Trying to decipher all of the claims made on cartons is so confusing it could lead to an all-out ban on quiche in the kitchen...but don't boil over. We've got a quick-and-easy guide to finding healthy eggs that benefit your body, the planet, and even the little ladies doing most of the hard work—the hens.
Here are our tips on finding healthy eggs.The gold standard: Local pastured eggs supplemented with organic grain—A study published last year in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems discovered that hens raised on fresh pastures boasted twice as much vitamin E and 2.5 times more total omega-3 fatty acids than eggs from caged birds. (More than 90 percent of eggs in this country come from caged hens—a practice that's inhumane.) Independent tests by Mother Earth News have found that eggs from pastured hens contain 4 to 6 times the vitamin D of a standard supermarket egg. Here are some other findings for pastured eggs: • 1⁄3 less cholesterol • ¼ 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
If you have to shop at the supermarket: Unless your store is progressive, chances are most eggs in the cooler come from factory-farmed, caged hens: The hens are smushed in cages, are regularly fed antibiotics, and have a living space equivalent to the size of a sheet of paper. Because there are thousands of birds in such a small place, responsible manure management is often a problem. Their eggs are nutritionally defunct compared to pastured hens, and perhaps feed has something to do with it.
Factory-farmed chickens often eat feed laced with arsenic and chicken by-products. They also aren't able to exercise and perform natural chicken behaviors, such as spread their wings, run, and lay eggs in a nest, which can stress their immune systems. Studies have shown caged eggs are up to 21 percent more likely to harbor salmonella. In a grocery store, opt for certified-organic eggs. Although those eggs can come from hens kept inside huge warehouses, the hens are not allowed to be caged and can move about more freely. In addition, they are required to eat feed free of chicken by-products, pesticides, and genetically engineered ingredients. It's not perfect, but it's better than the caged alternative. You can use the Cornucopia Institute's Organic Egg Scorecard to see which organic egg brands are treating their chickens the best:
If you're overloaded on labels: Some labels, such as "organic" and "Animal Welfare Approved," carry meaning and require stringent third-party certification. Others don't mean much of anything. So don't let a cute farm logo and claims of "all natural" fool you into thinking your egg came from a hen that ate well or lived a good life. To learn what different labels mean, read Cage-Free? Free-Range? How Egg Carton Claims Relate to Salmonella Risks.
If you want to know what to avoid:United Egg Producers–Certified—This label is slapped on most eggs. It's an industry standard, and when you see conditions at factory farms, it's easy to see that the standards are not high.
And about dyeing those eggs: Now that you have your healthy eggs in hand for Easter, why taint them with harsh dyes? Here's how to make your own natural egg dye.