Not All Eggs Are Created Equal

By Dr Ernst
June 1, 2016

Egg labels are confusing. Deceptive or poor labeling has been an issue in the sale of eggs practically since they started leaving the farm. However, armed with the right information, you can find eggs that will assist your journey to health by giving you protein, good fat, and Vitamin D!

Let’s just get a fix on what all the labels mean and how you can make the best possible decision when it comes to eggs.

Eggs available in US grocery stores are labeled based on grade (the firmness of the whites), size (based on the weight of a dozen) organic certification (or lack thereof) and animal welfare.


Cage-Free: Chickens are not in individual cages, but are “caged” in groups with continuous access to food (often corn-based) and water, but did not necessarily have access to the outdoors for longer than five minutes a day. There is no verification process for this claim.

Free Range: In addition to meeting cage-free standards, free-range birds have continuous access to the outdoors. There are no standards, though, for that outdoor area. There is no verification process for this claim.

Pasture-raised: There is no regulation or verification of this term, which implies that hens got at least part of their food from foraging on greens and bugs. Studies have shown pasture-raised eggs have more nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin E, and beta carotene, and less saturated fat and cholesterol.


Organic: Birds must be kept cage-free with outdoor access (time and the type of access are not defined), they cannot be given antibiotics and their food must be free from animal by-products and made from crops grown without chemical pesticides, fertilizers, irradiation, genetic engineering or sewage sludge. If organic eggs do not have the program’s emblem, they may be part of an independent or state-run program, and you may have to do some investigating to determine the program’s standards.

Vegetarian Feed: “vegetarian-fed” indicates that the eggs came from hens raised on all-vegetarian feed. It should be noted that hens are not naturally vegetarian. They naturally feed on grubs, bugs, and worms. There isn’t a substantial nutritional difference between these eggs and conventional eggs—the appeal of vegetarian eggs is mostly for those who are – understandably – concerned about byproducts that can be included in conventional chicken feed such as feather meal, chicken litter, pork and cattle byproducts and “spent hen meal” (ground up dead hens).

No Hormones: The FDA has not approved any hormone products for egg production, so this term is meaningless.

No Antibiotics: The FDA does not allow routine use of antibiotics in egg production but does not define or regulate the term “no antibiotics.” This claim is verified only when the eggs are USDA graded (meaning that hens did not receive non-therapeutic antibiotics but may still have been treated with antibiotics if ill) or if the eggs are a part of the National Organic Program (which bans antibiotics entirely after chicks are 3 days old, even if ill).

Natural, All-Natural and Naturally Raised: These labels are essentially meaningless. Producers can use these labels at will because they are neither regulated nor defined.


Omega-3: This claim implies that eggs have extra omega-3 fatty acids from being fed diets that include good sources of omega-3, like flaxseed or algae. USDA-grade producers are audited to make sure hens’ diets have been fortified and that omega-enriched eggs do not get swapped out for cheaper ones. Unless the eggs claim to contain higher levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) Omega-3s (thought to be more important for cardiovascular health), omega-3s are probably primarily in the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) form.

Pasteurized: This term refers to eggs heated to temperatures just below the coagulation point to destroy pathogens and is regulated by the FDA.

What does it all amount to? For the best results, get pasture-raised, organic eggs that have been approved by the National Organic Program. Omega-3 eggs can’t really hurt, so go for them if you’re so inclined to do so. Vegetarian fed is actually a bad thing, so avoid those. And on a final note, don’t be fooled by brown eggs. They’re essentially no different than white.

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