You should know by now what an egg lover I am. Read my past post on this topic. Despite the bad reputation eggs have had for years as a culprit in triggering heart disease and raising blood cholesterol levels, eggs (including the yolks!) are one of the most nutrient dense, complete foods on the planet. They are an excellent source of protein along with key nutrients like choline for brain health and lutein for eye health.
The Different Egg Categories
There are dizzying options in the egg section of most grocery stores, so I wanted to go over the different types. The key principle is that if hens are allowed to roam outdoors on pastures foraging for worms and insects and getting natural sunlight exposure, they will produce more nutrient dense eggs. Trapping a hen indoors and feeding it garbage like some of the standard feed given to conventional hens will produce eggs that lack nutrients. On top of this, hens may be injected with antibiotics and hormones. Now let's review the different categories:
1. Conventional: These are your plain eggs that don't have any of the labels below. They are either caged or trapped in a hen house with no access to sun or grass, given low quality feed and may be injected with hormones or antibiotics. The only advantage they have is they're the cheapest ones on the shelves, but you get what you pay for, which is the least nutrients and the most contaminants.
2. Cage-Free: As the name implies, these eggs are not imprisoned in cages, but unfortunately they can be crammed into a hen house with no federal regulations on how much space each hen gets. I would hardly refer to these conditions as “free,” but at least they do have a little more freedom than being trapped in a cage. Nutritionally, there probably is not much benefit over hens trapped in cages.
3. Free-Range: These chickens have access to the outdoors although the amount of time spent outdoors is not regulated. They can literally have a small door on the hen house that stays open for a few minutes, but may never go outside.
4. Pasture-Raised: Unlike free-range birds who may only get a few feet of outdoor space, pastured hens typically get more than 100 square feet on fields where they can feed on plants and insects which naturally boost the amount of healthy omega-3s and other nutrients in each egg. Keep in mind that this label is not federally regulated, but typically it's understood that these producers are much more rigorous and you can check out their website for more information.
5. Omega-3: Omega-3s are the health promoting fatty acids that lower inflammation, heart disease risk and optimize brain and eye health. Consumption of adequate omega-3s is linked to a growing list of health benefits. A typical egg has 30mg of Omega-3s while an egg that is “enriched” with Omega-3s has as much as 350mg since these hens consume omega-3 rich feed from sources like flaxseed, algae or fish oil.
6. Organic: These hens are given organic, pesticide-free feed and are not treated with antibiotics and hormones. However, they may not have access to the outdoors and so nutrient density might be limited unless they are organic, pastured or omega-3 fortified.
7. Vegetarian: This means the eggs are not fed any animal protein, but they may instead eat junk like corn and soybeans. Since they are restricted from eating things like worms and bugs normally found outdoors, these hens are typically trapped indoors.
8. Brown vs. White: I know they look healthier because they're brown, but there is no nutritional difference between brown eggs and white eggs that come from the same category.
Which Eggs Should You Pick?
If you're in an area where all you have access to are conventional eggs, then please still eat these eggs since they are far more nutritious than nearly any other breakfast food out there. Now if you have options, you want to go for the eggs that pack the most nutritional punch and have the least toxins or contaminants. This means pasture-raised is at the top of the list and omega-3 fortified is next, and be sure to choose organic so you avoid hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. The difference between cage-free and free-range isn't much so if only one of these is organic, choose that one.
If you have doubts about the quality of your eggs despite the package label, let the yolks tell the story. Pastured, free roaming, grass grazing birds lay egg yolks with more antioxidants including beta carotene which gives the yolks a more deep orange, carrot-like (“carrot” comes from “carotene”) color like the ones on the right in the image below. Kind of like the deep orange of a setting sun. Caged birds have less of these nutrients and their yolks are more bright yellow, like the early afternoon sun. Pay attention to the eggs you order at your favorite diner and they probably look like the eggs on the left. Restaurants need to keep their supply costs down and pastured eggs would hit their bottom line!
What About My Budget?
Don't cut corners here. You spend money on plenty of other unnecessary items and possibly purchase supplements that aren't doing much for your body. When you pay a few more bucks for pastured eggs, you are providing your body and your family's bodies with more bioavailable nutrients which keep them healthier and more energetic.
How Should I Cook My Eggs?
Any way you like, but overcooking eggs can oxidize the cholesterol in the yolk. Now keep in mind that although oxidized cholesterol in our body is harmful, no study has found oxidized cholesterol in yolks eaten by humans causes harm. I like cooking eggs with runny yolks and also soft boil them to avoid overheating. If you buy high quality eggs like pastured ones, the extra nutrients and antioxidants will protect the yolk from excess oxidation when you cook them.
Same strategy for your own body. Eat more antioxidants like those found in plants, herbs and spices, and your body's cells and your blood cholesterol will be protected from oxidation. This slows down aging and prevents chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. Speaking of herbs and spices, try adding turmeric, pink himalayan sea salt and black pepper along with onions, cilantro and garlic to your omelette or egg scramble for an incredibly healthy breakfast, lunch or dinner.