Organic, Cage-Free, or Laid by Your Own Chickens?

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egg-marketing

There are so many different labels for eggs, that it can be hard to decide what’s worth the extra price tag! 

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) only add to the confusion, with their laundry list of confusing terms and definitions. 

Let’s cut through the marketing jargon and find out: what exactly are the differences between the variety of eggs available? 

We all want the healthiest and most humanely produced eggs for our families… So let’s dig in!

 

First Off: Are Eggs Good for You? 

Before we dive into the world of poultry husbandry, let’s identify if we should even include eggs in our diet — and how much? 

Many people skip the yolk at breakfast and opt for egg whites, only to avoid high cholesterol. However, egg yolks are a rich source of protein, Vitamin D (good for bone health), and choline (helps your metabolism and liver function). Choline may not be all it’s cracked up to be (pun intended), as recent research found that a byproduct of choline increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death. 

So, before you give up eggs and mourn the loss of yolky, benedicty goodness from your life, consider this: Egg yolks can be good for your eyes! Being a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, egg yolks may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.

Another welcomed benefit of eggs in your diet is heart health! But, what about cholesterol? If you have diabetes or have had a heart attack, then you need to limit eating eggs and other sources of high cholesterol such as red meat in your diet. 

However, if you are a healthy individual and don’t consume too much red meat, then eggs can bring a good balance of cholesterol intake.

The American Heart Association suggests one egg per day for people who eat them as part of a healthy diet. Harvard Health agrees that eggs can be good for you too, but it depends on how much and what you eat with them. Be sure to include some vegetables! Don’t solely eat eggs, and you’ll be fine when it comes to cholesterol.

 

My Vegan Friend Says Different

You may have heard from a vegan friend or animal rights activist that eggs are not healthy. Well, we’re all victims of misinformation and corporate marketing campaigns at some points of our lives. Remember the “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” campaign or “milk builds strong bones” commercials from the 90s? They were catchy with a nice jingle… but also, not the most helpful!

There are some good reasons to consider avoiding eggs. For starters, they are at high risk for having salmonella, which is the leading cause of food poisoning in the U.S. 

Also, according to the World Health Organization, eating eggs is associated with death from colon and rectal cancers. 

An egg-heavy diet may also be contributing to the current rising epidemic of diabetes. Fourteen studies published in the journal Atherosclerosis found that people who eat eggs regularly, increased their risk of diabetes by 68%, compared to those who eat very little egg. The American Journal of Epidemiology found similar results, concluding that women who eat the most eggs had a 77% increased risk of diabetes.

My suggestion? Eat more plant-based foods. And if you do consume eggs, keep them refrigerated, always cook them fully and enjoy in moderation. 

Also, be sure to buy quality eggs. But, what’s a quality egg? Let’s investigate further.

 

Regular Eggs, Rated Grade AA, A, or B

These are the bottom shelf, budget eggs. Unfortunately, commercially farmed chickens are raised in tiny cages with clipped wings and broken beaks. They are not exposed to sunlight or able to exercise. I don’t feel comfortable recommending these eggs as part of a healthy diet. 

The grading system refers to how firm the whites are, AA being the thickest and most firm and grade B being thinnest, which are better for liquids, scrambles, etc. 

 

Cage-Free

While “cage-free” eggs are an improvement upon regular eggs (as the chickens aren’t in tiny cages)… they still are not the best choice. These chickens are often raised in miserable conditions: in a tight and dark environment with clipped wings, broken beaks and very little sunshine. The term “cage-free” is very deceiving from the sad truth.

 

Free Range

Now we’re getting somewhere! With “free-range” eggs, we’re typically talking about chickens that have had some exposure to sunlight and who’ve had some access to the outdoors. 

However, it’s still a misappropriation and the term is a deceitful ploy in egg marketing. 

According to SFGate, “It does not mean that the poultry must be allowed access to pastures or grassy yards, nor does it ensure a certain amount of time outdoors or the size of the area for a given number of birds.”

 

Certified Organic

This term refers to the feed that the chickens are raised with. 

These eggs come from chickens that are not subject to antibiotics and are more likely to enjoy a few extra days of sunshine, compared to the former options. 

 

Pasture Raised

This is the gold standard in eggs! These chickens are outdoors, enjoying the normal chicken life you’d like to imagine them to be. 

No hormones or antibiotics are given, and the yolks are thicker & tastier. They are even richer in nutrition, being more dense in Vitamin A, E, beta carotene, and Omega-3’s. 

The animal rights activists and vegans have a good point in arguing for the conditions that chickens are raised in. Whether you decide to eat eggs or not, the better the animal is treated, the healthier end-product it will be (whether it’s for eggs or meat). 

The color of the eggs has no real significance here, although the multicolored ones are more likely to be organic and pasture-raised. The colors actually depend solely on the genetics of the chicken! 

 

You Get What You Pay For

The adage carries some real truth when purchasing, cooking, and consuming eggs. 

You can, of course, raise your own chickens — it’s very popular lately, even in backyards of some city neighborhoods and suburbs. This way you can be certain of what your chickens are fed and how they are treated. 

Show the chickens some love, give them room to run and perhaps you’ll enjoy better tasting and more nutritious eggs. 

Have fun and experiment! Perhaps you can play them some music. The Japanese legends of Kobe beef claim this as a critical part of the process to make better food. 

I can’t attest to the truth in that, but it does feel good to treat animals better… and it makes sense in producing better quality food, so why not?

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