Since you can buy 156 different kinds of spearmint toothpaste, 11,298 brands of vanilla ice cream and 3,678 types of yogurt, it makes sense that there are now multiple tiers of eggs, production type, raising environment and feed variety.
I will preface this article by saying I believe buying eggs to be the single most confusing decision healthy eaters are faced with.
What’s to make of all this cage-free, free-range organic vegetarian fed pastured omega-3 eggs?
Eggs are incredible for you, containing a ton of important nutrients and healthy fat in the yolk, as well as the highest scored bioavailable protein available in any whole foods.
Yeah, they money, son.
I will state this until death and more and more studies pop up that show how beneficial they are for weight loss.
While you’ll find a million different types of advice for how you should buy and what everything means, this is my consolidated version to explain to you what each label means at the end of the day (all pictures from the Sprout’s in PB if you are a local).
By and large, eggs are a confusing beast and you can drive yourself mad trying to figure out what each label means but I assure you, we can get through this together.
When the dust settles, even an egg fanatic like myself doesn’t go nuts when trying to decide brands.
Bare with me, I had to knock this out in under an hour so there are probably a few typos or things that just flat don’t make sense….like saying “flat don’t make sense.”
I don’t even know if that’s the correct name. Unflavored? Traditional? Original? I would not call them “normal” because there is nothing typically normal about how feedlot chickens/hens are raised and produced. These are your eggs that are cooped up, don’t roam free on the regular (but sometimes can actually), jammed in there with other hens and eat a mixture of crap feed all day long that might jack up their omega-6 content. These brands are easy to tell as they generally go for about $1.70 per dozen and don’t have any fancy catch words on the packaging. Typically they will try and sell you with “Jumbo” or “AAA”.
Organic is a step in the right direction as it ensures that they are raised under organic conditions, which is without the use of fertilizer (feces), pesticides, additives or drugs and on land that hasn’t been pillaged by the same. It’s definitely reassuring to see “organic” on the label but still, it is not the be-all end-all of nutrition.
Often times the eggs can be organic by law but still not cage-free or free-range, meaning they are still subject to bacteria and the disease that can spread when 10,000 animals are cooped up side by side.
Kind of a Catch-22 in that the removal of pesticides to create healthy feed also can result in an unhealthy atmosphere.
(Frustration level building…)
If you are buying organic eggs than opt for the most locally raised variety. The packing should tell you the production site and when in doubt, this will typically indicate overall freshness. For example, if you live in San Diego and buy organic eggs from New York, there is restricted benefit.
Still, organic eggs are a good bet.
Organic, Omega-3 Eggs
The next step up from organic eggs are those that have extra omega-3s in them. By and large, chicken products tend to skew much higher in omega-6s than omega-3s, which over the long-haul can be problematic. The extra omega-3s in these eggs are obtained through the diet of the chicken, meaning they do not sit around and eat corn all day long.
Cage-Free Eggs & Free-Range
Come on, man. How are we supposed to tell the difference between free-range and cage-free? Isn’t that getting a little bit fucking retarded?!
(Frustration level entering Orange Level…)
I sure as hell think so, even though there is a subtle difference between the two.
Cage-free typically indicates the hens are housed indoors but without the use of a cage. They are still mostly confined to their living quarters and subject to the same unsavory conditions as other options. It’s definitely good they are able to roam and stretch the muscles as there is benefit to that condition.
A slightly better option is free-range. Now, before you go thinking this means the hens are roaming around in grass field all day long it simply indicates they live in a hen house that has an open ramp that leads outdoors. Thing is, hens are not MENSA members though and will rarely use that door unless prodded so sometimes free-range will live indoors the majority of their lives.
Great, so basically there is not a ton of difference between any of those?
Sort of, but not really. Kind of, but it depends. A little bit, but also a lot.
Confused the shit out of and possibly angered you, didn’t I?
(Frustration level entering now on Nuclear Meltdown Alert…)
Well, unfortunately that is just the complicated reality of deciphering food packaging and unless you actually own your own chickens like one of our members, or Kramer, then you are left to decipher it all.
Which is why I always recommend…
Locally Raise (Farmer’s Market)
By far and away my favorite option for eggs is to go the local farmer’s market in La Jolla once a week and stock up. You will pay a premium on these eggs (my favorite are $5 for 12) but for me, I am fine with it since I eat eggs so often I rest easy knowing I am putting quality into my body.
At farmer’s markets you get to actually speak to the farmers, find out about the eggs and condition, when they were laid, etc. This past weekend I purchased eggs that were laid on Saturday, bought them on Sunday and then ate them on Monday.
Can’t beat that.
No other label can tell you all of that. The mom and pop farmers typically pasture the chickens too, raise them organically and get them to market lickity split, which means that the fake label images of chickens in a field next to a silo often does happen from these guys.
You will notice a much darker egg yolk, almost orange instead of yellow. It’s a much more rich taste and contains more vitamin D, E and A, more healthy omega-3s, selenium and choline and just plain better tasting and nutritious.
Let Common Sense Rule
Honestly, if you are on a budget then buy what works for you. I don’t consider any of these options bad for you and in fact I will generally go back and forth between all five of those depending on a few factors. While I personally opt for the farmer’s market variety as often as I can, at the end of the day there is not a hell of a lot of difference in any of them and I don’t believe you can go too wrong so long as you are buying your eggs from a store that stocks state or regionally local eggs such as Sprout’s, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, etc.
I understand I am a bit of a freak for routinely spending five bucks on a dozen eggs and I won’t try and be on a soap box saying you should do the same. People can be insane with this stuff trying to dig up dirt on every available option. If you have the money, go for local farmer’s market but if not then scale what you can afford and just be aware of the benefits you get by opting for a bit higher quality.