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Decoding Your Egg Carton

January 27 2012 - 12:00 PM

BrowneggsOrganic, free-range, cage-free, brown – there are an endless number of options for eggs at your local grocery store. How do you know which one is healthiest or safest to buy? For all other foods, it’s pretty cut and dry what it means to be organic vs. conventional. Eggs are not so simple. Until I did some extensive research, I personally had no idea what the difference was.

Like wheat bread, brown seemed like it had to be better for me in some way. All in all, there is no 100% for sure answer. If there were, they wouldn’t be selling 10 types of eggs at the supermarket. I’ve done some research on what studies have shown, how to decode the egg carton and what organic food guru Michael Pollan believes, and this is what I’ve gathered.

Brown vs. White eggs

Is there a difference? In appearance, the answer is obvious. Otherwise, not really. Even Whole Foods admits this. Brown eggs just come from a different color chicken. These chickens get fed more, which is why these eggs cost more. Like a lot more. White eggs are treated with chemicals to get rid of any bacteria on the outer shell. However, this means an increase in salmonella in white eggs compared to brown. While salmonella is fairly common, I personally don’t see this as a huge issue.

 Cage-Fed vs. Free-Range

If you’re seeing these labels at your local grocery store. It doesn’t seem to mean much. Cage-free promises the chickens aren’t caged – yet they could still be in a very confined space. Free-range means the chickens are allowed to roam a bit. Still, it doesn’t mean their living conditions are all that much better. These eggs are all seen to have salmonella less frequently. Overall, this choice is more of a conscience thing. The animal-lovers out there will likely still gravitate towards these types of eggs to feel better about the purchase. The bottom-line is that this is probably only worth buying if you’re purchasing from a farmer’s market or farm where you know you can trust their practices. 

Organic Eggs

These chickens will have been fed only organic food, no pesticides, and the carton will likely be marked as cage-free and free-range as well. Are they actually healthier for you in their nutritional value? It depends. If they are fed omega-3 rich feed, you’re getting a more heart-healthy fat. Keep a look out for eggs marked with this boost of omega-3s.

You’ll also find a few other labels on eggs that you may never have noticed before. Pastured means the chickens are allowed to roam and may be around more healthy feed – which isn’t necessarily organic. Humane certification should signify more humane conditions for the chicken. If you do decide to purchase eggs from a farmers’ market, they will be missing the chemical coating of regular, white eggs, meaning that they don’t need to be refrigerated. They’ll actually last for a month on your counter before spoiling.

When it comes down to it, there is a really huge price difference in eggs that are organic, brown, cage-free/free-range and ordinary white eggs. If you often enjoy a plate of eggs, it might be worth it to really seek out a local source you can trust to ensure you are getting the healthiest eggs for yourself and for the chicken. I personally use eggs for cooking and baking. I am consuming so little of the egg in each serving that it probably isn’t worth it for me to pay a premium for my eggs – especially if that expensive label doesn’t mean much for my health. Disagree? Comment below and let me know.

–Marly Schuman