For years, we were led to believe that egg consumption was one way to guarantee an heart attack in your future. Not the whole egg, mind you, just the yolk. So, as long as we ate bland, tasteless egg white omelettes we were in the clear. Not only was the association between egg consumption and coronary heart disease exaggerated or even outright wrong (read here, here and here), it deprived us of great tasting food and, more importantly, one of the most nutrient dense foods available to us. Along with protein, eggs provide healthy doses of essential vitamins and nutrients and they are packed with Omega 3s. That last part is important because Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for proper cardiovascular and brain function. They also reduce inflammation throughout the body and boost our immune system. The problem is we cant make Omega 3s on our own. We have to eat a diet rich in Omega 3s to make sure our body gets what it needs.
All Eggs Aren’t Create Equal
So, just like with vegetables and meat, the source and quality of the eggs we eat are important. Actually, it’s how the chickens who lay the eggs are raised what’s important here. The better living conditions and better quality of food, the better the egg. Looking at labels can be confusing, however. Cage free vs. free range vs. organic, etc. Which is the best choice? Below is a breakdown of worst to best:
Conventional Eggs: $1.99/dozen
These are the eggs available in just about every grocery store. We can also find them in odd places like 7 Elevens or CVS Pharmacy. They are definitely the least expensive eggs on the market and are the lowest quality. They still fit in with a low-carb diet but you’re not getting the best nutrient punch. Chickens laying these eggs are typically packed into hen houses in small cages which don’t see any daylight and they are fed the cheapest feed. Chickens in these conditions are more prone to getting sick. To remedy this, they are usually given antibiotics which ultimately end up in the eggs we eat.
Organic Eggs: $3.99/dozen
These eggs are better than conventional eggs because the chickens are getting a higher quality feed and they are not treated with hormones or antibiotics. Since the use of antibiotics is avoided, you can assume these chickens are living in better conditions than those producing conventional eggs.
Eggs From Pasture Raised Chickens: $5-6.00/dozen
These are the best eggs you can get. Any animal product with “pasture raised” on the label is a good bet. They are definitely more expensive but you’re getting the highest of quality eggs. These chickens live in their natural conditions. They are given shelter for sleep and protection but they spend most of their days freely roaming in an open field. They are fed their natural diets – bugs, worms and seeds. As a result, they are very healthy chickens producing the healthiest of eggs. You can find these eggs in some of the higher end super markets. Vital farms distributes pasture raised eggs to stores such as Whole Foods and Wegmans. Whenever possible, I try to buy my eggs at the farmers’ markets. They’re a little less expensive and your helping support local farms.
In addition to being extremely nutritious, pasture raised eggs are also the most flavorful.
Watch Out For Marketing Gimmicks
You probably noticed that I didn’t rank “Cage Free” or “Free Range” eggs. Well, that’s because those terms are used for marketing purposes only. “Cage Free” only means that the chickens are not in a cage. Instead of cages, they are typically packed wing-to-wing in a henhouse with little or no daylight peering in. The potential for disease is still present thus requiring the need for antibiotics.
“Free Range” is just like “Cage Free” with the only difference being an open door to a field. Chickens have the “free” choice to either stay in the henhouse or roam about. There’s no guarantee they these chicks ever go outside. And, just like cage free, the risk of disease still exists.
So, since eggs have been given an amnesty for our diets, I strongly encourage you to eat more eggs. If time is a concern, check out my post on cooking eggs in a mug