Eggs are a simple easy way to get a quick dose of protein. They are versatile and nutritious, and when the hens are raised ethically, But it can be overwhelming to choose at the grocery store. Free range, organic, cage free… what do they mean and which is healthiest?
This term can be used if the hens have access to the outdoors for at least 51% of their lives. Although it would seem to guarantee healthy eggs, this term doesn’t really mean much of anything, since it does not require that the hens actually took advantage of their “allowed access” and the standards for the outdoor access are not defined.
Similarly, cage free means only that they are not confined to a cage, but it doesn’t guarantee they ever see the light of day or walk on a blade of grass.
The standard in produce, “Organic” doesn’t have the same comfort level when it comes to eggs, since it only means that the chicken was fed organic grain, didn’t receive any antibiotics, and was given some access to the outdoors. It doesn’t define living conditions indoors or outside.
Pasture raised hens live their lives outdoors, are able to bask in sunlight, forage for bugs, consume a variety of grasses, seeds, larvae and insects, and socialize with other hens. Although this term is not legally defined, many farmers who practice this farming style incorporate certified organic practices, such as abstaining from antibiotics or using feed that was not cultivated using pesticides or synthetic fertilizer.
What to Buy
- Pasture raised eggs from a local farmer. These eggs will have bright orange yolks, and will be high in Omega-3s, vitamin E and vitamin A. You can generally find these from a farmer’s market, or you may be lucky enough to know someone who raises hens and is willing to part with excess eggs.
- If your only choice is the supermarket, look for “Animal Welfare Approved” as it is a rigorous and comprehensive certification.
- Organic eggs. Although they may not be nutritionally superior to other eggs, at least you know the hens weren’t consuming GMOs and antibiotics, and neither are you.