How to Buy (and Appreciate) Eggs

Inline_Egg_BuyingTime and again I find myself on the topic of eggs. I’m a fan really. In fact, I had them for breakfast just this morning (as most mornings).

They’re one of nature’s true superfoods after all—pre-packaged and ready to enjoy however you see fit. The healthy fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals contained within simply can’t be ignored, regardless of all those misguided cholesterol-haters out there.

Back in 2008, I provided a brief look into deconstructing egg carton labelling. That simple guide to egg purchasing has gotten a fair amount of attention and shares over the years, so I’m revisiting the subject to update and elaborate where it makes sense. I don’t see eggs ever losing their place in paleo/Primal eating, and I know others share my enthusiasm.

Eggs: an Ultimate Primal Food Source

Every Primal mind knows that eggs are a great source of protein, healthy fats, and various vitamins and minerals. Vast amounts of choline, bucketloads of selenium, rare food-form vitamin D—that sort of thing. That’s old news, but useful info nonetheless. Since writing that original post almost nine years ago, however, there’s been a plethora of nutritional discoveries, some I’ve mentioned previously and some not.

For starters, getting a daily fix of egg may further lower your already-slim chances of developing diabetes. In one of the first population-based studies of egg consumption vs. health, over 2000 men between the ages of 42 and 60 were assessed over almost 2 decades. The study found that men who ate 4 eggs a week had a 37% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those who ate a measly 1 egg per week.

A study done back in 2011 showed that in addition to all their nutritious proteins, fats and vitamins, eggs also contain the two amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine. Two compounds that just so happen to have strong antioxidant properties. Unsurprisingly, researchers found that all the antioxidant goodness was holed up in the yolks, and that cooking the yolk reduced the antioxidant load by half…at which point they’re still as rich in antioxidants as an apple. Not bad at all. (If you like your eggs cooked, there are ways to minimize the oxidation in the yolk.)

Read Next: How to Use Egg Yolks as a Thickener

Eggs also have a way of making a good thing better. A recent Purdue University study found that the lipids contained in eggs can improve absorption of carotenoids from vegetables. Sixteen participants were given a raw mixed-vegetable salad with no eggs, one and a half eggs, and three eggs. The absorption of carotenoids from the salad greens was almost 4 times higher in the 3 egg salad than the salad that had no eggs. Turns out that nicoise salad they always have at your local cafe cabinet is worth a stab after all. One thing to keep in mind, however…it’s really the lipids contained in the yolk that’s extracting all that nutrient magic, rather than the egg whites. Sure, other healthy fat sources (e.g. quality oils and dressings—and, yes, I know some) serve the same purpose, but there’s nothing like egg in a Big A$$ salad if you ask me.

A similar study discovered that adding three whole eggs to salads increased vitamin E absorption by between 4 and 7 times. Considering vitamin E is the second most under-consumed nutrient in the average American diet, it’s nothing to minimize.

And those infamous egg critiques we all grew up hearing? Yeah, dead in the water long ago. A study published this year involving 2500 subjects showed that eating an egg a day is not associated with an elevated risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or any other form of memory disorder. Little surprise there.

By the same token, research continues to prove that there’s no link between consuming the cholesterol in eggs and coronary heart disease—even in those folks “predisposed” towards cardiovascular complications.

What’s That Carton Label Really Telling You?

Eggs can be a nutritional powerhouse, particularly when they come from quality sources. The problem is, it’s not always obvious what “quality” even means in the mysterious world of marketing. Cage free, free range, organic, all-natural, pastured, omega-3…is it all just commercial gibberish? The look of the eggs inside the carton won’t be of help either—they all just look like eggs.

To get the most nutrition for your money and to know the sourcing conditions of what you’re investing in, a few pointers are helpful. To recap…


Cage-free eggs might imply that the hens that lay them enjoy some form of freedom, but don’t be fooled. Legally, there’s very little meaning behind this label, beyond the emphasis that cage-free hens are permitted to move around outside of an individual cage. In most cases, this simply means they’ve traded a small cage for a much larger one, also known as a “henhouse” (enormous industrial enclosure). These houses are typically packed to the walls with chickens, to the point where they’re often just as cramped as they would be inside a cage. They can technically engage in social behaviors with other hens, but this usually just means they peck at each other in their fight to get access to food and as a result of the unnatural stress of their close confines. The result is that many have their beaks partially snipped in the first few days of their life. Not cool.

Nutrition-wise, cage-free eggs are possibly a little more nutritious than the average caged chicken egg, but only just. Their feed may or may not be a little better, and they can at least move around a little, but they can’t roam, bathe in the sunshine, or eat a natural diet. They’re also pumped with antibiotics—some of which can pass from the chicken to the egg.


Technically another step up in the egg nutrition pecking order, but the meaning of this term varies considerably. Government regulations remain surprisingly lax on the definition of “free range”, and generally only require that poultry farmers allow their hens some form of access to the outdoors. While there are those farmers that take this meaning literally, most opt for the cheapest and easiest available option – a tiny chicken-sized door in a corner of the shed. Sure, those chickens technically have the option to go outside, but most either can’t or choose not to anyway. To truly know just how “free range” those eggs are, you need to do your own brand-specific investigations.


Arguably a step back down in the egg nutrition department, these eggs are essentially just from cage free hens. They don’t have access to the outdoors but can theoretically move around freely and are probably still healthier than caged hens.

Omega-3 Fortified

These eggs come from hens that are fed higher levels of flaxseed, linseed or omega-3 supplements. It’s a good thing. One study showed that omega-3 fortified eggs had five times the omega-3 content of a conventional egg and nearly 40% lower omega-6 content. Keep in mind most of that is ALA-based.

Considering the average Primal diet contains plenty of natural omega-3 sources, I wouldn’t be relying on these eggs for your daily quota. If the cost difference is substantial where you shop, you might be better putting that money toward some quality fish or fish oil.


With the organic certification comes a fair bit of oversight, including a ban on GMO feed, antibiotics, free access to the outdoors, and of course completely organic feed (grains). And that organic feed might be offering you more than you think, considering research into egg feed over the years has found everything from organic arsenic to banned antibiotics to residues of acetaminophen, diphenhydramine (active ingredient in Benadryl) to fluoxetine (the active ingredient in Prozac). This isn’t to say every conventional feed has any or all of these, but personally I prefer having a better idea of what’s not in the feed.

An organic label now ensures a certain level of humane conditions. With recent changes to organic standards, animals are required to have enough room to lie down. Until last year, debeaking was often part of an organic farm practice.

Certified Humane

While chickens aren’t kept in battery cages, they may not necessarily be outdoors. Nonetheless, living conditions won’t be as crowded as a conventional setting because of audited density standards. There’s also no guarantee for organic feed.

I’ve skipped over a number of other egg marketing terminologies, including “all-natural,” “United Egg-Producers Certified,” “vegetarian fed” (no bugs or grubs allowed), and “farm-fresh.” File these under meaningless or irrelevant.

There’s No Substitute for Pasture-Raised.

Pastured eggs are, quite literally, the cream of the crop. Since my last post nearly a decade ago, there’s more research and availability. Pastured hens are raised on farms that allow them to roam freely to their hearts’ content, pecking at bugs, plants, shoes, dogs – whatever takes their fancy. They receive ample sunshine, and aren’t injected with hormones, antibiotics, or steroids. Life is good for the pastured hen, and they pass this down into your pastured eggs.

But don’t just take my word for it. A Pennsylvanian study from a few years back found that the nutrients in pastured eggs far surpassed anything found in “commercially-raised” eggs. According to the lead investigator, “eggs from pastured hens eggs had twice as much vitamin E and long-chain omega-3 fats, more than double the total omega-3 fatty acids, and less than half the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.” Throw in higher vitamin A concentrations, and you’ve got yourself a no-brainer when it comes to forking out a few extra coins for eggs of the pastured variety.

Various investigations conducted by the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA) back up these findings. In one of their analyses, poultry extraordinaire Barb Groski grabbed a bunch of egg and broiler samples from pastured and unpastured chickens and sent them away for lab analysis. The pastured eggs contained 40% more vitamin A, 34% less cholesterol (not that we were worried), and four times as many omega-3s. The pastured meat displayed similar nutritional superiority. A couple of Portuguese studies found much the same, with considerably more omega-3s in the pastured hens.

Don’t have access to locally raised/pastured eggs? Vital Farms is doing a stellar job of partnering with small farms across the country to make good eggs more accessible. And not just at Whole Foods: I’ve seen them at Target, Ralph’s, Vons, Safeway, Albertsons, and plenty of other stores.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Have you noticed a change in taste or your own health in switching from conventional eggs to organic or pastured? Do you have specific farms or online sources you’d recommend?

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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54 thoughts on “How to Buy (and Appreciate) Eggs”

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  1. Eggs are the BEST! Love the tips and info. I usually just have them for breakfast lately, but going to incorporate them more for snacks again after being reminded how awesome they are 🙂

  2. I wonder which egg has higher omega 3s, the omega 3 fortified eggs or the pasture raised eggs? I guess pastured would still come out on top even if it had marginally less omega 3s then omega 3 enriched eggs. Considering pastured is also higher in other nutrients.

    1. I second this. A few years back I scoured their database to find as many 4 and 5 rated egg producers as I could around here. I think that came out to about 4 different brands. I tried each one and figure out which ones I liked best (based on yolk color and firmness, price, taste, etc). I have two brands that are pretty readily available that I buy all the time now.

  3. Love eggs and used to eat them almost daily (organic feed, cage free) BUT … my PSA has been rising a bit over the last couple of years and I’ve taken some steps to remediate that (won’t go into detail at this point) and as part of that effort I’ve recently stopped eating eggs and dairy. I’ve read several articles regarding metadata that points to eggs and dairy as being a factor that can increase PSA. Maybe pastured eggs and really clean source dairy would not have that effect, I’d love to find evidence to refute the assertion that eggs and dairy can increase PSA levels.

    1. Have you tried duck eggs? Carol Deppe writes that many people with chicken egg sensitivities are able to tolerate duck eggs. Plus they taste richer which is a big plus for me.

      1. Thanks Alana, I’ll check into that. I don’t have an allergy to eggs, I’ve been avoiding them due to concerns they can raise your PSA levels, the choline I think?

  4. I’ve noticed a change in my health since I QUIT eating eggs–only because I found out that I’m sensitive to them (so that’s what all of those gut issues were about).

    Giving up gluten? No big deal. Dairy? Ho hum. But eggs?

    All I have to say is enjoy the delicious pastured ones, you lucky devils!

    1. Ditto! When I went GF, things improved greatly…gut issues, joint problems, etc. When I first went grain-free, breakfasts insisted of Big A$$ veggie omelets. After a week, OMG the abdominal pains! One day, they went away. Since I was keeping a food diary at the time, I went back and checked, and dang!: I hadn’t had eggs for three days. Oh no! Gave them up and tried again in 6 weeks. Ow! Gave them up and tried again in 6 months. Ow! After YEARS of abstinence, have finally gone back to two eggs once a week. More than that, and Ow! So there is hope.

      1. I have a friend who was egg intolerant. If he drank a cup of water with a couple of tablespoons of cider vinegar before eating eggs he could tolerate. I also sometimes felt ‘queasy/nauseous’ when I started eating eggs every day when I went Paleo. Now I make sure to eat sauerkraut with my eggs and all is good!

    2. I have a known egg sensitivity bit find that they bother me less if I use more yolk than whites.
      ie. 1 or 2 whole eggs and a couple of extra yolks.

  5. Mark, you didn’t address freshness of the eggs. Does it matter, like with vegetables, or not, like with meat? For what it’s worth the eggs I get from my local lady have been harvested in the last 1-2 days, still have poop on them usually. That’s pretty fresh.

  6. I started my own backyard chickens last spring, and I’ve been getting eggs from them since the fall. I average about 8 eggs per day and my girlfriend and I do our best to eat them all ourselves. Excluding snowy or frigid days, my birds get to roam the yard every day. They’re offered a dry soy-free, organic feed and another organic feed with soy that I ferment for them on a daily basis. When they eat their feed, the wet ferment is their feed of choice. I’m hoping the fermenting keeps their immune systems strong to help prevent parasites or bacterial infections. So far so good as my 11 birds have never had to be on antibiotics. They get any vegetable scraps we have and occasionally a coconut, sweet potato, or mealworm treat.

    The eggs taste amazing. The yolks are much larger and a deep orange compared to commercial eggs. It’s a little bit of work, but for those who love eggs and aren’t afraid to put in a little effort and money, it’s worth it.

    A question for you Mark…

    How would fermenting their soy feed with bacillus subtilis translate to the nutrients in the egg? Would the chickens be getting vitamin K2 from it and does that benefit them at all? Thanks!

    1. find a local brewer and ask if you can have the grain they use after they are done brewing. the grain becomes higher in protein after the sugars are removed to make alcohol. chickens absolutely love distiller’s grain, as it is called, and will come right to the feeder immediately.


  7. I am such an egg snob, partly just for taste. The pastured eggs that I buy from local farmers taste superior to anything you can buy at the store. Plus they look prettier, with the gorgeous orange yolks! The fact that they are no much better nutritionally is like the icing on the (primal) cake. My favorite way to eat a hard boiled egg is dipped in the Primal Kitchen chipotle lime mayo.

  8. Thanks for this post, Mark. I clicked the link and re-read the idea about scrambling whites and yolks separately to reduce oxidation of cholesterol–going to try it. We eat so many eggs around here that we started raising chickens a few years ago. They just started laying steadily again (they slow down when the daylight decreases during the New England winter), and it’s pretty priceless to take a few steps outside, collect fresh eggs, and see those deep orange yolks cooking away a few minutes later. Thanks for the reminders and compiling the research–it affirms all the hard work our hens do!

  9. My last purchase of eggs, just a few days ago, was of Lucky Ladies by Vital Farms. I bought them because the eggs I usually buy–Jeremiah Cunningham’s World’s Best Eggs–were out of stock at Whole Foods Market. The Lucky Ladies eggs are not organic, rather they’re Certified Humane. But the yolks are the darkest orange of any eggs I’ve ever bought. And they’re delicious.

  10. My daily routine include big A$$ salad with 2-3 organic Pasture-Raised and a few grams of Cheddar or Gouda cheese to round it off. It’s relatively cheep, healthy and quick to fix

    Speaking of Flex seeds, what do you think of whole milk that comes from cows that are fed with it? According to their info, it has 24 grams of Omega 3 per 100 ml per 3.4 oz

    By the way, when commenting through the smartphone , the captcha disappears and I have to scroll all over the page to find the images.

  11. I stopped eating eggs a few months back, as I was having massive digestion problems and they seemed to be the culprit. Now, after sorting out that problem (fingers crossed), I’ve started slowly adding eggs back into my diet. Right now I’m having 1 Duck Egg a week with no problems. I’ve recently found a local farmer who has pastured chickens and I’ll be buying eggs from her to see if I can tolerate them. If not, I don’t mind sticking with Duck eggs. My boyfriend eats either Duck or Goose eggs every morning with no problems at all.

  12. I eat 3-5 eggs most days somedays more. I feel great, my body thrives, and my waistline stays small. We get them at Costco (96) every two weeks. They are organic and free-range. We also get a meat CSA from a Farmer and he usually throws in about a dozen or two and those are the best eggs I have ever eaten.

  13. Gosh – I’m an egg snob too. I get pastured eggs from a local farmer. More $ than store eggs, but soo much better.

  14. What about the actual look of the egg’s yolk? I remember trying a bunch of different brands of eggs, including Vital Farms and Happy Egg Co. I think I remember not being impressed with Vital Farms mainly because the yolk was much paler than the Happy Egg Co, which was bright yellow. In this sense, all things being equal, shouldn’t we judge on appearance?

    1. Some poultry farmers include a yellow ing agent in the feed to make the yolks more yellow. I can’t remember what it is. So yolk colour does not necessarily denote quality.

      1. Some of the farms around me use feed with xanthophyll, most commonly from marigold flowers to get the orange look.

        My free range pastured chickens have yolks that range from almost pale white to a deep orange depending on what their favorite weed/bug is – all are in the same field.

        1. That’s depressing…! Fake orange yolks, and there’s no way to tell. It’s hard not to get cynical.

          1. As others have said, get to know the supplier. Everyone is proud of their work and animals, you just have to find a farmer/reseller with goals that align with yours – Mine are quality, quantity, and then price because I’m feeding my family first, selling surplus, and then trying to at least break even on my hobby farm.

          2. Okay I just bought another batch of the Vital Farms, and I must have misremembered the yolk color. It is very orange! Like marigold orange, as Mike H pointed out. However, VF seems to have good practices, so I’m adding them back to my “okay-to-buy” list.

    2. I always buy Vital Farms alfresco eggs (usually at Sprouts) because of the very orange yolk, however, I was in a different city a couple of weeks ago and got the same eggs at a Sprouts in that city, and they were pale yellow which I thought was unusual…maybe they came from a different farm?? I used to spend the extra on Vital Farms Organic eggs but found that those yolks were always pale yellow, so I gave up the organic for the orange.

  15. I’ve switched from Vital Farms to Stueve’s Certified Organic (at Whole Foods), the second highest organic egg on Cornucopia’s list. If those are out, Alexandre Kids (Also at Whole Foods) are amazing and made the Gold Standard category.

  16. I’m on my 4th year of keeping backyard chickens, so I’m spoiled rotten. Nuthin’ like a fresh egg still warm from the chicken’s butt.

  17. Does anybody else get tired of eggs? I can eat them every day for a few weeks, then I find them completely unappetizing for long periods of time. I usually IF until late a.m. and then I alternate eggs with sardines (yes, I know… that won’t appeal to everyone), homemade soups, chicken or tuna salad, and various leftovers, etc. I do put hard-cooked eggs into my chicken/tuna salads, but there they are just another ingredient. I probably don’t eat eggs as the main course more than once a week.

    1. I had to reduce my egg consumption a few months ago due to an intolerance that I’ve developed. I’ve noticed that now when I do have a cooked egg, I find it a lot less appetizing than when I was eating them pretty much every day. I still love them in my homemade mayo and dressings, but for some reason cooked eggs as a main event just doesn’t appeal to me right now.

  18. People in southern New England should check out Wild Harmony Farm. Organic, Pasture raised eggs that are the best in the Northeast. The farm is run by an engaged couple who are living with as much integrity as anyone that I know. 6.50 a dozen, but worth every penny.

  19. Thanks for the good information. However “vegetarian fed” typically means “grain-fed”. So for those who are staying away from grains entirely, it does matter. And IMO should not be filed under meaningless or irrelevant 🙂

    1. Actually, I doubt that it makes any difference. Grain-fed chickens don’t convert into meat and eggs that are really grains in disguise any more than the bugs they eat are converted into some form of bug-meat. We eat what they eat only up to a point. IMO, pursuing it beyond that point is going a bit overboard.

    2. I read “vegetarian-fed” as meaning they are NOT out in the grass, where they also eat grubs and bugs. So for me, “vegetarian-fed” means inferior eggs, though better than the worst of the feeds I’ve read about, which include animal remains.

  20. The Vital Farms Alfresco eggs are spreading, thankfully.

    They Are So Good.

    They’re delicious and absolutely have the richest, most orange yolk I’ve ever seen. Even over locally raised “pastured” eggs. In my experience.

    I find them at Kroger 🙂

  21. I live in Ethiopia and the local eggs come in two types: “Habesha” (meaning Ethiopian) – smaller, with bright yolks, probably from all the chickens I see running around town; and “feranji” (meaning foreign, specifically Western/European). These are large, with anemic looking yolks. Both are actually local – so kind of telling that they’ve named factory farming techniques after Europeans/Americans!

  22. How much is too much? On days that I eat eggs it can be anywhere between 8-15 at a time.

    I picked up 21 chicks that walked through my yard last April and put them in a cage (don’t think anyone missed them) but it wasn’t until they were freed and allowed to start finding their own food and spaces that they started laying. Now they sleep in the pomerac tree and eat anything they can find or that’s tossed out the kitchen window. We still feed them occasionally with the factory feed but that’s more to ensure that they can still be tempted back into the coop in the event that they stop laying and need to be curried instead.

  23. Dude, dilemma for egg lover on a budget. Conventional eggs are frequently on sale for 49 cents per dozen. Pastured eggs are never on sale and cost $5.29 per dozen. I load up on conventional eggs. I feel sorry for the mistreated chickens -hey at least they weren’t killed yet like their rotisserie cousins. I pray I’m not ingesting arsenic or pharmaceutical derivatives. I justify my consumption by telling myself it’s healthier and less expensive than a bag of Doritos.

    1. Get to know an egg farmer! We have a flock of 100 pasture-raised hens. There are always ‘check’ eggs, which means they have hairline cracks, odd sizes or imperfect shells. These are the eggs our family eats and they’re perfectly fine on the inside. I’d be willing to sell these to you for less, and I’d be even happier to barter them to you for your help with chores on the farm. I’m sure your local farmer would, too!

      1. I’d barter the full-priced eggs too, for that matter! You could come and get some primal exercise on the farm for a couple of hours–lifting heavy feed bags and buckets and carrying them, walking slowly in nature moving the portable fence–and go home with your week’s supply of eggs!

  24. I eat eggs every single day, as I try to find healthy sources of protein as a runner. Given that eggs are something I put into my body every single day, I know it’s important to be mindful of their source. Even if I pay more, the price is low when considering the health and environmental impacts.

  25. I’m in Brooklyn and I get my milk (raw, 6.5 % milkfat) and pastured eggs from UdderMilk, from somewhere in New Jersey. The guy drives his refrigerated van into the city and drops off somewhere between ten PM and midnight — I was arriving at the airport the one time he came at 9 PM. A gallon of milk, two dozen eggs, a quart of yoghurt, $30.

    1. Oh, I should mention that sometimes he only leaves one dozen eggs, and sometimes I get a gallon instead of two half-gallons of milk. It’s not a super large operation, and supply can be a little unpredictable. But, generally pretty solid.

  26. Unfortunately, pasture raised isn’t possible up here. The place I buy my beef from said they tried it and the coyote’s were impossible. Given how I sometimes see them in my suburban neighborhood I 100 percent believe that. 🙂

  27. Pasture chicken and eggs don’t seem to be existing here. I can find pastured pork and grass-fed beef but that’s it.

    As for what I actually eat, it varies from Omega-3 to free-range to organic depending on my mood and the sales. But one day I was out of egg and could only run to the closest supermarket and buy cheap eggs that I haven’t bought in years. It tasted so bad! I’m use to quality food tasting better but it was not the case, they were so bad I couldn’t swallow it! I mean I can eat cheap rotisserie chicken and cheap pork and etc. Seems I’ve become a egg snob. That or it was a bad batch, I don’t even know if it’s possible.

    I hope I will be able to taste a pasture raised egg with the orange yolk at least once before I die!

  28. When referencing studies, please ensure you are choosing studies which include women. …”In one of the first population-based studies of egg consumption vs. health, over 2000 men between the ages of 42 and 60 were assessed”… Your female readers would appreciate it! Please and thank you!

  29. Another option (not available to everyone…) is to have chickens (or ducks). I have both! My chickens and ducks eat kitchen scraps, whatever they can forage and we supplement that when needed with feed. In addition to eggs they clean out the garden in the winter and I like watching them while I hang out in the yard or garden.

    I do lock them up at night to keep the raccoons, owls, and various other critters from eating them. If we end up with extra eggs friends and family seem to be glad to take the extras.

  30. I have pastured hens. More than I can eat. My friends value my eggs above all others and I sell them for roughly my cost of production. The hens are so fun to have around.