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Which Are The Best Eggs To Buy

Over time, as egg production has increased, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed a complex system of regulations to ensure eggs are processed and handled in a healthy manner and labeled correctly before they hit the market.

which are the best eggs to buy

The USDA defines cage-free eggs as eggs laid by hens that are able to roam vertically and horizontally in indoor spaces while having access to fresh food and water. The trend toward using cage-free environments rather than the longtime standard of battery cages in the U.S. has been increasing sharply over the last several years. As of July 2022, 105 million cage-free hens have produced about 35% of the eggs on the market. That number has increased from about 10% in 2012, according to the USDA. Although this method of egg production is accepted as more humane, some cage-free farms may restrict outdoor grazing.

Egg carton labels cover a broad range of terms, but what do they all mean? And which one is best? And what exactly is the difference between a brown and white egg? A registered dietitian demystifies the egg.

Their feed itself must be 100% organic, which means no hormones, antibiotics, arsenic, or byproducts of poultry slaughter. And the eggs are inspected and certified to be pesticide and antibiotic-free.

In 2007, Mother Earth News surveyed 14 flocks of truly pasture raised egg producers and compared it to the USDA nutrition stats for conventional eggs. The survey, found that pasture-raised eggs contained:

Omega-3 enriched eggs contain 39% less arachidonic acid than conventional eggs. This is inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid is over-consumed by most people on a Standard American Diet. Omega-3 eggs also contain 500% more omega-3 than both conventional and organic eggs.

This one is a bit of a head-scratcher. Fertile eggs have become a popular trend, promoted as being more nutritious. But there is no evidence of any nutritional advantages or even of chemical changes unless the egg is incubated at the proper temperature for at least 72 hours.

For more mainstream and consistent egg sources the best eggs to buy are certified by third-party organizations to be organic, pasture-raised, Certified Humane or Animal Welfare Approved, and USDA grade A or AA.

Next, cage-free eggs are actually quite similar to conventional eggs. The chickens that lay cage-free eggs still get their beaks and wings clipped and live in close quarters with minimal sunlight and no guaranteed access to the outdoors.

Out of the three types of antibiotics approved by the FDA to treat diseases in hens, none of them have had any marked effect on the eggs. In fact, these antibiotics actually prevent the hens from laying infected eggs.

These eggs come straight from chickens raised on a pasture, which typically indicates that they could freely roam full access to sunlight. These chickens ate an organic diet, complete with bugs and worms for nourishment.

Shopping for eggs can be a total headache. In addition to choices that involve size, color and grade, eggs may carry labels such as cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised, vegetarian-fed, enriched or organic.

"There are no significant nutritional differences between white and brown eggs," Kristen Smith, RD, spokesperson for Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and founder of 360 Family Nutrition, tells "The difference in shell color is simply indicating that a different breed of chicken produced the egg."

In fact, hens can produce white, cream, blue, green, brown or even speckled eggs, although grocery stores most often carry brown and white eggs. Compared to white eggs, brown eggs tend to be bigger in size, according to the USDA, and are usually more expensive because they cost more to produce.

Egg packers may label their eggs as "Grade AA" or "Grade A," or voluntarily use the USDA grading service, which evaluates plant sanitation, egg processing procedures and storage temperatures as well as egg weight and quality. Eggs that have been officially graded by these standards can be labeled with the USDA Grade Shield, and are graded as AA, A or B.

"Label claims such as 'conventional,' 'cage-free,' 'pasture-raised,' 'free-range,' and even 'organic' simply refer to the way the eggs were farmed, and unless the feed is [noted as] fortified, do not denote meaningful nutritional differences."

If standards are met for free-range and pasture-raised eggs, which include access to an outside area covered with living vegetation, the HFAC seal can be used on the label, along with the "Certified Humane Raised and Handled" logo.

Dates are 3-digit and range from 001, which means January 1, through 365 for December 31. Eggs can be stored in the refrigerator 4 to 5 weeks beyond this date, per the USDA. The "Sell By" or "Use By" dates are not required to be listed on the egg containers.

Vegetarian-fed eggs may be another option available at the market. These eggs are a product of laying hens that were not fed animal byproducts, though this doesn't necessarily mean they're a higher quality choice.

While most eggs share similar nutrient contents despite different hen housing practices, enriching hen feed can change egg quality, says Moe Schlachter, RDN, a spokesperson for the Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and president of Houston Family Nutrition.

Houchins agrees, "The only way to produce eggs with higher levels of nutrients is by feeding the hens that lay the eggs a diet of nutritionally fortified feed. In such cases, the eggs are marketed as nutrient- or nutritionally enhanced, and their packaging will specify nutrient content."

The claim of "no added antibiotics" is not too impressive either, because the FDA strictly regulates antibiotic use in laying hens, and restricts the sale of eggs with antibiotic residues to consumers.

"The best thing to look for on an egg label is the USDA Grade Shield," Schlachter says. "Then, even though your eggs are not any more nutritious than another egg type, at least they're meeting the standards for egg quality."

And remember: Pricey eggs are not necessarily better, Houchins says. "The cost of one type of egg relative to another type of egg is not an indicator of nutritional value. Instead, it is a reflection of the farming method used to produce the egg." 041b061a72


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