Continuing with my What To Buy series, we have covered Seafood, Chicken, Beef, as well as a refresher on my basic food philosophy. I don’t mean to suggest that I’m doing it all perfectly, but that’s pretty much where I’m coming from, in case you’re new here.
So today, eggs. And actually, much of the information in the chicken chapter is relevant to eggs, since of course I’m talking about chicken eggs. You may certainly enjoy duck eggs or even fish eggs, but for the purpose of this post, we will be talking about regular old eggs.
What Eggs to Buy
I actually think eggs are one of the most important foods we consume, and this is one area where I do not negotiate unless I’m a guest in someone’s home or eating out at a restaurant.
We buy our eggs from local farms that pasture their animals. There is just no substitute. The difference is visible with those rich orange yolks that only come from chickens raised on grass, eating grubs and worms the way God (or nature, if that’s your bag) intended it. And the taste is night. and. day.
We sometimes get farm fresh local eggs at our farmer’s market, and I know there is a local CSA that has them. Usually we buy them at our little ma and pa owned natural food store. They cost a pretty penny, over $4/dozen, but they’re worth it. Unless you’re baking. Buy the cheap crap eggs for baking. Unless you’re really going all out for the best flavor you can get, you probably won’t notice and it will save you if you do a lot of baking.
But for frying or hard boiling or scrambling or quiche or frittata, it’s farm fresh eggs all the way.
I love how truly farm fresh eggs come in all different shapes and sizes. Often there are blades of grass an even a smudge of, ahem, dirt? On them. (Note: always wash farm eggs before using.) But look how pretty! A lady near my daughter’s preschool used to raise chickens that produced these light blue and green eggs… she called them Easter Eggs. I would drive to her house and buy them by the 4 dozen. Unfortunately she moved and sold her farm.
We discussed in our chicken post how factory farms cram chickens in so tight that they can barely move and they rarely see the light of day. Even the fancy “organic” eggs at the supermarket are from hens that probably never tasted a blade of grass. “All vegetarian feed” is a dead giveaway. Every chicken that grazes on grass will eat a bug or two.
Why is this important?
This is important because it’s the grass that contains the important omega-3s, beta-carotene, and CLA that make eggs so nutritious.
Yes, eggs are nutritious. At least they were before we started messing with them. In my mind, it just makes sense. God gave us eggs, and people have been eating them for hundreds of years. It’s only in the last 40 years that we would have thought to separate out the egg whites (egg white omelets? What’s the point?) and throw away the yolks — the part with the most nutrients. And don’t get me STARTED on artificial egg substitutes. Even before I got on my traditional food kick, I refused to buy fake eggs. Blech.
Even the Huffington Post has gotten up to date on their information and posted that recent research has exonerated the poor slandered egg.
Egg yolks are known primarily for their high cholesterol content. But the medical research community has learned that dietary cholesterol is a different measure than blood level of cholesterol, which is associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
One recent study echoes the growing research, showing that egg consumption had no effect on the overall blood cholesterol levels of 115 healthy adults. What’s more, another recent study found some evidence that eating whole eggs increases HDL — the heart-protective, “good” cholesterol.
“There are much bigger problems in the American diet than cholesterol,” says Drew Ramsey, M.D. an assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, who studies the connection between lifestyle behaviors like diet and psychological health. “There’s not data to suggest that it should be at the top of people’s worries about food choices. Everyone’s in agreement about that: The real problem with diabetes and obesity is eating too much processed food.”
Well, A to the Men!
Furthermore, eggs are an excellent source of lutein (important for eye health), choline (good for the brain and nervous system), sulphur and vitamin B12 (good for healthy hair and nails). And eggs are one of the only foods that contain naturally occurring vitamin D — especially true for eggs from chickens raised on pasture, as they absorb vitamin D both from the grass they eat and from the sun they’re soaking in as they happily peck away at the ground. (source)
If you can ONLY buy eggs at a conventional grocery store for convenience or financial reasons, don’t feel you should have to neglect eggs. They’re still good for you and one of the most affordable sources of protein around.
Deciphering Grocery Store Labels
There are many misleading labels on egg cartons in the grocery store. For example, don’t be swayed by the egg cartons that say “all vegetarian fed.” That means those chickens have never seen the light of day, otherwise they would be eating bugs and worms like chickens were born to do. At least, vegetarian-fed chickens haven’t been fed ground up animal by-products like conventional grocery store eggs, but they still aren’t the optimum choice.
“Cage-free” is another nebulous classification. That usually means that they’ve been contained in a barn without access to the out of doors, and often their beaks and/or wings are clipped so they don’t hurt one another. Now, does that sound like a healthy chicken to you?
“Omega-3 eggs” are from hens that have been fed flax seed and fish oil to increase their levels of omega-3s. Whatever. I prefer to add flax seed to my granola and take my fish oil capsules and buy my eggs from hens eating their traditional diets, but that’s me. Also, according to this article by Dr. Mercola, Omega-3 eggs are less healthy for you. He says this:
Typically, the animals are fed poor-quality sources of omega-3 fats that are already oxidized. Additionally, omega-3 eggs are far more perishable than non-omega-3 eggs so they don’t stay fresh nearly as long.
I don’t know about all that, but anyway, I’m not gonna pay extra for them.
So. Here’s my Good-Better-Best scenario for eggs.
Eggs: Good, Better, Best
Good: Eggs are good for you. If all you can find or afford are the conventional grocery store variety, eat them anyway.
Better: “Vegetarian-Fed” or “Cage-Free” or “Free Range” organic eggs. At least they haven’t been fed animal by-products. That’s something, at least. According to Dr. Mercola, “If you have to purchase your eggs from a commercial grocery store, I would advise getting free-range organic.”
BEST: Pastured chicken eggs — eggs from chickens who are allowed to roam around outside, pecking at the grass, eating insects and worms. Bonus if you raise them yourself!
I keep saying I want to raise chickens, but for I don’t think the HOA would approve.
To find free-range pasture farms, try your local health food store or you can get recommendations from EatWild.com and LocalHarvest.com.
Don’t Do It! Omega-3 eggs are a racket. Don’t waste your money on them. Also, please don’t eat powdered eggs or egg substitutes, and for goodness sakes, don’t ditch the yolks. As with all good things, eat eggs in moderation and enjoy!
As always, these are my opinions based on a very limited (but growing daily) amount of research and my own gut instincts. Do your own research and decide what is best for your family.