This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.
Eggs are a staple in our household, and we eat up to four dozen of them every week. But have you noticed how many different types of eggs there are? I had and was wondering if there was a difference in nutritional value between pastured eggs vs. regular eggs. As it turned out, pastured eggs are much more nutritious. I will also introduce you to Vital Farms, my favorite pastured eggs brands. Last but not least, I will tell you how to determine the freshness of eggs based on the pack date code on the carton.
|Vital Farms Pastured Eggs|
|Vital Farms Lucky Ladies|
If you have ever taken a closer look at the kinds of eggs available at your local grocery store, you too may have wondered what the differences are. So let’s clarify the terminology first and compare:
If the packaging doesn’t use any of the terms below, you are likely dealing with regular eggs. That means the hens live in a cage and have virtually no room to move. That’s the low end of the spectrum, and from a moral perspective, I would discourage you from buying such eggs, regardless of their nutritional value (or lack thereof).
Cage-free means that the hen is not confined to a cage and instead can roam “freely” in what’s most likely an overfilled hen house. Cage-free raised chickens never see the light of day.
Free range means that the hen has access to outdoors for at least some part of the day. But according to the National Chicken Council, most hens choose to stay close to food and water and don’t go outside. So from a practical point of view, the free range eggs that you enjoy for breakfast may still come from hens that spent all day in a dirty and overcrowded hen house.
The USDA Organic seal identifies raw, fresh, and processed products with at least 95% organic ingredients. For poultry production that usually applies to the feed. Plus, all organic eggs come from hens that fall under the free-range category (see above). Note that while all organic eggs are also free-range, not all free range eggs are organic.
While hormones are legal for use in cattle, the FDA has not approved the use of hormones in poultry production. As a result, all eggs sold in the United States are free of hormones. So if you see the label “no hormones added ever” on an egg carton, it’s meaningless.
No steroid hormone implants are approved for growth purposes in dairy cows, veal calves, pigs, or poultry. (Source fda.gov)
While hormones are not approved for poultry production, antibiotics are allowed. They are meant to keep infections at bay that are often the result of overfilled and dirty hen houses. As a result, when you buy eggs that show the label “No Antibiotics used,” the chances are that the hens did not have better living-conditions, but at least were not given antibiotics.
Omega-3 Enriched means that the hens received feed supplements that contain sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax seeds. It doesn’t say anything about how the hens were kept. So you may be eating Omega-3 Enriched eggs from chickens that were kept in a cage.
All hens are raised on farms, and thus, the term doesn’t say anything about the hens’ living conditions. Cage-raised hens are also farm-raised.
Pastured eggs are the golden standard! It means that the hens are allowed to roam free on open pastures. This is the most natural and expensive approach to raising poultry. As a result, you may have noticed that pastured eggs usually cost much more than most other types of eggs. From a moral perspective, pasture raised comes as close as it gets to the natural living conditions of hens.
A study from 2010 compared Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens. The results shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Compared to eggs of the caged hens, pastured hens’ eggs had twice as much vitamin E and long-chain omega-3 fats, 2.5-fold more total omega-3 fatty acids, and less than half the ratio of omega-6:omega-3 fatty acids (P<0.0001). Vitamin A concentration was 38% higher (P<0.05) in the pastured hens’ eggs than in the caged hens’ eggs, but total vitamin A per egg did not differ.
Pastured eggs have:
Among other health benefits, Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the health of your brain, and they can lower blood triglyceride levels. Unfortunately, most of us don’t eat enough of certain types of fish that contain Omega-3, and so we buy fish oil capsules to supplement.
While I still encourage you to eat wild-caught salmon, sardines and other types of fish, it’s good to know that pastured eggs are a decent source of Omega-3. Despite the higher price tag over regular eggs, they are still a relatively inexpensive source of nutrients.
You probably know about the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. But do you also know about Omega-6 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a long-chain structure and are found in a variety of foods. The action of these long chain fatty acids is commonly called “anti-inflammatory,” though this is a misnomer. They are simply less inflammatory than Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 FAs and Omega-6 FAs compete for the same enzyme to eventually be converted into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins (PGE3) and less inflammatory leukotrienes and into pro-inflammatory prostaglandins (PGE2) and more inflammatory leukotrienes, respectively. [thepaleodiet.com]
What that means is, that Omega-6 fatty acids are more likely to cause inflammation in your body. That’s why it is essential to keep a specific Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio. It’s also the reason why you should avoid certain oils as they have an unfavorable Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio.
Every time I visit family in Austria and my mom serves me eggs for breakfast one thing sticks out. The yolk of “Austrian” eggs is deep orange, whereas the yolk of most eggs in the US is usually pretty pale. So I was wondering if there is a difference in nutritional value.
As we started buying pastured eggs here in the US, I also noticed the more saturated color of the yolk. As it turned out, the color of the yolk depends on what the hen eats. More specifically, on pigments in the feed. Pastured hens tend to eat more pigmented food, and the yolk reflects that. Many of the pigments come from carotenoids, and not all of them are essential nutrients. But many of them have antioxidant functions, and some of them are essential, such as beta-carotene, that our body converts into Vitamin A.
As a result, the color itself is not a direct indication of nutritional value. But knowing that usually, only pasture-raised hens eat pigmented food, it’s undoubtedly an indirect indication of higher nutritional value.
Most of you probably know by now, that dietary cholesterol does not correlate with blood cholesterol. In other words, the cholesterol found in eggs does not raise your blood cholesterol levels. It’s a myth, and you can read more about that in a previous article I wrote. Over the past year, I have likely eaten over a thousand eggs. According to the myth, my veins should be clogged up with fat, and my blood cholesterol should be through the roof. According to my latest blood work, they are not and evidently, science was right after all.
For the past couple of months, we bought Organic eggs from Costco. As I have mentioned above, hens that are fed an organic diet are also free range and thus have access to the outdoors. But looking at the color of the yolk of those eggs, the hens that laid them were evidently not eating a lot of pigmented food. Ergo, they didn’t spend a lot of time on pastures. So we were looking for alternatives and came across eggs from Vital Farms.
All eggs that fall under the Vital Farms brand are pasture-raised. That means every hen has 108 square feet of space to roam freely.
With a space allotment of 108sqft per bird on rotated pastures, the grass and bugs that our girls forage for form an essential part of their diet. Any less space than that is simply not enough for this to be true. So while you may see other farms claiming pasture-raising, without the Certified Humane shield, and the measure of space that’s required to carry that shield, it’s not true pasture-raising.
We started buying the “Alfresco Eggs,” which are pasture-raised, as all eggs from Vital Farms are. Vital Farms also offers organic and non-GMO eggs. Organic, in their case means that the supplemental feed was organically grown.
As far as non-GMO is concerned, there is no scientific evidence that GMO food is harmful to your health. You may have heard the opposite, but as always, look at the scientific evidence, and you’ll realize that it’s not there. So while I don’t care about their non-GMO offering, we will be looking at their organic eggs.
On all USDA-graded eggs, you should see a so-called “pack date” and “sell by date” printed on the egg carton. The sell-by date is easy to read, but you may not be familiar with the Julian Date system, which manufacturers use for the pack date, also known as packaging date. The pack date follows a three-digit format, for example, 152, as you can see in the photo above I took of the egg carton in our fridge.
January 1 would show as 001 and December 31st would show as 365. As a result, the number 152 represents June 1st, unless it’s a leap year.
Yes, the feed does contain unprocessed soymeal because it is still the best source of the essential proteins and amino acids that hens need to lay. Vital Farms has had their eggs tested, and they do typically have lower levels of isoflavones than conventional factory eggs.
Vital Farms does feed the hens outdoors while they are still young (‘pullets’) to get them used to be outside, but after a few weeks, Vital Farms reverts to indoor feeding only. There’s a couple of reasons for that – having the feed only available indoors doesn’t affect the amount of time they spend outside (hens know the most delicious snacks are in the pasture!), but it also keeps wild birds away (who would otherwise want to share the feed!)
If I only ate one egg per month, I probably wouldn’t care if that egg came from a pasture-raised hen or not. But we eat close to 48 eggs per week. That’s a lot! As a result, the nutritional value of each egg makes a significant difference to us. That is why we started buying pastured eggs from Vital Farms. They raise happy hens, they do it in a sustainable manner, and you can see and taste the difference when you crack open one of their eggs. Besides the nutritional benefits, buying pastured eggs is also morally the right thing to do. The animals we raise, the environment we live in and our body deserve to be treated well and the choices we make as consumers directly influence that.
As a result, I highly recommend eggs from Vital Farms, and I don’t see myself going back to those pale yolks we had before.
I was born and raised in Austria. I speak German, English, and Spanish. Since moving to the U.S., I have lived and worked in Alpharetta, GA. In my twenties, I was a professional 100m sprinter. These days I do mostly CrossFit. I'm a technologist and Apple fan. I love science and don't believe anything unless there is proof. I follow the Paleo diet and intermittently fast every day. I'm married and have two trilingual kids. My goal with this blog is to share what I learn so that you can spend time on something else.