Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
September 18, 2008

Egg Purchasing Guide

By Worker Bee
128 Comments

Ah, eggs. We Primals appreciate your delicious creamy yolky goodness and fluffy decadent ivory insides, like so many edible clouds upon whose buoyancy our breakfast relies. You’re good for us and come naturally pre-packaged. What’s not to love?

The myriad terms used to describe them, for one.

Cage free. Organic. All natural. Free range. You see these terms on egg cartons all the time, some even using all four at once! But what do they mean? Does “free range” mean access to a chicken’s natural, Primal diet? Let’s examine each nebulous term for what it’s worth.

Free Range

As applied to chicken eggs, this term is essentially meaningless. Government only loosely regulates the definition of “free range,” and egg producers have jumped at the opportunity to print some new labels and charge a couple extra bucks in return for giving their hens occasional access to a tiny patch of dirt. According to the Department of Agriculture (PDF), egg “producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the Outside” In other words, there needs to be a door to the chicken cage, and it needs to be open part of the time, but the chickens can still eat substandard food and live in cramped conditions. A “range” can range from being a full-fledged pasture (not likely) to a 10 x 10 patch of manure and dirt (more likely). Chances are, most free range chickens rarely even venture outside. Why would they? Their food is usually inside.

Cage Free

Even more meaningless than “free range,” this term has no legal definition. Technically, cage free hens don’t live in stifling metal cages; instead, they might still live in stifling, overcrowded henhouses! Some cage free hens’ lives aren’t much qualitatively better than those who live in cages and most still aren’t getting any access to the outdoors, but they’re generally raised with better food and better treatment.

Organic

Organic is more useful and easy to pin down. Organic egg producing hens are given organic feed, no antibiotics (unless in the case of an outbreak), and limited access to the outdoors (just a door to their cage or barn, really). These are better than your average mass-produced egg, but your best bet is still to find a truly pasture-raised egg.

All Natural

Um, “all natural”? As opposed to artificial? This is the most useless, all-encompassing term for anything. All produce is natural. These eggs weren’t created in a lab by a team of white coats. Even the most steroid-pumped, antibiotic-immersed hens produce “natural” eggs the way nature intended: by laying them. “All natural” is just a subtly disingenuous term used to conjure up images of hens happily pecking away at seeds and bounding through pastures, only to return home for the nightly egg-laying. It’s a feel-good phrase that distracts consumers from the fact that most eggs are produced in appalling, wholly unnatural conditions. Feel free to eat all natural eggs, but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re of any particular improvement in quality.

Omega-3 Fortified

Omega-3 fortified eggs come from hens fed flax, linseed, or a direct supplement. The healthy fats do trickle down to the consumer, but in varying degrees. Seeds (especially flax) aren’t the greatest source of omega-3 fats anyway, so we would advise you not to rely on the fortified eggs for your healthy fat source. Buy these if you like – omega-3 fortified eggs also tend to come from organic, cage-free birds, so they’re generally better – but stick with the fish oil, too.

The Bottom Line

As Primal Blueprinters are fastidious about what we eat, we should also pay attention to what our food eats. Chickens raised in stressful environments – eating corn, soy, and antibiotics (a decidedly unPrimal diet for a chicken), and relegated to a tiny cage that would result in atrophy were it not for the steroids – do not produce high quality eggs. Your best bet is to research the egg producers. Free range and cage free are good starts, but it’s not the end of it. Find out if their birds are actually free range, and not just given access to a patch of dirt. If the hens are out their pecking away in a pasture, digging for grubs and worms and eating wild grasses, they’re going to produce eggs that are much more inline with how nature intends it.

A study (PDF) of fourteen free range chicken farms conducted by Mother Earth News (I know, I know, how hippy-dippy can you get?) confirms that true pasture/range free chickens, given a natural diet of grains, insects, grasses, and seeds, produce eggs loaded with nutrients. Pasture raised eggs have more beta-carotene, vitamins E and A, and omega-3 levels, with less cholesterol and saturated fat than mass-market eggs.

The choice is pretty clear. If you can afford it, look for local varieties of pasture raised eggs. Try the farmer’s market or gourmet grocery stores. If not, at least stick with organic, cage free, free range eggs. Their chickens may not have been out frolicking, but at least they weren’t stuffed into cages and force-fed drugs. Your wallet may hurt in the short term, but – as we Primal Blueprinters know better than anyone else – your long-term health is worth the extra expense.

ANDI2.. Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Primal Breakfast Suggestions for People on the Go

Eggs, Breakfast and Weight Loss

How to Make a Delicious Spanish Omelet

Mother Earth News: Meet Real Free Range Eggs

EatWild.com

TAGS:  cooking tips

Subscribe to the Newsletter

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Leave a Reply

128 Comments on "Egg Purchasing Guide"

avatar

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Son of Grok
Son of Grok
8 years 11 days ago

There is a definite difference even in taste. We have always loved eggs at our house but when we went primal, we switched form the local gorcery store’s run of the mill grade AA eggs to a local ranches ungraded organic ranch raised eggs. They taste SO much better than the grocery eggs.. its almost like you can taste the lack of hormones. That and you can drive right out to the ranch and check em out!

Anna
8 years 11 days ago
Eggs, one of nature’s perfect foods! Low cost (even premium eggs are a protein value), suitable for every meal, and delicious from sweet and savory, from plain to fancy. Our family of three goes through as many as 4 doz a week! Yes, I cringe inside every time I see “all vegetarian feed” on an egg carton. Sure, it’s great to know rendered downer mad cows aren’t in the chicken feed, but chickens are naturally omnivores, NOT vegetarians. Given the chance, chickens love grubby meals, as well as worms, grasshoppers, even lizards, snakes, and small rodents. For truly local, fresh,… Read more »
Harriet
Harriet
2 years 10 months ago
One slight thing about that comment, it’s all great apart from you have to have a very LONG term view of chickens creating lush green lawns! They will trash it in the meantime, and they don’t have a specific taste for weeds – they eat whatever they fancy! This means that they shred the lawn (bad) pick out all the moss (good) claw up the soil (good) and fertilise it (also good) – so some time AFTER they’ve been moved away, you might get the lush green lawn, but not for a while! I knew a family that kept chickens,… Read more »
Son of Grok
Son of Grok
8 years 11 days ago

Anna, Thats great! I actually looked into raising some of my own chickens but I did not really design my yard properly for it and I don’t know if I am quite up to that challenge yet. I grew up in rural ranch country and the people with chickens would always sell us their eggs (and goats milk!) but not since I moved to the city.

Nick Hanson
Nick Hanson
8 years 11 days ago

I don’t know that I can agree that premium eggs are a “value”. In my neck of the woods (San Francisco) the three places that sell true pasture raised eggs start at $7 a dozen. Not a deal. However, these eggs are still freaking delicious and honestly I have at least one carton if not two a week. Totally worth it in my opinion, but not a deal.

Jen C.
Jen C.
8 years 11 days ago

The all natural part of this equation is very funny, because how in the world do you have artificial eggs. At least this site knows how to keep a good sense of humor and be incredibly informative. Thanks MDA!!!

Tom
Tom
4 years 6 months ago
Sasquatch
8 years 11 days ago

The nice thing about n-3 eggs is the n-3 actually displaces the n-6. Flax-fed eggs are lower in n-6 than conventional eggs, with a similar amount of total polyunsaturated fat. The chickens do a pretty good job of converting the ALA into DHA too.

Anna
8 years 11 days ago
Nick, You’re right that $7/doz pasture eggs aren’t cheap (perhaps you need some of your own urban chickens – check out the Portland, OR urban coop tours for some fun inspiration). But one dozen eggs is at least 4 servings of excellent and versatile protein at $1.75 per serving, which I think still compares favorably to protein from pastured meats and poultry, cost-wise. So a breakfast of 3 pastured eggs gently cooked in grass-fed butter, taking no more than 5 minutes, is still a great bargain compared to any “breakfast sandwich” at the local fast-food drive through joint. And I’m… Read more »
Maria
Maria
8 years 11 days ago

So what is the best way to go about researching the egg producers? I imagine that simply calling customer service would not get one very far, though I may be wrong about this. I wonder if there are official documents, outlining the production process, and available to the public. Yes, that would be nice. Has anyone had experience with this?

Anna
8 years 11 days ago
Maria, I’ve simply emailed/called egg producers whose branded products are in my local markets (store brand egg producers are harder to track down and probably change frequently) and I asked particulars about their egg operation (as neutrally as I can phrase it as I am seeking information, not making accusations). Most of the time I quickly receive a simple, honest and direct answer, and usually it is that while their operation is much better in many ways than the conventional battery egg system, it is still perhaps not what I am looking for and perhaps not what most people picture… Read more »
Erin
Erin
8 years 11 days ago

Farm raised fresh eggs are the best! Grocery store eggs are so bland. There is a big difference in taste. Unfortunately I don’t know where to get them anymore. My boyfriend’s parents moved and got rid of their chickens, so I no longer have an endless supply. I wonder if my neighbors will notice a coop in my backyard… so what if you can’t have chickens in the city, they’re so delicious it should be legal!!

Quinadal
Quinadal
8 years 11 days ago

I always hate when I see “all vegetarian diet!”
What chickens are vegetarians?? As far as I know, bugs aren’t plants. My friend feeds her chickens table scraps to supplement their feed. They LOVE chicken bones! They crack them open and eat the marrow.

Harriet
Harriet
2 years 10 months ago

Feeding grubs and meat scraps fine, but for some reason chicken cannibalism makes me uncomfortable. Are there any problems with that? I know that if you feed eggshells for the grit they can get a taste for them and wind up eating their own.

Anna
8 years 11 days ago
My local “natural” food store stocks a couple varieties of Chino Valley Ranch brand eggs. So I checked their website, then sent an email with a few questions. I had a response in 22 minutes – that’s pretty impressive! I’ll leave the rest of the evaluating to MDA readers. Hi, Are any of your eggs from pastured hens? By that I mean do the hens spend a considerable amount of time outdoors (most, if not all of the day), with access to sunshine, fresh growing grasses/plants, live bugs, grubs, etc? If so, approx how much of the hens’ food would… Read more »
Anna
8 years 11 days ago

One of the things keepers of backyard flocks learn is that hens will eat their own chicken eggs, too. One has to prevent hens from “developing a taste for eggs”, with regular and early egg gathering. That’s a cannibalistic hoot! Many pet chicken keepers pulverize egg shells to feed them back to the hens, for the valuable mineral content.

Anna
8 years 11 days ago
My local backyard egg supplier lost most of her flock this summer to heat and predators, plus the remaining birds are going through their seasonal molting so egg production has ground to a halt. So I haven’t had any eggs from her in while and I miss them. But I have to admit, I’ve had a “eat seasonal” dilemma battling in my mind – wait for her new hens to be back in egg production and go without eggs for awhile or succumb to the seduction of the egg case at the store? So far, seduction is winning out, but… Read more »
McFly
McFly
8 years 11 days ago

Anna, you bring up a great point bout 3-4 servings for $7 still being a pretty good deal. $7 is a latte and a muffin at Starbucks. And no matter what kind of eggs you buy, enriched, caged, hormone injected or otherwise, it’s still healthier than a caramel latte and a muffin.

Apurva Mehta
8 years 11 days ago
Hey Anna, thanks for all your comments. They are very informative and thought-inspiring. I also have a general comment. There has been no mention here of Omega-3 enriched eggs from chickens who are fed marine algae as part of their diet. These Omega-3 eggs boast 300mg of DHA omega-3 per serving (2 eggs). At $5 a dozen, it seems like a pretty nice deal. And these eggs are available in grocery stores like whole foods too. Finally, my take home from this discussion is to look out for eggs from local producers when I visit the farmer’s market this Sunday.… Read more »
Robert M.
Robert M.
8 years 11 days ago

A good rule of thumb as to whether a chicken has access to real pasture or not is to look at the chicken legs from the same farm. If they’re tiny, they don’t. If the legs are massive and wide, they’re getting a lot of running in.

Tom Parker
8 years 11 days ago

Wow. Thanks for the informative post. I never realised how open and misleading the term ‘free range’ eggs could be. I thought free range eggs were more expensive because the chickens had a lot more freedom. Thanks for clearing up the confusion.

Swimmer
Swimmer
8 years 11 days ago

Just building a yard and hen house this week 🙂

Scott
8 years 11 days ago

I’ve grown very fond of Eggland’s Best. I don’t have access (That I know of) to farm fresh eggs that I would trust. I tried them awhile back and have stuck to them ever since. They are a little more expensive but they taste better to me. I just go for the regular Eggland’s Best and don’t go for the organic, or free run.

Son of Grok
Son of Grok
8 years 11 days ago

*Update* After further research by me because of this topic, I have discovered that the local brand of eggs that we get…. is even better! You can actually set up an appointment to go to the ranch and handpick your own eggs at no additional charge! Does it get any cooler than that?

Nancy S
Nancy S
8 years 11 days ago
Our neighbors have chickens and we get eggs from them. The chickens are allowed out into the grassy yard (fenced off portion) for most of the day during good weather and put in the coop at night. They do feed them corn (homegrown in the field behind our house, no chemicals used) when they are in the coop. Is this “bad”? The eggs have yolks so dark they border on orange and my kids thought they were weird. I explained that this was “normal” and what should be “weird” is the pale yellow yolks that folks think is “normal”! Needless… Read more »
Marc
8 years 10 days ago

Anna,
THANK YOU!

Your comments always have great info.

Marc

Andy
8 years 10 days ago
I’m lucky enough to have a co-worker who raises chickens, so I get flippin’ gigantic eggs all the time for $3/dozen. He was out last week, so I grabbed some at the grocery store … generic brand = $3.29/dozen! His chickens roam the land in a portable fencing, and head into a coop at night so they don’t beat up one patch of land. They eat organic chicken feed, along with whatever they run into in their daily waddling. The eggs are awesome, of course, and I enjoyed some scrambled with elk sausage (raised by another friend of mine) this… Read more »
Ailu
Ailu
8 years 10 days ago

Wow, I’d no idea people were paying 7 bucks for one-celled clucks! lol

We live in the low lying part of the Sierra Nevada mountains (2500 ft) and we’ve got a lady down the road from us that raises chickens & sells their eggs for $2 a dozen. And boy are they yummy! But ya gotta get there first thing in the morning – by 10am she is always sold out.

new_me
new_me
8 years 10 days ago
Another up-side to having your own chickens is that you appreciate grasshopper infestations rather than bemoaning them….one less stress! I never complained about those protein rich little buggers hopping around my yard! My birds feasted like never before and produced the darkest orange yolked eggs I’ve ever seen…certainly must have been FULL of great nutrition. I was surprised, though, at how many of my co-workers couldn’t believe I would actually eat such “odd” colored boiled eggs. (They should know by now that I eat a lot of “odd” things!) I am so thankful that I can have my own hens… Read more »
Heather
8 years 10 days ago
Great info on eggs, both in the post and the comments! I had always suspected that the labels on the store eggs were BS, the terms of the food industry are so loose that nearly anything can have a “healthy-in-some-way” label slapped on it. If HFCS can be labeled “organic” then I don’t feel like I can trust most of the other stuff on the shelves either. Organic produce might be a little better, but I don’t know. I do know that most of the produce labeled organic at our grocery store looks kinda pitiful, especially compared to the produce… Read more »
Anna
8 years 10 days ago
Try drilling the ostrich eggs, then you’ll have a nice intact shell. Google for more ideas. The duck eggs might be just fine as long as there were no microcracks in the shell. Eggs really do last quite a while, though I don’t have specific experience with duck eggs. I don’t even refrigerate my eggs anymore, I generally go through them so fast. But over last Christmas I had 12 doz delivered before the holidays to last a few weeks and they were fine stored in my garage – cooler than the house, but warmer than the fridge. By the… Read more »
Heather
8 years 10 days ago

Wow, thank you for that, Anna. I never would have known about microcracks, I always just assumed I’d only be able to tell if one was bad by cracking it open or doing the sink or float test. Btw, will that work with duck eggs, too? I would assume so, but again, still learning. I only got interested in cooking once I changed my diet because this way seemed obvious & simple, not complicated with too much processing & recipes that have 25 ingredients. Funny how the simplest things elude us sometimes.

Stephanie
Stephanie
3 years 3 months ago

Duck eggs actually last much longer than chicken eggs. The float test works.
You can cook duck eggs just like chicken eggs, but realize that they are better a little more gently cooked (lower temp).
I LOVE them for baking, as the higher protein content makes them better for leavening! If you are a gluten free baker, like me, this makes a moire satisfying product.
Also they make the most delicious hard cooked/deviled eggs!

Spindiva
8 years 9 days ago

Ahhhh…so many choices but I guess only one real option. Thanks for sharing all this eggcellent information about the incredible, edible, egg!! Great tips from the readers as well.

new_me
new_me
8 years 9 days ago

Has anyone here tried guinea fowl eggs? I was told by a Yugoslavian friend that they are very sweet. We got rid of our guinea fowl once we realized that they NEVER shut up!

Anna
8 years 9 days ago
Nope. But I did try quail eggs this summer. I found them in the grocery store when we were in Tuscany and had to try them (yes, I love eggs!). They were great boiled for picnics, easy-to-carry snacks while sightseeing (purse-sized!), and salad garnishes. Pretty mottled cream and brown shells, about half the size of chicken eggs. Very nice. Another thing I have noticed while outside the US – we refrigerate too many foods. I’m learning to store more things out of the fridge and consuming them before they spoils, plus more foods are safe without refrigeration that I ever… Read more »
Heather
8 years 9 days ago
Anna, I actually ordered quail eggs today at a hibachi/sushi place thinking, “What the hell, time to try a new type of egg!” A few minutes later the owner came out and said, “Oh, I have bad news, no sushi today… Just kidding, but really, we don’t have quail eggs. Would you like salmon eggs instead?” I tried the salmon eggs, and they were ok, but I was sad to miss out on the quail eggs. I agree with you about refrigerating things that maybe don’t need it. For years I put tomatoes in the fridge with the other veggies,… Read more »
Mike
8 years 9 days ago

There is definitely a difference. When we started raising our own chooks (in suburban Perth, Western Australia), we were surprised at the rich orange colour of the yokes as compared to the pale yellow yokes of the store-bought eggs. Once you have had fresh eggs, it’s pretty hard to go back.

trackback

[…] fuzzies, just literally physically). In a couple weeks, though, the cornucopia of fruits, veggies, eggs, breads, honeys, jams, and a few meats (no nuts that I’ve seen, though) will give way to […]

trackback

[…] your spots – Go organic when it’s absolutely necessary. Meat, eggs, and soft-skinned (or fruit/veggies with permeable skins) veggies and fruits should be organic. If […]

trackback

[…] Egg Purchasing Guide […]

trackback

[…] works great for slow cooking a homemade tomato sauce isn’t necessarily the ideal choice for an omelet. Likewise, there’s the question of price. It’s likely worth paying more for certain pieces of […]

trackback

[…] want to subscribe to my weekly newsletter. Thanks for visiting!It’s been all about fish and eggs this week. If you’re a follower of the Primal diet, you know you need to put a premium on […]

OnTheBayou
OnTheBayou
7 years 3 months ago
Adding to, many months later. Almost forty years ago my ex and I were buying eggs from the local health food store. The yolks were dark and when we served them to guests w/o them knowing, they raved about the flavor. Just like Anna points out, I too cringe at “all vegetarian diet” eggs. Those eggs four decades ago came from truly free range chicks, and let me tell you, there is no shortage of bugs here in Florida! When I find eggs that the layers have that kind of diet, I’ll buy them. Until then, I’m not impressed. I… Read more »
Louise L
7 years 3 months ago
I’ve noticed over the years, but particularly after I moved to the West Coast that grocery store eggs and become almost watery. It was getting harder and harder to make a good omelet. Maybe when we buy eggs that are “cage-free” they are not the best but you can still see the difference. I nice well-defined yolk and white that isn’t falling apart. I think that really reveal a lot about the nutrition of the said hen that laid such an egg. I also like to experiment with raw vs. cooked. I always feel better when I eat the whole… Read more »
trackback

[…] gallon of milk isn’t exactly Primal and I can’t recommend it. Instead of milk, why not a dozen eggs a day? ADEAD? If you can manage it, eating them on top of your regularly scheduled meals is a great […]

trackback

[…] reconnaissance I’d caught sight of about 2 lbs of carrots, a pound of green beans*, a few eggs, and some organic fresh-churned butter. And the most fantastic kitchen tool of all – a food […]

trackback

[…] reconnaissance I’d caught sight of about 2 lbs of carrots, a pound of green beans*, a few eggs, and some organic fresh-churned butter. And the most fantastic kitchen tool of all – a food […]

trackback

[…] and I also found this post about eggs thoroughly helpful in understanding the plethora of options at the […]

trackback
6 years 8 months ago

[…] new life into a tried and true recipe is a simple way of adding variety to your diet. Take deviled eggs, for example. They’ve been around as long as any of us can probably remember, although you […]

trackback
6 years 5 months ago

[…] Sisson recently wrote an interesting article on Egg Purchasing Guide where he talks about the differences in eggs at stores. Very cool and […]

Paul
6 years 5 months ago

I have just switched to organic free range eggs, and while the pain in the pocket is a little more than I had hoped (organic stuff is very expensive here in Hong Kong) the taste difference is well worth the extra dollars… and from everything I read about the health benefits are significant too. Thanks for your guidance Mark

trackback
6 years 3 months ago

[…] the past we’ve talked plenty about the health benefits of eggsand how to figure out which types of eggs to purchase, but what about cooking the perfect hard boiled egg? The ability to boil an egg is often seen as a […]

trackback

[…] has been shown that a Western style plan of omnivory, with particular emphasis onmeat, dairy, and eggs, protects against rickets in the presence of severe vitamin D deficiency. Dunnigan thinks the meat […]

wpDiscuz