I love eggs. But buying them isn’t as simple as it used to be.
At my supermarket, I can choose between at least 10 different types of eggs, and that’s not even considering large versus extra-large or the Grade of the eggs. There are so many different types, I had to brush up my egg nutrition knowledge to help you crack open the real differences between the new specialty and designer eggs on the market.
No matter which type of egg you choose, they’re great nutritionally and super value. A regular large egg is just .14 cents and is a real MVP in my kitchen. Eggs provide all the nutrients we need, minus vitamin C, and are considered the gold-standard for protein. They’re also one of the only natural sources of vitamin D and provide the important phytonutrients, lutein and zeaxanthin. All this for just 70 calories per large egg!
Brown vs. White
Some hens lay brown eggs and others lay white. Hens laying brown eggs tend to be larger, requiring more feed, which is why brown eggs are often slightly more expensive than white. Nutritionally there are no differences between them.
Cage-Free vs. Free-Roaming
The majority of commercial egg layers are housed in cages. Cage free eggs mean that the eggs are raised in large environmentally controlled buildings. Hens on the ground and provided roosts and elevated nests for them to lay their eggs in. Free-range birds have the same housing as above, but they are also allowed access to the outside. These birds are allowed out to roam and forage for food and are generally locked indoors at night.
The hens remain on a pasture all the time, but are confined within a portable pen. The pen is moved daily to give the birds access to fresh pasture. The portable pen usually has a portion covered to protect the hens from the elements. Pasture-raised eggs may have more natural phytonutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin because the hens eat more grass.
To be certified organic, the eggs must be produced from hens that have been fed certified-organic feed which was produced without synthetic pesticides or herbicides, antibiotics, or genetically-modified crops. In addition, no synthetic pesticides can be used to control external and internal parasites. Organic eggs can be twice as expensive as regular eggs and unless indicated on the label, will not be nutritionally different.
These are eggs from hens that may have had a mated with a rooster. There are no nutritional difference between fertilized and unfertilized eggs. The embryo does not develop in fertilized eggs that are refrigerated soon after laying.
Nutrient-enhanced eggs from companies like Eggland’s Best or Golden Circle Eggs, are changing the feed of their hens to alter the nutritional profile of the hens’ eggs. By feeding hens diets rich in specific nutrients, like vitamin E or omega-3s, the nutritional composition of the egg can change dramatically. For example, some specialty eggs have many times more of important nutrients and have slashed saturated fat and cholesterol in the yolk.
Now, it’s time for me to crack open some of my regular white Large, Grade A eggs and make my favorite Asparagus-Leek Frittata for dinner.
–Julie Upton, MS, RD