What to know when you buy eggs

Are your cage-free eggs really cage free? Sort of. Dr. Rachel Yan explains.

KUSA - Eggs are a favorite breakfast food and a healthy source of protein and healthy fats.

Walking down the aisle of the supermarket can be confusing, however, because there are so many different kinds of egg options: cage free, organic, vegetarian, free range.

What’s the healthiest and what’s worth the cost? Nutrition expert Dr. Rachel Yan broke it down for us.

FOOD LABEL: Regular (Grade A, AA, or B Eggs)  STARS: ☆

RATE: Worst

COST: ~ $2.99/dozen (guestimate)

TRUTH: These are “commercially farmed” chickens, most likely raised in battery cages (small cages stacked on top of each other), where the bird has clipped wings and beaks to prevent harm and cannibalism. They are kept in dark covered spaces and have no exposure to sunlight or exercise.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture came up with a “grading system” to rate the quality of eggs. Here’s a quick rundown of what that means:

Grade AA – have thick, firm whites, yolks are high and round, and are best for frying or poaching (most common)

Grade A – are similar to AA eggs, except for the whites are slightly less firm (most common)

Grade B – have thinner whites and a flatter yolk, and are commonly used for liquid, frozen, dry egg products, or scrambles

FOOD LABEL: Cage Free

STARS: ☆☆

RATE: Ok

COST: ~ $3.99/dozen (guestimate)

TRUTH: Cage Free means that the chickens are not raised in battery cages, however they still most likely are raised in tight conditions, in a dark, barn-like setting, with clipped beaks and wings, and very little exposure to sunlight. “Cage Free” can sound deceiving because you would think they’d be free, roaming little hens. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean so. 

FOOD LABEL: Free Range

STARS: ☆☆

RATE: Ok

COST: ~ $3.99/dozen (guestimate)

TRUTH: Free Range means that the chickens have some exposure to the outdoors in a portion of their life. According to SFGate, “It does not mean that the poultry must be allowed access to pastures or grassy yards, nor does it ensure a certain amount of time outdoors or the size of the area for a given number of birds.” It’s another deceiving term because again, you would think the chickens can roam free.

FOOD LABEL: Certified Organic

STARS: ☆☆☆

RATE: Better

COST: ~ $4.99/dozen (guestimate)

TRUTH: Certified Organic Eggs mean that the feed that is given to the chickens is organic, and the chickens are not pumped with antibiotics – which does reduce your exposure to pesticides. These chickens most likely have some (not all) exposure to sunlight. 

FOOD LABEL: Vegetarian Fed

STARS: ☆☆☆

RATE: A Little Better

COST: ~ $5.50/dozen (guestimate)

TRUTH: Vegetarian Fed mean that the chickens are fed a no-meat/no-fish, organic vegetarian-based diet. While this might sound like a “natural” thing because chickens are not meant to eat beef, pig or seafood parts, they aren’t meant to be a vegetarian-fed animal. The best fed chickens do eat bugs and worms.

FOOD LABEL: Omega-3 Enriched

STARS: n/a

RATE: (shouldn’t be a determining factor)

COST: ~ $5.50/dozen (guestimate)

TRUTH: Omega-3 Enriched eggs means that the feed given to the chickens are enriched with an omega-3 diet, usually in the form of flaxseed. It is a fairly new marketing term added to egg cartons. As buzz words around the benefits of Omega-3’s popped up in markets, farmers saw an opportunity to enrich their chickens with these healthy fats. You are better off getting your Omega-3’s directly from a good piece of wild, salmon. 

FOOD LABEL: Pasture Raised 

STARS: ☆☆☆☆☆

RATE: Best

COST: ~ $8.00/dozen (guestimate)

TRUTH: Pasture Raised eggs mean that the chickens are free to roam on open grassland, eat an organic diet, enjoy bugs and worms, see daylight, are not given hormones or antibiotics, have darker/richer yolks, have been known to taste better, and have better nutritional profiles (in vitamins A, E, betacarotine, Omega-3’s, etc.). Makes sense that they’d be healthier animals and produce a healthier egg because of how they are grown.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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