The Amazing Egg - Nutritional Information and Buying Tips

Cracked Egg in Straw

Reading Time - 17 Minutes

The egg is a nutritional powerhouse eaten by millions of people around the world, and you will have a tough time finding a food healthier! And people used to know this instinctively. In 1945, the average American consumed 1.15 eggs a day, but in 2013 the average American consumed only 0.68 eggs a day. This downturn of egg consumption is likely the result of the demonetization of saturated fat and cholesterol, which has taken place over the past 40 years, and as a result, the humble egg was placed directly into the cross-hairs. Now, new nutritional studies on eggs are changing the general public’s’ perception of the egg, having been scientifically proven to be healthy, and eggs are experiencing a strong resurgence in sales led by followers of the paleo and ketogenic diets.

How did the humble egg fall out of the spotlight? Starting in the fifties, a series of bad studies which cherry picked collected data were released. In these studies, high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol consumption was linked incorrectly to heart disease and other health concerns. Now, after decades where the USDA guidelines recommends no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day (for reference, a three egg omelet has ~640 mg of cholesterol), the USDA is expected to revise or withdraw their previous recommendations on cholesterol intake soon, likely raising the cholesterol limit. Additionally, the low fat movement of the 60’s to the early 2000’s is coming to a grinding halt, and certain dietary fats are once again acceptable by most nutritional experts.

So why are we talking about eggs? Well there is a lot of confusion surrounding eggs currently, from whether they are healthy for you to the marketing terms various egg producers use which are misleading, so this article aims to inform you about all things eggs. At the end, I provide my recommendations on which egg brands to buy, which I have arrived at after personally buying a variety of egg brands and subsequently looking into the practices of each individual egg producer.

The Two “Types” of Eggs (and Hens)

Before the advent of the industrial revolution, chickens were simply raised on the farm. Chickens ran and flapped around, established their own social structure, and foraged on a variety of plants, vegetables, fruits, seeds, grains, and insects. These chickens were happy and healthy, and as a result laid eggs with thick hard shells, which when cracked open, revealed rich flavorful orange yolks.

Wait, “eggs with thick hard shells which when cracked open had rich flavorful orange yolks” doesn’t sound like any egg normally cracked open now does it? What sounds more appropriate today would be “eggs with thin shells which when cracked open have pale bland tasting yellow yolks”. What happened? In the process of trying to feed a growing urban population, the quantity of eggs produced from local farms was no longer sufficient, so large egg producers like Cal-Maine Foods and Rose Acre Farms stepped in and started to produce eggs at a large capacity. In the 1930’s, a large egg farm had 500 hens per hen house. Now a typical hen house contains 80,000 or more hens inside. What got sacrificed in the process of industrializing egg production is the health of the hens, the amount of space afforded to each hen, the nutritional content of the chicken feed, and lastly, the nutritional quality of the laid eggs. Now we are left with two methods of egg production (farm-style or industrial), two types of chickens (healthy or sickly), and two types of eggs, pasture raised (PR) or conventional (CV).

Nutritional Comparison

To see the difference in nutrition between pasture raised (PR) eggs and conventional (CV) battery raised eggs, look at the tables below. I complied the nutritional data below from a variety of sources to try to present the most accurate nutritional data currently available. All of these values are for a single large, hard boiled egg (50 grams). Bolded values have a superior amount of the vitamin/mineral/fat of interest between the two types of eggs.

Macronutrient Differences (percentages)

Conventional Egg

Pasture Raised Egg

Conventional Eggs:

  • Calories per Egg - 77.5

  • Fats (g) Per Egg - 5.3

    • Saturated Fat(1) - 1.55

    • Monounsaturated Fat - 2.0

    • Polyunsaturated Fat - 0.7

  • Carbohydrates per Egg - 0.6

    • Fiber per Egg - 0

  • Protein per Egg - 6.3

Pasture Raised Eggs:

  • Calories per Egg - 77.5

  • Fats (g) Per Egg - 5.32

    • Saturated Fat(1) - 1.2

    • Monounsaturated Fat - 2.04

    • Polyunsaturated Fat - 0.73

  • Carbohydrates per Egg - 0.56

    • Fiber per Egg - 0

  • Protein per Egg - 6.29


Omega-3 Fatty Acid, Omega-6 Fatty Acid, and Cholesterol Differences

You can see that while the Omega-6 values for pasture raised eggs are basically equivalent to conventional eggs, the amount of Omega-3’s(1) is 300% higher, resulting in a much more favorable Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio (1:2 PR vs 1:5.4 CV). A 1:2 Omega-3’s/Omega-6’s ratio is a much more favorable ratio for a variety of health parameters, such as obesity risk(2), and is inline with ancestral health observations and recommendations(3).

Cholesterol levels in the pasture raised eggs are likewise 34.5% lower than in their conventional egg counterparts.


Vitamin differences

Vitamins

Pasture Raised Eggs Conventional Eggs Percent Differences

Significant Dietary Source (Y/N)?

Vitamin A (IU)

395.93 243.5 62.5%

Y

Vitamin C (mg)

0 0 --

N

Vitamin D (IU)

43.5 17.5 148.5%

Y

Vitamin E (mg)

1.87 0.49 281.6%

N

Vitamin K (mcg)

0.15 0.1 50%

N

Thiamin (mg)

0.03 0 --

N

Riboflavin (mg)

0.26 0.3 15.4%

Y

Niacin (mg)

1.31 0 --

N

Vitamin B6 (mg)

0.06 0.1 66.6%

Y

Folate (mcg)

22 22 --

Y

Vitamin B12 (mcg)

0.55 0.6 9.1%

Y

Pantothenic Acid (mg)

0.7 0.7 --

Y

Choline (mg)

146.9 113 30%

Y

Betaine (mg)

-- 0.3 -- N

Beta Carotene (mcg)

39.515 5 690%

N


Mineral Differences

Minerals

Pasture Raised Eggs Conventional Eggs Percent Difference

Significant Dietary Source (Y/N)?

Calcium (mg)

25.0 25.0 -- N

Iron (mg)

0.59 0.6 1.7%

Y

Magnesium (mg) 5.0 5.0 --

N

Phosphorus (mg)

86.0 86.0 --

Y

Potassium (mg)

63.0 63.0 --

N

Sodium (mg)

62.0 62.0 --

N

Zinc (mg)

0.52 0.5 4%

Y

Copper (mg)

0.01 0 --

N

Manganese (mg)

0.01 0 --

N

Selenium (mcg)

15.4 15.4 --

Y

Fluoride (mcg) 0 2.4 -- N

Note - "--" indicates missing or incomplete data

Most nutritional taken from the USDA Food Composition Data Base.

Out of 26 vitamins and minerals, there are 16 that have different values between pasture raised and conventional eggs. The conventional egg wins on 6 counts, and the pasture raised egg wins on 12 counts. Additionally, when the conventional egg has higher levels of micronutrients, it is by 23.2% on average over the pasture raised egg. For the pasture raised eggs, that average is 180.9%, a remarkable increase demonstrating the superiority of pasture raised eggs.

Nutritional data currently is limited for pasture raised eggs, and I would speculate that once better nutritional data is collected, it will be shown that pasture raised eggs have higher daily percentages of vitamins and minerals across the board than conventional eggs. And for those who pass on the yolks and just eat the egg whites, they’re missing out! When someone avoid the delicious egg yolks, they also miss out on the majority of the Iron, Potassium, Folate, Selenium, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin B, Vitamin D, Biotin, and Choline present in each egg. Never skip the egg yolks!

Humane/Animal Welfare Differences

I believe in the humane treatment of all animals, even if they are eventually destined for the slaughter house. Humans are omnivores, and animal products, while not completely required in our diet, contains a wealth of healthy bio-available vitamins and minerals, healthy fats, and of course, ample protein. With that said, the current state of animal welfare in the American food industry is abysmal, and with the huge size of the corporations running the food industry, the easiest way to enact meaningful change is to vote with your dollar.

 
Sick Hen

Currently, the average space available to a typical caged battery hen is ~67 sq inches, which has often been described as less than the size of a piece of A4 paper. In terms of ceiling height, I’m unsure, but the most caged hens can do is probably stand up and turn around. They definitely cannot run, climb, peck, and just live.

 

Cage free hens aren’t too much better off either. Now in California, each hen is afforded 116 sq inches, which sounds great, until you learn of the complications with cage free hen houses.

Typically, hens are fed an all vegetarian diet, and as a result, they often are deficient of important vitamins and minerals which they typically acquire through an omnivorous lifestyle. Methionine in particular, is an essential protein based amino acid typically acquired through animal products (chickens are omnivores themselves), and when chickens aren’t supplemented or given access to this amino acid, among other key nutrients, they turn to pecking each other, and even cannibalism, to get a sufficiently nutritious diet. Additionally, The hen houses for cage free hens often have poor ventilation, and with all the dust the hens collectively kick up, respiratory conditions are extremely common, which are ultimately detrimental to the health of the hens.

Other humane concerns for both cage free and caged hens, taken from the Humane Society are:

  • Both systems typically buy their hens from hatcheries that kill the male chicks upon hatching—more than 200 million each year in the United States alone.

  • Both cage and cage-free hens have part of their beaks burned off, a painful mutilation in an effort to reduce pecking behaviors.

  • Both cage and cage-free hens are typically slaughtered at less than two years old, far less than half their normal lifespan. They are often transported long distances to slaughter plants with no food or water, starving along the way.

  • While the vast majority of the battery and cage-free egg industry no longer uses starvation to force molt the birds, there are battery and cage-free producers alike who still use this practice.

 
Happy Hen

Pasture raised hens live completely different lives from their friends in industrial hen houses. To be certified pasture raised, a minimum of 15,552 sq inches per bird is required, a 13,400% increase over cage free hens and a whopping 23,200% increase over caged hens.

 

Within this ample space they are free to forage as omnivores, run, climb, fly (well...kinda), roost, nest, and simply live. The hens are much less likely to peck each other, and they are free of unsanitary dusty conditions. When you buy pasture raised eggs, you’re not only buying nutritionally superior eggs, you’re also supporting farmers who raise their hens humanely and with integrity.

Common Egg Marketing Terms and Tactics

When you pick up a carton of eggs at the supermarket nowadays, you are assaulted with a variety of marketing terms and gimmicks. Below are explanations of the marketing terms you are likely to encounter.

Hormone Free

In the United States, no egg laying hens are given hormones, so even egg cartons that do not have the marketing term “Hormone Free” are in fact hormone free. You should never buy eggs which are more expensive solely because of this true, yet misleading marketing term.

All Natural

In some countries, the term “All Natural” is defined and enforced, but in the United States, it has no virtually no meaning. As regulated by the USDA, foods labeled “Natural” must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients, which does not ensure the animals aren't fed artificial ingredients. “All Natural” is a marketing gimmick and you should not base your purchases off of this marketing term.

Antibiotic Free

Antibiotic-free claims on egg cartons can be only be made by egg producers who choose not to use any antibiotics in feed or water during the growing period of pullets or while hens are laying eggs. It is not common for any egg laying hen to receive antibiotics because of the effectiveness of current vaccines and other illness treating measures.

Cage Free

This term indicates that the hens were able to freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area during their production cycle, with access to unlimited water and feed. Compared to the average battery hen, which is afforded approximately 67 square inches of cage space (less than an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper), the average cage free hen is afforded approximately double that. Cage free eggs have their own unique drawbacks though, as reported by the WSJ and researched by the Coalition for Substainable Egg Supply (an industry backed research group). These drawbacks make cage free eggs an inferior choice overall to pasture raised eggs.

Free Range

Similar to cage free eggs in that the hens are not confined to cages and are free to move around, except the hens are also given access to the outdoors. HFAC Humane Certified® standards for free range requires a minimum of 288 sq inches of outdoor space per bird. Unfortunately, the outdoor access is often just a small, fenced off patch of concrete outside the barn built just to meet minimum requirements.

On most free range egg cartons, scenes of chickens pecking around on sunny hillsides can be seen, but don’t be fooled, those cheery images could not be farther from the truth. Some egg producers exceed the free range minimums, but often it is unclear by how much.

The Happy Egg Co. is one such company. They used to proudly label that each hen receives 2016 sq inches per bird, but now after serious business growth in the past 2-3 years, they instead list that each farm provides 8 acres of outdoor access. No metrics are provided on the number of hens per barn, but I would guess that to keep up with demand they decided to increase their number of hens per barn rather than increase the number of barns needed to maintain 2016 sq inches.

The free range marketing term allows egg producers to mark up the prices on their eggs like crazy to uneducated consumers, so stay away from this label and only buy pasture raised eggs.

Pasture Raised

Eggs laid from hens which have access to pasture. Pasture is defined as open grassland. The HFAC’s Certified Humane® “Pasture Raised” requirement is 1000 birds per 2.5 acres (108 sq. ft. per bird) and the fields must be rotated. The hens must be outdoors year-round, with mobile or fixed housing where the hens can go inside at night to protect themselves from predators, or for up to two weeks out of the year, due only to very inclement weather. For all intents and purposes, this definition of pasture raised is more than sufficient, and more than required by the USDA to label your eggs as pasture raised. The “Pasture Raised” marketing term is the only egg carton label which really guarantees that the egg laying hens were given sufficient access to the outdoors, ample space to run, fly, peck, and perform other natural behaviors, forage for grubs and insects, and be treated humanely.

All Vegetarian Feed

This label simply designates that the chicken feed is simply all vegetarian feed, with no animal products. While I wouldn’t prefer that the hens are fed heavily process animal byproducts, since chickens are natural omnivores, they require animal fats and proteins to grow properly and stay healthy. When chickens are fed an all vegetarian feed, they often turn to forced cannibalism and peck at each others bodies and tails in search for critical nutrients found primarily in animal products. Fed only an all vegetarian feed, the health of the hens suffer, and as a result, the nutritional value of the eggs they lay decreases.

“All Vegetarian Feed” also is a strong indicator that the eggs you are buying do not come from pasture raised hens, as hens with access to pasture are free to forage for grubs and insects, and for pasture raised eggs to be certified organic then the pasture must be maintained with organic farming practices. Most farmers won’t go through the effort to take their minimum amount of pasture needed to reach free range definitions and ensure it is certified organic.

Organic

From the USDA:

“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.”

Buying organic eggs is better than buying conventional eggs, but ultimately, organic eggs are produced in almost the same way as conventional eggs. Inhumane conditions, poor nutrition, and lesser quality eggs can still be expected when you buy organic (unless they are also certified pasture raised).

Omega-3 Fortified

Omega-3 fortified eggs are produced from hens fed flaxseed. Flaxseed is high in ALA Omega-3’s (which are poorly converted by the human body at a ~5-15% conversion rate into DHA and EPA omega-3’s). Unlike us, chickens are fairly good at converting ALA omega-3’s into DHA and EPA omega-3’s, so these eggs are much higher in omega-3 fatty acids than regular conventional eggs, and are definitely a better choice.

Pasteurized

Eggs which are pasteurized, either as a liquid separated from the shell, or as a whole egg. Eggs which are pasteurized in their shells are pasteurized by being immersed in a water bath at specific temperatures for specific amounts of times, killing any foodborne pathogens.

Brown Eggs

Brown eggs are all the rage nowadays, with many perceiving brown eggs as healthier and having coming from happy hens, but this is false. The color of the egg shell, be it brown, white, blue, or green, is dependent on the breed of the chicken and is in no way correlated to the nutritional content of the egg. Brown eggs are often marked up in price compared to identical white eggs.

Additional Questions

So the yolks can vary in color based off of the nutrition and health of the chicken, does the egg shell color behave the same way?

  • No, the color of a egg shell is determined by the type of breed of the chicken, but a healthy chicken will produce an egg with a thicker shell.

What's the largest egg ever laid by a chicken?

  • 9.1" round, nearly twice the circumference of a normal large chicken’s egg (5.3” round) and 5 times the volume (3150 in^3 vs 620 in^3)!

Buying Recommendations

So what’s the healthiest, most humane carton of eggs that you can buy? If you can find hormone & antibiotic free, organic, omega-3 fortified, pasture raised eggs then you achieved the impossible. And it is impossible unless you personally ensure those requirements are achieved on your own farm. I researched all the different egg manufacturers in the United States and couldn’t find a single manufacturer who achieved that benchmark.

Well, the easiest way to ensure the eggs you buy are healthy and delicious is to find a local egg producer near you which raises their hens on pasture. Eat Wild is a great resource to use to help you find a local pasture raised egg producer, and they can also help you locate grass fed beef and pork suppliers in your area as well.

It’s pretty easy to find local manufacturers, and I’ve gone to several for my eggs before. When it’s more convenient to my eggs instead at the grocery store, I buy mostly Costco’s Kirkland Pasture Raised Organic Eggs (also hormone and antibiotic free), followed by Vital Farms Pasture Raised Eggs and lastly Happy Egg Co eggs (which are both sold in various grocery stores across the US). The Costco eggs are by far the best deal because you get 24 for $7.99, an incredible deal for pasture raised eggs. Pasture raised eggs typically cost $10+ a dozen!

If you have never had pasture raised eggs before, buy a carton next time you’re at the store, compare them to conventional eggs, and take note of the differences between the two. The pasture raised eggs should have thicker shells (indicative of more available calcium) and dark yellow-orange yolks (indicative of more beta-carotene). The pasture raised eggs should also taste significantly better, with a rich deep flavor highlighted by subtle nutty flavors. Not at all like bland conventional eggs.


The Wild Free Organic Promise

Here at Wild Free Organic our mission is to present only the most unbiased nutrition, health, and wellness information. The truth is always first and foremost our priority, and we also aim to be the last article you read on a subject, no more hunting for the truth! If you’d like to receive exclusive access to our content before it is published, subscribe to Wild Free Organic’s email newsletter!

 

Stefan Burns

Stefan Burns is the creator and main author of Wild Free Organic. A swimmer in high school, soon afterwards he discovered a passion for the health, wellness, and fitness fields. Stefan is a jack of all trades, expertly knowing how to use all the different wellness “tools” available to radically and permanently transform one’s health, from fasting and sauna usage to calisthenics and powerlifting.

To learn more about Stefan Burns visit his website or follow him on Instagram @stefanburnswellness.


 

References

  1. Mother Earth News - Free Range Egg Study. Data Table.

  2. Simopoulos AP. An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity. Nutrients. 2016;8(3):128.

  3. Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002;56(8):365-79.