Are organic eggs really better for you? Does it matter it they are white or brown? Our green product specialist Joyce Newman weighs in.
It’s almost Easter and so our thoughts turn to eggs. On a recent trip to the local Trader Joe’s, my shopping list included a few dozen—some just for decorating and others for regular cooking and baking. But it got me thinking. If I’m just decorating the eggs, not eating them, shouldn’t I buy the cheapest white ones? And then for cooking and eating, which should I get? There are so many different labels and prices. Is it worth it to buy the more expensive, certified “USDA organic” brown ones? Or not?
According to most experts, there’s really no nutritional difference between brown and white eggs. Some hens happen to lay brown ones; other hens lay white ones—it just depends on the breed of hen. However, when it comes to the way hens are raised and fed, there are some big differences.
In fact, the vitamin and omega-3 content of eggs depend a lot on the hen’s diet—and those are important nutrients for our diet too. Hens that are fed a vegetarian diet can have more omega-3s and more of some vitamins in their eggs—and that goes for brown as well as white eggs. As long as “vegetarian-fed” is on the label, it means that the hens have been fed an all-grain diet. So that’s a label term that’s worth looking for.
A vegetarian diet for hens also might include flax or flax seed oils, fish oils and other ingredients that can really boost those desirable omega-3 fatty acids, which is why “Omega-3s” on the label is also worth looking for. It’s true for both white and brown eggs.
If hens are raised on feed grown without synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, antibiotics, or fertilizers, and with “some access” to the outdoors, then their eggs can be certified organic by the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “USDA Organic” eggs, whether white or brown, are likely to cost more than conventional eggs in part because of the requirements for certification. But by spending a little more, you’ll be avoiding a lot of risks associated with all those chemicals.
You also should know that the USDA doesn’t really enforce the outdoor access rule very well, according to Consumer Reports and other experts. The amount, duration, or quality of outdoor access isn’t specified in the government’s standards. Therefore, as we have previously reported, terms like “cage-free” and “free-range” don’t necessarily mean the hens go running around outdoors all day. They may just wander around inside for a very short time.
Whatever eggs you choose, check the date on the carton–it should be as far away from your purchase date as possible. The fresher the eggs, whether brown or white, the better.
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I’m a little confused. Can it really say “vegetarian diet” for hens that includes fish oil? That doesn’t seem right. Shouldn’t fish be labelled?
That’s an interesting and valid question. We’ve passed it along to Joyce, who will probably answer it directly. Thanks! 🙂
Thank you! We are lucky, we have a little farm near our home where we buy our eggs from : We know the hens personally and know what they eat and how they are treated. Not everyone has that chance. The more information we have, the better people can make informed choices.
Good question. If the label says “vegetarian” it mean that the hens are fed an all grain diet. But if the label also says Omega-3 Enriched it most often means flax seed or algae was added to the hen’s feed, which is still consistent with the vegetarian label. But our sources say fish oil can also be used to enrich the feed. According to the National Organic Standards, there is an approved “national list” of feed additives and supplements, such as vitamins and minerals, that are allowed if they are FDA approved for fortification and enrichment. The fish oil would come under that list as far as I can tell.
Thank you so much for the information.
The very best eggs are those that come fresh from the chickens in your backyard. 🙂
Well said, Judy. It’s hard to argue with that! 🙂
Poor hens if they aren’t able to live outdoors – and poor consumers for not being sure…. Unless of course they can buy them directly from a farm. Is that possible in the US?
Yes, there are many American farms that do sell direct to consumers.
Why no mention or discussion of “pasture raised” or “grass fed?”
It’s important to remember that chickens aren’t naturally vegetarian; when allowed to wander they spend the day eating insects and other critters. They also love greens (such as dandelions), which give their yolks a strong yellow, almost orange color. Turning chickens into vegetarians is cruel, because it prevents them from any contact with soil, and an all-grain diet can’t be very healthful for either the chickens or the people who eat their eggs. Eggs from small home flocks are best of all!
The best eggs come from hens which spend most of their days outdoors, running through pasture, woodland, and brush. They come from hens which get lots of exercise and have their fill of earthworms, bugs, and even field mice. I was having fun with one of the egg yolks one of my hens laid today. See for yourself. You can’t do this with store eggs: http://wp.me/p44c6k-tU
And wherever or from whomever you are buying your eggs, they should be willing to tell you how old the eggs are. You want to be able to get eggs that are as fresh as possible.