Employee Wellness: Egg Buying 101: Everything You Need to Know
Deciding what eggs to buy at the grocery store can be very overwhelming with the endless amount of marketing and health claims everywhere you look. Many of these claims sound nice but are often far from the truth and are used to raise prices. Let’s break down each of these claims so you can make an informed decision on which eggs you should actually purchase.
Brown vs White Eggs
Brown eggs are often given a “halo of health” because they are perceived as more natural and healthier by consumers. However, white and brown eggs have the exact same nutritional content, the only difference is the type of hen each egg comes from. Brown eggs are produced by hens that have red feathers and red earlobes, while white eggs come from hens with white feathers and earlobes. Even though the eggs are exactly the same on the inside, consumers are willing to pay more for brown eggs because of their color.
Caged vs Cage-free Eggs
Caged means that the hens are confined to 67-square inch cage for their entire lives. Eggs that are produced by caged hens account for about 90% of the U.S. egg supply. These hens will eat a soy or corn-based diet. If the egg carton does not specify how the hens live (i.e., free-range, cage-free), the eggs are likely from caged hens.
Although the term cage-free may sound like a better option, the environment is not much different from caged hens. This is a term regulated by the USDA and allows 1 square foot for each hen. Cage-free hens are also fed a soy or corn-based diet. They must be able to roam freely within the barn, but this does not mean the hens have much room or access to outdoor space.
Free-range vs Pasture-raised Eggs
Hens that are raised as free-range are required to have access to the outdoors, but do not go outside often. These hens are usually given a small, enclosed area attached to the barn, like a balcony or patio. This is another term regulated by the USDA and requires each hen to have 2 square feet of space. Like caged and cage-free hens, free-range hens are also fed a soy or corn-based diet.
Pasture-raised hens are required to have at least 108 square feet of outdoor space with indoor barn access. This is not a term regulated by the USDA, but sometimes is certified through a third party. Hens that are pasture-raised eat a balanced diet consisting of worms, bugs, and grass with supplemental feed. These eggs are typically more expensive than other eggs due to the increased labor costs.
Organic eggs come from hens who are fed an organic diet. An organic diet is classified as one that is not genetically modified and is grown without the use of chemicals. Hens who are classified as organic are required to have some access to outdoor space, meaning that all organic hens are free-range. Additionally, organic hens cannot receive any hormones or antibiotics.
There is a lot of terminology to remember when it comes to making an informed decision on what eggs to purchase. Remember that the nutritional content of the eggs does not vary, but the way the hens are raised does. Staying up-to-date and informed on what these claims mean can help save a lot of money and time, and support farming practices you’re aligned with.
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Written by: Skyler Blevins, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern