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Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
18 Sep

Egg Purchasing Guide

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 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

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. 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 eggs raw (in a shake of course). And I’m not very concerned about Biotin deficiency since the yolk has plenty.

    Louise L wrote on June 24th, 2009
  2. 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

    Paul wrote on April 23rd, 2010
  3. One thing I’ve noticed since switching to local eggs from the farmer’s market instead of store-bought (including organic) eggs–the shells are thicker! The eggs I used to eat would crack very easily and would often splinter into my mixing bowl, necessitating a little shell-fishing expedition if I didn’t want crunchy shell bits in my omelet. The local organic eggs I get from farmers in town crack only with a good sharp rap on the bowl and break into two clean halves when I pull them open, which I can only presume is due to healthier hens laying stronger, thicker eggs!

    Uncephalized wrote on June 13th, 2010
  4. Eggs that I get at my local farmer’s market is fresher than the ones I can get at the commercial grocery store. I highly recommend getting local organic eggs. I believe they are more nutritious as well.

    Jeff wrote on November 10th, 2010
  5. Hello,
    I am new to this website and haven’t finished reading the Primal books yet, but any thoughts on the cartons of fake egg/liquid egg whites?

    akshay wrote on December 30th, 2010
  6. We never knew how enjoyable having chickens could be until we bit the bullet and got some. Each passing year we learn more about our delightful chickens. They roam freely, and are fed organic feed. The summer yolks are actually orange! We have yet to buy eggs that are better – even from farmers’ markets.

    Lynnette wrote on September 28th, 2011
  7. Europe has a great solution to this egg issue, its the exploding market called BIO or biological according to the best life (possible) for the animal and its organic, non-genetic altering for produce, milk, cheese, etc, as well.
    If a food has the special bio marking, like a chicken egg, it means not only was the bird raised according to ITS needs it was fed also according to the bio criteria. In Germany for example you can buy eggs caged (Kaefighaltung), barn/ground (Bodenhaltung), Outdoor (Freilandhaltung) and Bio. Each step of the way the bird and egg gets a bit better, but only with bio can you be sure that the chicken had a decent life. It’s very hard for a farmer to maintain the bio rating because his whole operation must be bio,, but the advantage for the farmer is a slightly higher price for the egg and I guess the knowledge that he is making real food. The good news of this system is you don’t have to wonder around half the world looking for barefoot hippies selling organic out of VW buses to get your quality food, you just go to any store and look for the bio marked foods. Buy the way, you can also get omega-3 eggs, but they are no longer classified as bio (at least the ones I saw so far, not sure about the food regulation on that) so what chicken was it? The one on the cage? Probably.

    William wrote on October 14th, 2011
  8. i like eggs

    Tyler `15 wrote on October 18th, 2011
    • I like turtles

      Joe wrote on October 24th, 2011
      • I like trains

        Harriet wrote on November 14th, 2013
  9. One of the few reasons worth living in kansas.. access to cheap, farm fresh, food :D. I can get a dozen of pastured chicken eggs for $3.50 from my preferred farmer. They taste soooo much better than the store bought stuff. Thanks for the article, passing this one onto my family members who struggle to figure out the deceptive carton labels.

    Greg wrote on February 6th, 2012
  10. Interesting post! I don’t think anyone has commented on this yet, apologies if this came up already. But from what I’ve read, many of the non-pastured hens might actually be eating diets that have the macronutrients most resembling their natural diets (albeit, animal parts vs. worms). So, if you can’t find/afford pastured, given the choice between “cage free, all vegetarian” and simply “cage free”, I’d go cage free. Does that sound right to folks? See here:

    PaleoVenus wrote on March 3rd, 2012
  11. P.S. the author of the post i linked to above has a bias toward all-vegetarian fed chickens and has an “ick” factor for animal parts being fed to chickens. i guess that’s what I’m questioning.

    PaleoVenus wrote on March 3rd, 2012
  12. mother earth new’s isn’t just for hippies, its for people who want to be self sufficient and prefer to live with their heads in the air as opposed to firmly planted in the sand. Just my 2 cents

    nick wrote on June 26th, 2012

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