Many of my clients still come into my office thinking that eggs are “bad” for them, or that only the egg white is “healthy”. One of the very first things I encourage is adequate protein intake and that eggs be a big part of that. They have 6g of protein per egg, which is about 1oz of protein and are a great way to add protein to the diet especially for women who I tend to see eat less meat. I also make sure I educate patients that they need to eat the whole egg! The yolk is where all the vitamins are and people don’t realize this. A whole egg is a good source of riboflavin, B12, Biotin, Vitamin A, Folate, Vitamin D, and monounsaturated fatty acids. The yolk of an egg has a fairly good fatty acid profile in terms of there being more monounsaturated fat then saturated fat but I encourage my clients to look for the eggs with the added omega-3 fatty acids because it is an easy way to get more omega-3’s and they make the egg just that much better for you. Omega-3’s are not only heart healthy but they are anti-inflammatory as well and most people do not get enough of them in their diets. Average men and women should try to get in 1000-2000mg of omega-3 fatty acids each day and a serving of eggs with added omega-3’s can help provide between 115mg-225mg depending on the brand. Lastly, I have become a big proponent of educating patients on how to limit environmental exposure to harmful elements in their food. Eggs are literally a product of what the chicken is so I tell my patients it is worth spending a bit more money on the certified organic free-range eggs.
One of my favorite meal suggestions for clients is to make whole grain toast with an avocado spread (mashed avocado with lemon juice) and top it with an egg cooked over easy with a bit of sea salt. It’s amazingly good, filling, and so easy!
Personally I buy certified organic, free-range eggs that have the extra omega-3 fatty acids. I like Eggland’s Best eggs, but I also buy the Whole Foods Brand 365, and Organic Valley Omega Eggs. All three of these brands offer an organic, free range, omega-3 added egg option. Eggs are an amazing source of nutrition but an egg is only as good as what the chicken ate and what the hen was exposed too. To maximize my nutrient benefit from eggs I buy eggs from hens that had the widest variety in their diet (free range), that were not exposed to chemical pesticides, antibiotics, or other medications/GMO’s (certified organic), and eating eggs with more omega-3 fatty acids is a great way to get more healthy fat into my family’s diet. Additionally I feel good about buying free-range or “cage-free” eggs because I also want to support the humane treatment of the chickens.
What do the labels on eggs really mean?
Conventional Eggs: These are eggs that come from hens most likely kept in very small cages, sometimes multiple hens per cage, and fed an unspecified diet of grains that may contain animal by-products. Because hens laying these eggs can be fed any type of diet it is also unknown if there feed was exposed to pesticides or contains GMO grains. Chickens laying conventional eggs are also most likely given antibiotics or could be given other medications that do not have to be disclosed to the consumer. These are probably lower nutrient quality eggs due to the fact that they come from chickens with limited most likely lower quality diets and are exposed to environmentally concerning factors.
Organic Eggs: For eggs to be able to carry the USDA certified organic seal the hens must be fed organic feed produced on land that was free from GMO’s, toxic chemical pesticides or fertilizers for at least 3 years. They also have to be free of antibiotics, hormones, or other “intrusive drugs”. Birds producing certified organic eggs can be kept in any caging system but are usually also free-range. The environmental nutrition of organic eggs is better than conventional eggs and the nutrient quality of their feed is better because their feed is required to be of higher quality.
Cage Free Eggs: These eggs may or may not be certified organic but can be. Cage free hens are not kept in cages but can be kept in “floor systems” they may or may not have access to the outside and can still be kept in close quarters. There is no regulation of their diet so unless they are specified certified organic they may not be any more nutritionally dense then conventional eggs although these chickens probably have better lives.
Free-Range Eggs: Hens that have access to the outside lay these eggs and so these birds have a wider variety in their diet leading to more nutrient dense eggs. The chickens are probably happier and have better lives being able to go outside but these birds may still be given antibiotics or fed low quality grain unless they are labeled certified organic. I would say that free-range eggs are more nutritious then conventional or cage-free eggs. Free-range certified organic eggs would be the most environmentally healthy and nutrient dense egg.
Omega-3 Eggs: These eggs can come from any chicken conventional to free-range and maybe organic but don’t have to be. Hens are fed a diet that includes a source of omega-3 fatty acids such as flax seed or canola oil resulting in eggs that are 5 times higher in omega-3 fatty acids then a regular egg. It’s a great bonus to get from your egg!
Vegetarian Eggs: Sometimes you will see packaging stating that the eggs are “vegetarian”. This means that the hens were fed a diet free of any animal by products and a diet free of worms and bugs. Although it’s healthier to not feed chickens animal by product a diet free from worms and bugs that they would naturally eat probably decreased the eggs nutritional quality slightly.