Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods you can find.
But depending on what the hens they came from ate, their nutritional value can differ greatly.
This article looks at the difference between conventional eggs, omega-3-enriched eggs and pastured eggs.
There are several different types of eggs, and their nutritional contents vary.
This depends on how the hens were raised and what they were fed.
- Conventional eggs: These are your standard supermarket eggs. The hens that lay these eggs are usually fed grain, supplemented with vitamins and minerals.
- Organic eggs: The hens were not treated with hormones and received organic feed.
- 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.
There are other terms that overlap with those mentioned above. These include free-range and cage-free eggs, which may or may not be any better than conventional eggs.
Free-range means that the hens have the option of going outside.
Cage-free simply means that they aren’t raised in a cage. They could still be raised in a smelly, dirty and overstuffed hen house.
Many different terms are used to describe eggs. These include organic, omega-3-enriched, pastured, free-range and cage-free eggs.
A study compared the fatty acid composition of three 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 five times as much omega-3 as the conventional eggs.
- There was very little difference between organic and conventional eggs.
It was clear that hens fed omega-3-enriched diets laid eggs that were much higher in omega-3s than conventional eggs.
This is important because most people eat too little beneficial omega-3s.
Unfortunately, this study didn’t measure other nutrients, only the fatty acid composition.
Hens that get omega-3 supplements lay eggs that are much richer in omega-3 fats than conventional eggs. Choose omega-3-enriched eggs if you don’t get enough omega-3s from other sources.
In 2007, Mother Earth News magazine decided to test the nutritional value of pastured eggs from 14 different farms.
They were measured in a lab, then compared to the USDA standard conventional egg.
As you can see, eggs from pastured hens were more nutritious than the conventional eggs you might find at the supermarket.
They were higher in vitamin A, E and omega-3s, as well as lower in cholesterol and saturated fat.
A published study on pastured eggs produced similar results (2).
Another study showed that free-range eggs, which were laid by hens allowed to roam out in the sun, contained three to four times the amount of vitamin D than the eggs of hens that were raised indoors (
Pastured eggs are richer in vitamins A and E, as well as omega-3s. Hens that get to spend time in the sun also lay eggs that contain significantly more vitamin D.
At the end of the day, pastured eggs are probably the healthiest type of eggs you can buy. They are more nutritious, and the hens that laid them were allowed free access to the outside and ate a more natural diet.
If you can’t get pastured eggs, omega-3-enriched eggs are your second best choice. If you can’t get either pastured or omega-3 eggs, try to find eggs that are either free-range, cage-free or organic.
Nevertheless, even if that’s not an option, conventional eggs are still among the healthiest and most nutritious foods you can eat.