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Organic Eggs: Easy Greening

Organic Eggs: Easy Greening

I happen to really love eggs, love them. They are versatile, rich, delicious and uniquely nutritious. Eggs are the standard by which other proteins are measured. Egg protein has the right mix of essential amino acids that we need for tissue-building, and egg protein is said to be the highest quality food protein known, second only to mother’s milk.

Eggs provide 22 percent of the adult’s daily requirement of choline, an essential nutrient for brain and memory functions, and egg yolk is one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. Eggs offer carotene, calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, B6, folate, B12 and pantothenic acid, to name just a few of their important nutrients.

The Yolk
Although much of an egg’s protein is contained in the white, the rich flavor of eggs comes from the yolk, as does its fat, cholesterol, and most of the other important nutrients. An egg has 4.5 grams of fat, of which 1.5 grams is saturated fat and 2 grams are mono-unsaturated.

The color of the yolk depends on the diet of the hen. A diet rich in yellow-orange plant pigments called xanthophylls, will result in a brighter yolk. The blander in color the diet is, the lighter the yolks will be. A hen fed white cornmeal produces almost colorless yolks. Marigold petals are often fed to hens to produce brighter eggs, but artificial color additives are not permitted.

Cholesterol
Granted, eggs have had a bad rap in the cholesterol department. However, an increasing body of scientific research is showing that the real offender in raising blood cholesterol levels is actually saturated fat in food, not cholesterol in food. In fact, the American Heart Association has changed its guidelines on eggs to say that there is no longer a specific recommendation on the number of egg yolks a person may consume in a week. That said, as mentioned above, remember that one yolk contains 1.5 grams of saturated fat.

Brown Eggs
Some of us gravitate towards brown products because they seem less refined and more natural. In the case of the egg, it only denotes the breed of the hen. Shell color has no bearing on quality, flavor, nutrition value, cooking characteristics or shell thickness. Breeds with white feathers and ear lobes lay white eggs; breeds with red feathers and ear lobes lay brown eggs. (Who knew hens had earlobes?) The Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire and Plymouth Rock lay brown eggs (while the regal Araucana lays gorgeous pale blue eggs!).

Conventional Eggs
All of this nutrition and flavor, but factory farming gives me the major heebie-jeebies. Most conventional egg farms use confined, high-density, housing, and most laying hens are caged in houses of 40,000-100,000 birds. I won’t go into the details of cage space per bird, but let’s just say that I won’t be buying any conventional eggs. Ever. Many conventionally caged laying hens cannot engage in many of their natural behaviors, including perching, nesting, foraging or even spreading their wings.

Greener Eggs
On a chirpier note, the market for organic and free-roaming eggs is growing quickly, which means that more farms are transitioning to more humane production practices. Hurray for the hens! Almost all supermarkets are now offering some variation of eggs produced more sanely, and eggs from farmer’s markets are often truly free range. Here are what the labels mean:

  • Certified Organic
    Organic eggs are laid by hens fed with an all-vegetarian diet that has been grown without pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or commercial fertilizers. The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, and are required to have outdoor access, although the specifics of their outdoor time are not regulated. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing.

  • Certified Humane
    Eggs that bear Certified Humane labeling are from uncaged birds inside barns or warehouses, with no requirement for outdoor time. They must be able to engage in natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing, and stocking density and the number of perches and nesting boxes are regulated. Certified Humane comes from a program of Humane Farm Animal Care, and the label requires third-party compliance.

  • Free Range or Free Roaming
    The USDA has guidelines for free-range poultry, but the guidelines are less defined for egg production. Producers labeling eggs as free range or free roaming do not need to demonstrate to the USDA that the hens have been allowed access to the outside. True free-range eggs are produced by hens raised outdoors or that can go outside daily, typically they live uncaged inside barns or warehouses and can nest and forage. This label does not require third-party certification.

  • Cage-Free
    Most conventionally raised laying hens are kept in cages, while cage-free hens are kept, you guessed it, uncaged! (Although usually in barns or warehouses.) They are allowed to perform in natural behaviors however, the label does not guarantee that the bird had access to the outdoors. In addition, this term is not regulated by USDA, and the label does not require third-party certification.

  • Vegetarian-Fed
    These birds are given a more natural feed than that received by conventional laying hens, but this label alone says nothing about the animals’ living conditions.

The bottom line when selecting eggs, is to opt for organic and/or free-range if they are available. They have less antibiotic or hormone residue and have a higher omega-3 and vitamin E content. They are a better nutritional choice, have better flavor and are produced by farmers who generally support the use of renewable resources. And if all that’s not enough, at least consider the happiness of the hen!

Read more: Green, Basics, Diet & Nutrition, Eco-friendly tips, , ,

By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Care2 Green Living

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

35 comments

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1:25PM PDT on Mar 24, 2012

mam na szczęście dostęp do jaj od kur wolno chodzących, ich właściciel mówi: od radosnych kurek, zupełnie inaczej smakują niż te wolno chodzących

11:34PM PST on Mar 5, 2012

I was curious exactly what the AHA said about eggs so I looked it up. It was updated in November 2011 and did not sound like it was relaxing its guidelines by any means...:

From Common Misconceptions about Cholesterol (See link below):
"I recently read that eggs are not so bad for your cholesterol after all, so I guess I can go back to having my two eggs for breakfast every morning.

One egg contains about 213 milligrams of dietary cholesterol. The daily recommended cholesterol limit is less than 300 milligrams for people with normal LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. An egg can fit within heart-healthy guidelines for those people only if cholesterol from other sources — such as meats, poultry and dairy products — is limited. For example, eating one egg for breakfast, drinking two cups of coffee with one tablespoon of half-and-half each, lunching on four ounces of lean turkey breast without skin and one tablespoon of mayonnaise, and having a 6-ounce serving of broiled, short loin porterhouse steak for dinner would account for about 510 mg of dietary cholesterol that day — nearly twice the recommended limit. If you're going to eat an egg every morning, substitute vegetables for some of the meat, or drink your coffee without half-and-half in the example above. And remember that many other foods, especially baked goods, are prepared with eggs — and those eggs count toward your daily cholesterol limit. People with high LDL blood cholesterol levels or who are

4:22AM PDT on Jul 31, 2011

Thanks for the info.

3:27PM PDT on Aug 22, 2010

I buy only cage free, free roaming! Hope all farmers will adopt this method!

3:50PM PDT on Aug 21, 2010

My daughter & son-in-law have chickens & I get my eggs from them. They are free to roam during the day & penned up at night. They are so much tastier than the ones from the store.

2:53PM PDT on Aug 20, 2010

I truly enjoyed this article also, and I love eggs but have just about chosen to not buy eggs at all. I will keep an eye on the range-free eggs. And I prefer the red eggs. Thanks for the article. I would rather do without an egg than to see any bird of any king caged. That is so cruel. It takes a mean person to go into that kind of business.

7:16PM PDT on Aug 19, 2010

Who knew there were so many labels for eggs? It leaves my head spinning! How I miss the egg lady that delivered us fresh eggs as I was growing up!

3:58PM PDT on Aug 19, 2010

Thank you for such a well-written, informative article. I buy my eggs from a local farmer's market; if this is an option for you, I highly recommend it. Farmers are usually happy to share their hens' diet and living conditions with you if you ask. I've yet to meet a local farmer who doesn't have free-range hens.

The eggs cost a bit more than in the store (I pay $4 per dozen) and often aren't as uniform in size and color as store-bought eggs, but personally I find they taste better. I also like supporting local businesses, particularly small-scale agriculture. Plus it feels good knowing that my eggs weren't shipped halfway across the country, which means fresher eggs (and its great for my carbon footprint)!

3:49PM PDT on Aug 19, 2010

I loved spending time at my grandparents' farm where they raised chickens who ran freely outdoors and were bedded down in the hen house at night to keep them safe. I was so sickened & disgusted at the factory farm approach laid bare in the DVD Food, Inc. I cried for those poor birds. I only buy organic/free range eggs & they do come close to the ones I enjoyed in my childhood plus it sure feels a whole lot better knowing that the birds who produced them don't live in torturous conditions.

2:39PM PDT on Aug 19, 2010

Since I have been buying cage free/free range eggs , I never get a bad egg or a yolk that runs when you break the shell and put the egg into the pan. I now call the factory farmed eggs ,"slave eggs". In all my years of childhood, growing up with a backyard flock of chickens, who ran around outside all day doing what chickens like to do, then were locked securely in their chicken house at dusk, to keep them safe, I never heard of anyone getting sick from eggs. The chickens themselves were never sick either.
Thanks for the timely article, I am glad to read that the percentage of eggs with salmonella is so much lower in the organic/free range eggs than the factory farmed eggs.

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