Eggs Are the Perfect food for your health (when raised and prepared properly)
Eggs are a kind of natural multivitamin. The nutrition they carry is designed to turn a single cell into an entire chicken. They have been demonized in the past because of the amount of cholesterol in them, which has been later shown not to raise the cholesterol in our bodies or increase the risk of heat disease, when raised and prepared properly, shown below. They are packed with high quality protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and unique antioxidants that protect the eyes. They are also an excellent source of Choline, a nutrient that is very important for the health of the brain, that approximately 90% of people don’t get enough of.
Eggs are Loaded with Antioxidants
Two raw egg yolks contain nearly twice the antioxidant properties of an apple, due to the presence of two amino acids, tryptophan and tyrosine. Egg yolks are also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, a class of carotenoids that offer powerful protection from age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness.
- One large egg contains:
• Only 77 calories, with 5 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein with all 9 essential amino acids.
• Rich in iron, phosphorous, selenium and vitamins A, B12, B2 and B5 (among others).
• One egg contains 113 mg of Choline – a very important nutrient for the brain, among other things. A study revealed that 90% of Americans may not get enough choline in their diet.
Organic Pastured Eggs Contain Superior Nutrients
Free-range or “pastured” organic eggs have far superior nutritional content. An egg is considered organic if the chicken was fed only organic food, meaning it will not have accumulated high levels of pesticides from the grains (mostly GMO corn) fed to typical conventionally raised chickens.
The real difference though occurs in the difference in the diet free ranging, pastured hens have versus commercially farmed hens. (See my blog on Pastured vs conventional chicken here)
- In a 2007 egg-testing project, Mother Earth News1 compared the official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs versus eggs from hens raised on pasture and found that
Pasture raised eggs typically contain:
• 66 percent more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene than factory farmed or commercial eggs.
Understanding the Terms:
– Cage-Free: Birds are free to roam inside barns and engage in many natural behaviors, but in general don’t have access to the outdoors. An improvement over battery cages but the term tells nothing about the feed or if they are given antibiotics. Beak cutting is permitted.
– Can you trust it? No, there is third-party auditing.
– Free-Range/Free-Roaming: In addition to meeting cage-free standards, the definition of this term is that birds must be allowed access to the outdoors—a concrete slab counts, as does a single small door in a barn that houses thousands of birds. The term does not signify what the birds are fed.
– Can you trust it? No third party auditing.
*Pasture-Raised/Pastured: This term implies that the laying hens get to hunt, peck, and graze outdoors on various greens and insects (their natural diet). Pastured eggs are available at farmers markets and, less commonly, at the supermarket.
– Can you trust it? There is no third party auditing, but if you know the farmer you may be able to trust it. On a store bought egg carton, if you see this label only trust it if it has the “Animal welfare Approved” label (explained below) as well. This means that a third party has verified the chickens are indeed living in these great conditions.
– Certified Organic: A USDA-certified organic label means the eggs come from cage-free hens with outdoor access (the amount and duration, however, aren’t well defined), and the hens are fed certified-organic feed. Forced molting and debeaking are permitted.
– Trust it? – Yes, compliance verified through third party audits
– Omega-3 Enriched: These eggs are from hens (caged unless otherwise noted) fed a diet rich in the omega-3 fatty acids, which help sustain eye, heart, and nerve health. The omega-3s usually come from flax seeds and/or fish oil. There’s no third party auditing, but check the nutrition panel on the carton before paying a premium for enriched eggs: Factory-farmed eggs naturally have about 50 milligrams of omega-3s, and many “enriched” eggs have that same amount. If you have a choice, opt for pastured eggs instead—they have up to twice the amount of omega-3s as factory-farmed eggs and come from happier birds.
– Vegetarian-Fed/Vegetarian: This term means that the birds’ feed does not contain the animal byproducts that may be found in conventional feed, such as chicken litter, feather meal, and other unsavories. Chickens are not naturally vegetarian, however; their typical diet includes insects, worms, and grubs, so this label means they don’t get access to the outdoors.
– All-Natural and Farm Fresh: These terms means nothing! Companies add it to trick the consumer into thinking their product is wholesome. If there are no other labels or certifications on the carton, these eggs likely came from a battery hen “farm”.
– American Humane Certified: These chickens live in the SAME horrible conditions as either battery hens or cage-free hens (see above) and the only difference is that forced molting is not allowed (beak cutting is okay) and the chickens are third party verified.
– Certified Humane: This certification is only slightly better than American Humane Certified because there are actual specifications for “stocking density and number of perches and nesting boxes” and the birds are definitely uncaged, although they are kept indoors at all times. These stocking limitations give the chickens a better chance at achieving natural behaviors, but there is no guarantee. Again, forced molting is not allowed, beak cutting is okay and it’s third party verified.
– Food Alliance Certified: This is exactly the same as Certified Humane except the birds are required to have “access” to the outdoors or natural daylight. This may mean there is only one or two tiny doors for going in and out, which doesn’t guarantee any or all of the chickens see the outside. Again, this is third party verified.
* Animal Welfare Approved: In my opinion, the best and most humane alternative to small farm, pasture raised eggs. According to the Human Society of the United States “The birds are cage-free and continuous outdoor perching access is required. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. There are requirements for stocking density, perching, space and nesting boxes. Birds must be allowed to molt naturally. Beak cutting is prohibited”.
Keep in mind there is little to no regulation on most terms, so you have to do some research yourself as to where your eggs are coming from and how the hens are fed and treated, because it is possible that free-range are not be much better than conventional.
White or Brown Eggs?
The color of the egg does not affect the nutritional value and is only determined by the breed of the chicken that laid it. Brown chickens lay brown eggs and white chickens lay white eggs. Healthy farms may also have breeds that lay, blue, pink, green and yellow eggs. I get these eggs in the photo from a local farm in Los Angeles:
Where to Find High Quality Pasture-Raised Eggs?
A local farm or farmers market are the best options for pastured organic eggs. If not available for you a local health food store is typically the best other option.
You can tell the eggs are free range or pastured by the color of the egg yolk. Higher quality pastured hens produce eggs with bright orange yolks. Dull, pale yellow yolks are a sure sign you’re getting eggs form caged hens that are not allowed to forage for their natural diet. Also the higher quality the egg, the harder the shell.
How You Cook Your Eggs Does Matter
Research has shown that cooking eggs is nutritionally destructive. The antioxidant properties in eggs are reduced by about 50 percent when eggs are fried or boiled, followed by microwaving, which results in an even greater reduction. Heat will also alter the chemical composition of the egg protein, which can easily lead to allergic reactions. When consumed in their raw state, the incidence of egg allergy is very rare.
Yes, for optimal health, ideally you want to eat your eggs raw with intact yolks. If not raw as the next best options are poached or soft boiled, since they do the least damage to the yolks and lastly gently cooked “sunny side up” with very runny yolks.
Scrambled or fried eggs are the worst, as this oxidizes the cholesterol in the egg yolk. The cholesterol in the yolk can be oxidized with high temperatures as well, especially when it is in contact with the iron present in the whites and cooked, as in scrambled eggs, and such oxidation contributes to chronic inflammation in your body and can raise your bodies cholesterol, due to other problems being caused in your body from the oxidized cholesterol.
Keep in mind that eating the eggs raw you want to make sure the eggs are truly organic and pasture-raised, as conventional or CAFO-raised eggs are far more prone to be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria like salmonella. As long as you’re getting fresh pastured eggs, your risk of getting ill from a raw egg is quite slim.
On another note, I always avoid omega-3 eggs, as they typically come from chickens that are fed poor-quality sources of omega-3 fats that are already oxidized. Omega-3 eggs are also more likely to perish faster than non-omega-3 eggs.
Eat the Yolk! (Especially when eating raw)
Raw egg whites contain a glycoprotein called avidin that will bind to reduce your level of biotin (a B vitamin). When cooked this is deactivated in the whites, along with almost every other protein in the white. Although there are still benefits, but it is far better consumed raw. Egg yolks have one of the highest concentrations of biotin found in nature, so eating the yolk along with the white poses no problem with this.
So to be clear, I suggest eating WHOLE raw eggs, from a high quality pastured organic fresh source, as I have been doing with at least 2 to 4 eggs per day for many years.
Raw Eggs? What about Salmonella?
There are really only two ways Salmonella can get at an egg. First is from contamination of the outer shell, the second is from the inside.
– Outside contamination: This occurs after the egg is laid from coming in contact with feces containing Salmonella bacteria. Because conventionally grown eggs are raised under poor and dirty conditions, the eggshells, which is dirtied with organic matter, such as chicken feces, the USDA requires producers to rinse, dry, and mist the eggs with chlorine before sending them to market. This “washing” of the eggs (machine in picture on left) causes other problems. When a hen lays an egg, she coats it in a layer of liquid called the cuticle. It dries in just a few minutes, and is incredibly effective at protecting the egg from contamination, providing what European egg marketing regulations describe as “an effective barrier to bacterial ingress with an array of antimicrobial properties.” America’s egg-washing systems strip eggs of this natural protection. “Such damage,” the EU guidelines note, “may favor trans-shell contamination with bacteria and moisture loss and thereby increase the risk to consumers, particularly if subsequent drying and storage conditions are not optimal.” Refrigerating this low quality conventional egg also helps to prevent salmonella and other bacteria from growing on these eggs.
– Inside Contamination: The second occurs if the egg develops in the reproductive tract of a Salmonella-infected hen. This can occur from a hen being in a cage or unsanitary space where flies carrying salmonella land on the chicken feed, passing the bacteria onto the hen.
This is why eating pastured and organic eggs raw is safe, since they are raised in more natural sanitary conditions. Conventional eggs, making up the vast majority of eggs in typical grocery stores, have an increased risk for salmonella, which is why I would never eat or advise people to eat those raw. One study by the British government found that 23 percent of farms with caged hens tested positive for salmonella, compared to just over 4 percent in organic flocks and 6.5 percent in free-range flocks.
Should You Refrigerate Your Eggs?
The reason Americans are forced to refrigerate their eggs is because most eggs are raised in factory farms and unsanitary conditions creating the likelihood they will come in contact with pathogens. However, contrary to popular belief, fresh pastured eggs that have an intact cuticle do not require refrigeration, as long as you consume them within a relatively short period of time. This is well known in many other countries, including Europe. Many organic farmers also will not refrigerate their eggs.
Another cause of the egg refrigeration in the U.S. occurs because mass production of eggs requires the eggs to travel long distances and sit in storage for weeks to months before arriving at your local supermarket, all falling under USDA legal regulations.
If your eggs are fresh from an organic farm, with intact cuticles, and will be consumed within a few days, you can simply leave them on the counter or in a cool cupboard. The shelf life for an unrefrigerated egg is around 7 to 10 days. When refrigerated, they’ll stay fresh for 30-45 days. USDA certified eggs have a pack date and a sell-by date on the carton, so check the label and realize that the eggs were often laid many days prior to the pack date.
More on refrigeration:
– European egg marketing regulations state that storing eggs in cold storage and then leaving them out at room temperature could lead to condensation, which could promote the growth of bacteria on the shell that could probably get into the egg as well. As io9 reported, the EU therefore advises storing eggs at a constant non-refrigerated temperature:3
Cornacopia is a great resource for understanding eggs and checking with the farms that raise them: