 5 minutes. Even then, it’s usually to stroll around a concrete slab lacking bugs, larvae or grass.
Cage-free – Instead of being crammed into stacked cages, the animals are squeezed into an indoor room, generally with little or no outdoor time.
Organic – With this certification, egg producers need to provide outdoor space and a cage-free environment. According to this post, producers often fulfill these requirements in manipulative ways. Beak-cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. The animals are not treated with hormones or antibiotics and the feed is organic. Nutritionally, the eggs have a comparable profile as conventional varieties.
Conventional – Usually raised in battery cages, these chickens live under tremendous hardship. Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary, states “[b]attery cages are so small that not one hen can extend her wings, and yet there are three or more in each cage. The animals’ muscles and bones waste away from lack of use….” Beak-cutting and forced molting are standard practices. The least humane egg producing method, these eggs are riddled with stress hormones and antibiotics as well as toxins from conventional feed.
Not only more humane, but also more nutritious
Need another reason to seek out pastured eggs? Mother Earth News found chickens who live their lives outdoors with plenty of space, sunshine, fresh air and a natural diet produced significantly more nutritious eggs than conventional varieties. After testing samples from 14 flocks around the country, and comparing the results with the Department of Agriculture’s nutrient data for conventional eggs, they discovered pastured eggs 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
– 4 to 6 times the vitamin D of conventional eggs
You can read more about the research here. For those who do not have access to pastured eggs, the Humane Society offers this handy guide for selecting the the most compassionately raised supermarket eggs.
Sources for this article include:
About the author:
Carolanne believes if we want to see change in the world, we need to be the change. As a nutritionist, natural foods chef and wellness coach, she has encouraged others to embrace a healthy lifestyle of green living for over 13 years. Through her website http://www.Thrive-Living.net, she looks forward to connecting with other like-minded people who share a similar vision.
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