This post discusses if organic pasture-raised eggs are better for you than conventional eggs. Plus it explains how the way a chicken is raised affects not only the nutrition of the egg but your health too.
As I mentioned in this post detailing all the different (and at times confusing) terminology used in the egg industry – shopping for eggs can feel like an anxiety-inducing experience these days. The selection and number of options alone are enough to make a shopper’s head spin.
A simple trip to the grocery store to stock up on your weekly dozen can leave you asking yourself…
- What do all these terms even mean?
- Which is the best option to choose?
- Why does it matter which one I pick anyway?
When I was first navigating this choice myself, I felt like I didn’t have everything I needed to make the best choice. It didn’t take me long to figure out that going to a health food store and buying anything in the egg case wasn’t going to make things any easier either. Whether I went to a conventional grocery store or to my local Whole Foods, I was still greeted by an array of options.
So I ended up doing a deep dive on all-things-eggs so that I could feel more empowered to buy eggs I felt good about eating. I’ve pooled together all those hours of research – online articles, various studies, and a few books – into a few posts in the hopes of helping you get the info you need most all in one place.
Why it’s worth your time to read up on eggs + how hens are raised
Before we dive in to the merits of pasture-raised eggs, let’s talk about why it’s so important for us to get curious and educate ourselves about the eggs we buy.
The biggest reason is that there is no singular, government regulated standard for what constitutes the best way to raise and feed egg-laying hens. Which means that the burden to choose the healthiest option falls to you, the consumer.
So many labels. Cage-Free, Free-Range, Pasture-Raised – which eggs are best?
If you haven’t read my previous post "Cage-Free + Free-Range + Pasture-Raised Eggs - What They All Mean" then you can click HERE to get all the info. It breaks down all the different terms and labels, and might be helpful to answer some questions you have while reading through this post.
But to answer the question of which eggs I feel are "best"...
WITH the disclaimer that this is my personal opinion, I am not a medical professional, and this is what we’ve decided works best for our food philosophy & household budget…
I strongly believe that organic pasture-raised eggs are best. Both for your health and for the animal’s health. And here’s why…
What makes organic, pasture-raised eggs so different than conventional eggs?
Pasture raised chickens have more:
- access to the outdoors
- open space to engage in natural behaviors (like dust-bathing or stretching their wings)
- fresh air and natural light
- diverse food sources that are vital to their natural diet
By contrast, conventional chickens raised on industrial farms live in cramped indoor conditions – generally in cages stacked on top of each other, with as many as 4-12 birds per cage. They have no access to wild plants (like grass) and wild sources of protein (like insects). These overcrowded living conditions, lacking in any natural light or windows, can leave the animals stressed. Housing thousands of chickens together without ample room to roam puts them at risk for disease, infection, and higher mortality rates. Which increases the likelihood that those egg producers are treating their egg-laying hens with antibiotics (which then gets into the egg itself).
When egg-laying hens get to spend ample time outdoors, rotating regularly to new pastures – they have the opportunity to spread their business (aka poop) around the pasture. Where it then gets absorbed into and fertilizes the ground. Instead of being indoors, packed together with nowhere else to go. Treading through it, breathing it, sitting in it all day long with no opportunity to be elsewhere while it collects in the barn.
Can you imagine in living in those conditions and it not effecting your health? Or the health of your offspring?
Are pasture-raised eggs more nutritious than conventional eggs?
Chickens are omnivores who aren’t meant to live solely on vegetarian commercial feed sources. In addition to some grain-based feed (usually corn or soy) they require essential protein-based amino acids from things like worms, grasshoppers, other insects, and even some small animals. And derive a number of valuable nutrients from foraging on wild plants like grass. Chickens raised with outdoor access and ability to eat grass and bugs, produce eggs that are more nutritious than conventional eggs.
Their yolks tend to be richer and more vibrant in color. And a number of studies have shown that pasture-raised eggs are higher in:
- omega-3 fats
- beta carotene
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
So if you’re eating eggs regularly for their purported health benefits and nutritional profile, eating them from pasture-raised hens might be your best bet to get all the nutrients you’re after.
So with all the options out there how do you evaluate which brand to buy?
Here’s a few ways to go about it:
- Buy from local farms, farmer’s markets, or co-op’s. You can have a one-on-one conversation about how the animals are raised, fed, cared for with a real person who you can ask all your questions to.
- Do your research on the brands you see in your store. Some of them will print some of this info right on the box (or on the underside of the lid). Many of them will have information about how their animals are raised and fed readily available on their website. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the “About” or “FAQ” sections of their site – look at the “Contact” section instead. Send an email or call their customer service line.
- If your store does not have organic, pasture-raised eggs available – ask if they can place a special order for you or indicate to them that you would be interested in buying them if they chose to stock those in the future. Businesses want to sell what their customers want to buy, so suggestions like these can go a long way in influencing availability.
- Use the Directory of U.S., Canadian, and International Farms & Ranches from Eat Wild – this can help you locate pasture-raised farms nearest to you. Not just for eggs but for beef and other animal products as well.
- Use the Egg Scorecard resource from The Cornucopia Institute – while this may not be an exhaustive list of all eggs from all farms (a daunting, if not impossible, undertaking to create), it may be helpful for some looking to get a quick rundown on eggs sold in their region of the country. You can see the reasons listed for the score given and then conduct your own research accordingly. For instance, the company Say Hay Farms (which sells organic pasture-raised eggs here in Northern CA) is listed as having a rating of 1 and a score of 0. But this could be because they were not willing to participate in Cornucopia’s research. This is the only resource of it’s kind I could find, but I want you to go into it with that potential lack of information availability in mind too. It can be helpful for those that did allow Cornucopia to conduct research into their practices.
Are organic, pasture-raised eggs more expensive?
I'll cut right to the chase on this one. Yes, these do tend to cost more than the conventionally raised eggs you may be used to seeing. In my experience it can be anywhere between $4-6 + more per dozen.
Which may seem like a steep price increase to some. And is viewed as an investment by others. I’ve fallen into both the former and the latter camps at different points in my life - so I absolutely understand the hesitation many folks have to spend more on this grocery staple each week.
But I do feel that choosing higher quality eggs is a valuable investment. Not only an investment in your health but also an investment towards re-shaping industry practices.
Particularly, the unethical and at times torturous ones in the conventional egg industry (where chickens are caged, kept indoors, fed unnatural diets, given antibiotics, forced to live in their own filth, and even cruelly debeaked).
I’m not going to go too far in depth about the evils of conventional egg production. Which would be a whole separate post in and of itself. I encourage you to research that part of it on your own, if you haven’t already read up on the deplorable conditions that those poor animals are subjected to.
It’s clear what’s problematic in that scenario from a humane standpoint, but also consider what ramifications that has on the eggs those hens produce. The vitamins, nutrients, and nutritional content of that egg will be different from that of an egg produced from a healthy, ethically raised bird.
The cost of the eggs makes sense given the drastic difference in what is involved in caring for flocks raised in open pastures with more costly, quality feed vs. what is involved in caring for flocks kept in indoor cages with cheaper feed. The amount of land needed for instance, the cost of organic feed, the amount of birds that you can raise at a time, etc. Lower cost for the farmer, means lower cost for you, means higher "cost" for the hen.
Supporting pasture-based farms helps encourage wide-spread industry change
Continuing to place your money into pasture-based farms not only rewards the farmers for their practices, but also encourages other farms to improve their own practices if they want to stay profitable. Companies respond to consumer demand and consumer spending habits. So when more people use their wallets to vote for more ethical farming practices, companies become highly motivated to change and move their business to where the money is.
And where there's more demand for a product, and more of that product becomes available, then it makes it possible for lower prices later down the road.
While it is a stark reality that many families simply cannot afford to spend more on groceries each week (I won't pretend to ignore that fact), it is an equal reality that there are many of us who can choose to invest in higher quality food products. But it involves a trade-off and perhaps a shift in our lifestyles, which can be a tough sell for many people.
It may mean that if your eggs cost $4 more per week, that you go to out for coffee one less time per week. It may mean that you swap your twice a month manicure, to a once per month manicure. Or maybe it means that your lifestyle doesn’t actually have to change one bit - but adjusting to the idea of spending more of your income on your groceries is the real challenge.
In the book “In Defense of Food”, author Michael Pollan discusses the challenges in changing our country’s culture surrounding food. He reveals that on average Americans spend a lower percentage of their income on food than many other countries.
Suggesting that we all of a sudden adopt a culture where we spend more on groceries each week can be met with understandable resistance.
And at the end of the day, your budget is your business. You have to put food on the table for your family however you possibly can. So I hope that you know that in these posts where I share this information, none of it is meant to be taken as blanket advice for changes you "have" to make in your own life. Everyone's situation is different, and everyone's beliefs are different. My only hope is to share as much information as I can so that if you are in the situation where you want to make a change and can comfortably make that change - that you feel empowered to do so.