My family just loves eggs. Sunny-side up, poached, deviled, and a favorite, scrambled eggs. You name it. We can’t seem to get enough eggs around here. We aim for the healthiest eggs we can get our hands on.
However, we didn’t always understand that not all eggs were created equal. It took time to get to where we are now – buying local, free range, organic eggs. At this point, you might be wondering how two eggs could possibly be different. After all, they sure look the same when all lined up in their carton at the grocery store.
Consequently, how is anyone supposed to find the healthiest eggs?
Buy the Best Eggs you can Afford
Egg quality can vary greatly depending on the lifestyle of the hen. Hens might have a carefree life in the pasture with full access to a variety of forage or live in an overcrowded hen house with little fresh air. Despite the fanfare about pastured eggs being the healthiest, they just might not be the best egg for your family if you can’t afford them or get access to fresh local eggs.
Some would say buy the most expensive eggs you can find, but I don’t believe that’s the best answer for everyone. Understanding what contributes to a highly nutritious egg and weighing your family’s other needs (budget, access, etc.) will mean a different answer for many.
What Kind of Eggs Should I Buy?
Eggs in a Row: Best to Worst Healthy Egg Choices
- Of course first place goes to a pastured chicken egg fed organic feed without soy. This means the chicken eats proper protein (grubs, etc), gets exercise and sunlight (for vitamin D) and roams freely outside to forage. Added bonus points to farmers who have roosters; fertilized eggs are healthier too. Super duper first place to chickens who get to follow cows around their pastures. Cow plops provide great grubs!
- Next best would be any local chickens who get to live for real outside, fed standard chicken feed, no antibiotics if possible.
- No farmers? At the store, it would be nice if you could get organic eggs — whatever the chickens are eating was grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. They also receive no antibiotics or hormones. However, their living conditions may be less than ideal.
- Free range and omega 3 would be ideal, but usually not available together. So free range lands spot #4. These chickens aren’t completely confined in cages. They must be allowed “access” to the outdoors, but that may just be one small door and small yard for thousands of chickens.
- Omega-3 eggs such as Eggland’s Best come from chickens who are supplemented with flax seeds which increases the DHA and omega-3s in their eggs. You’ll have to weigh for yourself if the added nutrition of omega-3 eggs is more important than avoiding the chemicals that the organic eggs will afford you. I would say they’re a step up from store brand eggs, for sure.
- Can’t spend $4 on eggs? I understand. Much better to buy plain old white eggs for 98 cents a dozen and eat them (with a prayer) than to avoid eggs. The nutrition in eggs still can’t be beat.
How to Find Pastured Eggs
If you’ve decided on going with choice # 1, hurrah for you! To find pastured eggs in your area, one resource is Eat Wild. There are usually many more options than you’ll find on this website though. The best practice is to simply ask around: at health food stores, like-minded people you know, farmer’s markets, etc.
Pastured or Commercial Storebought Eggs?
Obviously buying eggs from a store vs. directly from a farmer is a huge leap. Even though there are alarmingly many choices at your supermarket, you still may not be able to get the best eggs without striking out and finding a local farm. The following research results are pretty striking:
Most Store Bought Eggs Are Nutritionally Inferior
According to a Mother Earth testing project, most of the eggs currently sold in supermarkets are nutritionally inferior to eggs produced by hens raised on pasture. That’s the conclusion we have reached following completion of the 2007 Mother Earth News egg testing project. Our testing has found that, compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:
- 1⁄3 less cholesterol
- 1⁄4 less saturated fat
- 2⁄3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
- 4-6 times more vitamin
It’s About Baby Steps
Taking steps towards a healthier egg is the start of the journey. To that end, here’s a little leveled list for you; my best shot at all the ways a family could interact with eggs. To find the best and healthiest eggs for your family, Take a step (or two) forward on the list, depending on what your family normally eats.
- We don’t eat eggs.
- We eat egg whites only.
- We eat white, standard store eggs.
- We buy __________ eggs from the grocery store (insert “organic” or “free range” or “omega-3 enhanced” in the blank).
- We buy eggs from a local farmer, but I don’t really know much about the way the chickens are raised.
- We buy free range, local, organic eggs that have been fertilized after the chickens followed the cows through the pasture.
- We raise our own chickens and collect eggs everyday!
Upgrade your Eggs
In our house, we moved from eating white store bought eggs to buying the best eggs we could get locally, and finally now to buying free-range, organic, local eggs. I can truly see the difference in the color of the yolks of our eggs compared to white store eggs. The bright orange color denotes extra nutrients in there, so you can tell these are the best eggs!
Health Benefits of Eating Eggs
Eggs will give you the following nutritional benefits:
- Protein: 5.5 g (11% DV)
- “97% digestible, practically a nutrition miracle, and its amino acids are superior in promoting growth and tissue health.” (source)
- Fat – and more than half is UNsaturated
- Good source of ALL vitamins except C, especially:
- B complex
- Fat-soluble vitamin A
- Useable vitamin D (in the news currently – we don’t get enough vitamin D that our bodies can assimilate!)
- Vitamin E
- Good source of ALL necessary minerals, especially:
- Significant amounts of iron
- Folate (pregnant women need lots!)
- Choline – not found much elsewhere
- lutein and zeaxanthin (antioxidants)
- EPA and DHA (yes, the brain boosters found in breastmilk and mimicked in formula) – not as much in supermarket eggs as farm fresh
Further, research shows that most of the eggs sold in supermarkets are not comparable (nutritionally speaking) to pasture-raised eggs. If a store-bought egg is such a powerful superfood, then imagine the health benefits of eating eggs that are pasture-raised. (If you are hunting for the best eggs for your family, be sure to read this to decipher egg carton labels).
All those nutrients can improve your health:
- Eyes (prevents leading cause of blindness)
- Brain Development (unborn babies and other humans) and mental acuity
- Thyroid health
- Strong bones
- Antioxidants (cancer-fighting)
- Nerve function
- Wound healing, fighting infection
- Helps you feel fuller, longer
- May be associated with a decrease in blood pressure
- Contributes to heart health
- May prevent breast cancer
- Healthy hair and nails
I just have to repeat the amazing parts of the egg: Vitamin D and choline are found in very few other natural food sources. Americans are severely deficient in Vitamin D, especially in winter months. Synthetic vitamin D, like that found in store milk, is not well utilized by our bodies. Yay, eggs! Want more info on the health benefits of eating eggs? Read on!
What is choline?
“One egg yolk has about 300 micrograms of choline. Choline is an important nutrient that helps regulate the brain, nervous system, and cardiovascular system.” (source) Anyone out there care about their brains? Nervous system? Heart? These are serious areas for egg help! More than 90% of Americans are choline-deficient. Yikes! This is especially a big deal in pregnant women and young children, because choline builds brain health. Two eggs provide about half the recommended daily supply of choline. Three oz. of chicken, less than 1/6. Eat more eggs!
Our brains are largely fat, and choline keeps the cell membranes there healthy. Who doesn’t need improved “mental acuity” (Nourishing Traditions)?
Choline also reduces inflammation “linked to a wide range of conditions including heart disease, osteoporosis, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, and type-2 diabetes.” Pairing eggs with spinach completes the duet needed to combat inflammation. Here is how we do that in scrambled eggs.
Choline improves overall heart health because it neutralizes homocysteine, a molecule that can damage blood vessels. This keeps the cholesterol moving in the blood stream. Scared of the cholesterol in eggs (almost 2/3 of recommended daily value)? See below for more.
Read here for lots more on choline.
Egg Yolks, too?
Oh, yes. Yolks too. Guess what’s found in the egg yolks? Everything. Egg whites only have half the protein of the egg and a little salt. All the many bullet points under “nutrition” above are in the yolk. I don’t want to skip the yolks! That means missing out on brain, heart, and nerve health! Plus Vitamin D and all the other vitamins and minerals. And don’t forget the taste. Mmmm.
Eggs you can pour aren’t going to have all the benefits of eggs you can crack, by the way. Anything with powdered egg may have oxidized cholesterol, something you don’t even want to know about!
Don’t Worry About the Cholesterol in Eggs
- First, dietary cholesterol (what you eat) only translates into about ¼ of your blood cholesterol. The rest is made by your body because of other conditions.
- Second, “saturated fat [and trans fats] in the diet, not dietary cholesterol, is what influences blood cholesterol levels the most.”
- Third, recent research shows that egg consumption may improve overall cholesterol health.
- Fourth, “A 2007 study of 9,500 people reported in Medical Science Monitor showed that eating one or more eggs a day did not increase the risk of heart disease or stroke among healthy adults, and that eating eggs may be associated with a decrease in blood pressure.” (source)
If you really want to worry about cholesterol in eggs, you can buy more expensive eggs. If all the terms on egg cartons are confusing, here’s the comprehensive guide!
The Healthiest Eggs?… The Ones You Eat!
Challenge yourself to incorporate eggs into your meal planning a few times a week. There are great recipes out there for any type of meal. For example, you can:
- Make custards and quiches the star of breakfast! This amazing custard recipe will make even the most stalwart egg hater enjoy eating eggs and this 3-ingredient no-cook custard is so easy, you won’t believe it. How about pizza quiche?
- Make a batch of hard boiled eggs for snacks throughout the week (easy-peel in the Instant Pot).
- Serve breakfast for dinner (a classic Wednesday night menu at our house) with omelettes, toast, and fruit salad.
- Soups are great with eggs too – Garlic Leek Soup with Egg or Egg Drop Soup, found in The Healthy Breakfast Book.
- Homemade Potato Salad is a family favorite around here
Consider upgrading to the healthiest eggs that you can afford. Also, don’t forget, discount stores often have great sales on organic and omega 3 eggs and wholesale clubs can sometimes offer the best prices around.
Eat Your Eggs
Eating the healthiest eggs (and I mean any egg from store bought to pastured) is a step in the right direction.