Eggs were once vilified for their high cholesterol content. The idea we need to limit saturated fat and cholesterol has shifted us from a well-balanced diet to high-sugar diets, which have made people eat more and get fatter.
The US 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee released details last week of the new guidelines which now turns all of the cholesterol defamation on it’s head (among others) and has now withdrawn warnings about cholesterol. This trend has come after research has shown that only 15% of circulating cholesterol in the blood comes from what you eat. The other 85% comes from the liver.(1)
This sees the return of the humble egg.
Eggs are powerhouses, and contain the highest biological value for protein. One egg has 7 grams of high-quality protein, 5 grams of fat, and 1.6 grams of saturated fat, along with iron, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids.
So where does this leave you? The offerings of eggs in the supermarkets is just as confusing as the guidelines. There are many choices on offer from free-range, cage-free, organic, and eggs with extra omega-3 fats. – and this is where I step into help.
What’s the best eggs to eat?
So let’s start at the top and define what is free range, organic and cage free.
Once all you could buy was the standard cage eggs. These come from hens who live out their days in wire cages, with up to four other hens. Each hen has a ‘living’ space smaller than an A4 sheet of paper. Caged hens are denied the freedom to express important natural behaviours such as being able to stand on a perch to keep their legs strong; dust bathe to keep their feathers clean and free from parasites; and satisfying their strong urge to lay their eggs in a secluded nest. They will have part of their beak sliced off at a young age (reduces the peaking order), and due to a lack of exercise will suffer from weak and brittle bones. Not a system we really want to be supporting.
There’s no official national standard for free-range eggs, and the label on your carton can have any several meanings depending on the producer. Which is why it is super easy to be mislead with carton claims. There are a number of certified bodies all with their own set of standards which CHOICE goes into detail.
In a nutshell, free ranging hens should have access to the outdoors. In theory they should have enough to space to do all the things that come naturally to hens – dust-bathing; stretching and flapping their wings; perching and laying their eggs in privacy.
Cage-free eggs are the next tier down and relates to hens in barn laid housing systems are not confined in cages so in theory they can move around. This however, restricts their ability to move freely and exercise due to high densities. Being confined indoors also means they cannot do many of the normal behaviours that provide quality of life (see above).
Certified organic eggs come from hens kept on farms which meet and exceed standards of the best free range facilities. This helps keep pesticides and antibiotics out of farmyards and the larger environment.
It is really up to you to do your own research in the end. Nutritional quality is improved with pasture raised chickens (increases the amount of beta-carotene, vitamin D, E, and omega-3 fatty acids in the egg yolk). Organic chicken/eggs does not necessarily mean it is the healthiest option as the hens may be fed an organic chicken feed instead of grazing on bugs and plants. There are also ethical concerns involved.
Certified organic free range eggs, pasture fed eggs would be your ultimate choice. 😉
Clear as mud? What eggs do you choose and why?