Pastured vs Omega-3 vs Conventional Eggs — What's the Difference?
I love eggs and eat 3-4 of them for breakfast, every single day.
I don't lose sleep over it, because research shows that they are good for my health. But depending on what the hens themselves ate, the nutritional value of the eggs can differ greatly.
There are several different types of eggs, which can leave people confused.
What all of them have in common is that they come from chickens, but they vary depending on how the chickens were raised and what they were fed.
- Conventional Eggs: These are your standard supermarket eggs. The chickens are usually raised in an overfilled hen house or a cage and never see the light of day. They are usually fed grain-based crap, supplemented with vitamins and minerals. May also be treated with antibiotics and hormones.
- Organic Eggs: Were not treated with antibiotics or hormones and received organic feed. May have had limited access to the outdoors.
- Pastured Eggs: Chickens are allowed to roam free, eating plants and insects (their natural food) along with some commercial feed.
- Omega-3 Enriched Eggs: Basically, they're like conventional chickens except that their feed is supplemented with an Omega-3 source like flax seeds. May have had some access to the outside.
A study compared the fatty acid composition of 3 types of eggs: conventional, organic and omega-3 enriched (1).
- Omega-3 eggs had 39% less Arachidonic Acid, an inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acid that most people eat too much of.
- Omega-3 eggs had 5 times as much Omega-3 as the conventional eggs.
- There was very little difference between organic and conventional eggs.
It is clear that hens fed an omega-3 enriched diets lay eggs that are much higher in Omega-3 than conventional eggs.
This is important because most people eat too little Omega-3.
Unfortunately this study didn't measure other nutrients, only the fatty acid composition.
In 2007, Mother Earth News magazine decided to test the nutritional value of pastured eggs and received such eggs from 14 different farms.
They were measured in a chemical lab, then compared to the USDA standard conventional egg.
As you can see, eggs from pastured hens are more nutritious than the conventional eggs you might find at the supermarket.
They are higher in Vitamin A, E and Omega-3s. They are also lower in Cholesterol and Saturated Fat, but I don't think that matters.
A study I found on pastured eggs produced similar results (2).
There are other more loose and confusing terms, including Free Range and Cage Free, which may or may not be any better than conventional eggs.
Free range could mean that there's a small window on the hen house where the hens have the option of going outside.
Cage free just means that they aren't raised in a cage. They could still be raised in a smelly, dirty overstuffed hen house.
At the end of the day, pastured eggs are your best bet. They are more nutritious and the hens were allowed free access to the outside and ate a more natural diet.
If you can't get pastured eggs (like me) then Omega-3 enriched eggs will be your second best choice. If you can't get either pastured or Omega-3 eggs, then try to find eggs that are either free-range, cage-free or organic.
But even if that's not an option, then conventional eggs are still among the healthiest and most nutritious foods you can eat.
To sum up: Pastured > Omega-3 > Organic > Free Range/Cage Free > Conventional This just goes to show that what we eat isn't all that matters... it also matters what our foods eat.