Ever walk into the supermarket and get overwhelmed by the vast array of eggs?
What are the differences between these eggs? Why are some fortified with nutrients? Is organic the best? Are these eggs created equal?
The skinny on eggs
Eggs are a great food source. They provide 6 grams of high quality protein along with nutrients like choline, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and riboflavin. Eggs also provide the essential amino acid leucine which helps form muscle proteins. Running between 20 and 50 cents an egg you get a real bang for your buck.
One thing to note about eggs is that most, about 60% of the protein is in the albumen or white part of the egg. Alternatively, the yellow part contains the other 40% of protein, and all the minerals and fat. This fat is animal fat or cholesterol. The yolk is also where all the nutrients are stored. It has lecithin and vitamins like D, E. A, choline carotenoids, and lutein/zeaxanthin. If the yolk is discarded you will be losing most of these nutrients.
Here is a breakdown of all the different types of eggs:
- Egg Substitutes - Until recently it was thought that eggs were too high in cholesterol so these products were created for consumers who wanted an alternative to regular eggs. These eggs are made from either soy or milk proteins or contain the real albumin (white part of the egg) but the yolk is made from vegetable or milk products. Since they are not real eggs, they have a different taste, consistency, and cannot be used as a thickener in recipes. They are good, however, for making omelets or scrambled eggs.
- Egg Whites - The yolk is separated and the liquid egg white are pasteurized and packaged in a milk carton like container that is easy to pour. Some have additional preservatives to keep them fresh.
- Free Range Eggs - These eggs are produced by hens who get daily outdoor exposure. Here they can look for food in the form of worms, larva, or insects. This exercise happens once a day for a period of time, weather permitting.
- Vegetarian Eggs - The eggs are produced by hens who are fed only a vegetarian diet. No fish or meat touch their beaks. This means no worms or insect for these hens. The downside to these eggs is that these hens are kept in cages. While this type of egg will appeal to the Lacto-vegetarian who does not want their eggs to have any meat by products, they can be made with corn, soybeans, and grain which can be genetically modified, overly processed, and unhealthy.
- Omega 3 Eggs - How do they add omega 3 fatty acids to the eggs? Through the feed. Hens are fed a special vegetarian diet that is made up of canola, flaxseed, and linseed which are high in omega 3 fatty acids. These eggs were created to help individuals get more fatty acids in their diet to promote cell membrane growth and nerve function. They also help manage and prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. The downside of this is you may not be meeting your daily requirements for omega 3 fatty acids depending on how many eggs you are eating. The addition of processed omega 3 oils may actually be an unhealthy addition to the hen’s diet. So depending on what type of canola the hen is getting may affect the quality of the egg. Flaxseed and linseed also are not a substitute for fish oil. The amount of omega 3 in these food products does not outweigh the amount in fish oil. A better alternative may be to just get your omega-3’s from your diet separately. These hens too are confined to cages unless it says otherwise.
- Cage-Free Eggs - The hens of these eggs are not confined to a cage, but they may not have any outdoor privileges. It does not outline a specific amount of time or space they have outside the cage. There is also no requirement on what their feed or medicines they are receiving.
- Organic Eggs - These chickens are the only eggs that have a certified regulation that ensure the standards are being met. The chickens that lay these eggs must have no pesticides, synthetic hormones, and antibiotics added to the chickens or their feed. The standards of organic eggs helps to lower the risk of contaminated feed and better nutrient content. It does not mean that the chicken has an open space pasture raised lifestyle. Another downside of certified organic is that getting the seal can be costly so some farms may have organic eggs but cannot afford the seal.
- Pasture-Raised Eggs - These eggs are from hens that are raised and have access to green pastures. Additionally, pasture raised hens who eat legumes, clover, and alfalfa may be a natural way to increase in the omega 3 content. Pasture raised eggs have been shown to have 25% higher levels of vitamin E in their eggs when they graze on grasses and legumes. These hens eat a wide array of grass, legumes, seeds, worms, and insects (including larvae). According to a study from 2007 Mother Earth News egg testing product, pasture raised eggs also have a higher source of protein, two thirds more vitamin A, two times more omega-3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E, seven times more beta carotene, and four to six times more vitamin D. They also have one third less cholesterol and one fourth less saturated fat.
- Organic Pasture-Raised Eggs - These eggs are pasture raised and and certified organic to be pesticide, hormone, and antibiotic free. Brands that are organic and pasture-raised included Vital Farms and Backyard Eggs. Alternative sources of these types of eggs are from a local farm.
Cage free, organic, and pasture raised oh my!
Despite all these differences, it is interesting to note, the color and size of the shell does not affect the nutrient content. However, the feed of the hens can affect its nutrient content. Since there are higher production costs that price gets passed over to the consumer and which is why specialty eggs are more expensive than regular eggs.
While all these types of eggs can be confusing to the consumer, every egg has a pro and con. Some eggs are not nutritious as others. If you want to find out where your eggs are coming from? Talk to the source.
The best advice would be to find a local farmer who is raising their own eggs so you can find out about feeding and grazing practices. Check out www.localharvest.org and www.eatwild.com.
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Written By: Jeanette Kimszal
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and also hold a Bachelors Degree in Journalism and Media Studies from Rutgers University.