guide to buying eggs
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An Eggucation: Your Guide to Buying Eggs

What is the difference between cage free, pasture raised, organic and free range? Our guide to buying eggs breaks it down for you.

By Rebecca Treon

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You’d think that buying eggs would be easy. But with all the confusing terms and misleading information, navigating the egg aisle can be overwhelming. Make the smartest choice with our guide to buying eggs.

Cracking the Code: Eggs Are Healthy for You

Eggs have been controversial in recent decades, with trends leaning toward avoiding consumption altogether or eating only the egg whites. “Eggs are part of a balanced diet,” says Janelle de Buzna, R.D.N., of Scottsdale, Ariz. “The vitamins and nutrients in eggs are important for your health, from gut health to brain function.”

Some Good News About Eggs

They contain choline. Ninety percent of U.S. adults, pregnant women and children are lacking in choline, which supports cell structure and nervous system function. One large egg contains 147 mg. Daily recommended adequate intake is 425 mg for women, 450 mg for pregnant women and 550 mg for men.

Eggs are a complete protein. Eggs contain an adequate proportion of each of the nine essential amino acids necessary in the human diet. Other complete proteins include red meat, poultry, fish, cheese, soy and quinoa.

They do not negatively affect your cholesterol. Studies show that cholesterol in eggs has almost no effect on your blood cholesterol levels, which are more influenced by any saturated and trans fats you consume. “HDL reduces inflammation and keeps everything moving in the bloodstream. LDL is important because it delivers important nutrients to each cell,” says de Buzna. “LDL often gets a bad rap, but the body still needs it in moderation. In eggs, the LDL is in the yolk—but so are the nutrients—egg whites house most of the protein.”

They promote weight management & satiety. In several clinical trials with men and women consuming either eggs or a bagel for breakfast, participants reported less hunger, more satiety, lowered body mass index, weight loss and higher energy levels from eating eggs.

Did you know? If you can’t tell which eggs in the fridge are hard-boiled, try spinning them. Raw eggs wobble as the liquid inside shifts, but hard-boiled eggs will spin smoothly.

Pasture-Raised? Cage-Free? Organic? What Does It All Mean?

With so many options—how can we know what we’re buying and why? Over the past 60 years, eggs have come a long way from fresh ones raised on a nearby farm to those from countless industrial, factory-farm operations. Egg-carton vocabulary has evolved and expanded too, so here we offer a breakdown of what the array of terms mean.


The least-expensive choice, these eggs don’t mention farming practices on their labels. And there’s a reason why. Typically, four hens share a 1-square-foot battery cage in barns housing thousands of birds with no ability to roam. Cramped living conditions encourage injury and infection; hens may be given antibiotics to increase production. Molting (or shedding feathers, which causes a new production cycle) can be forced by withholding food or water. Feed is unregulated and is often supplemented with animal by-products.


Hens are fed a diet that is USDA Certified Organic, meaning it’s free of toxic synthetic pesticides, antibiotics and GMOs. Molting must occur naturally, but the organic egg standards do not include many welfare provisions.

Cage Free

Chickens producing cage-free eggs are raised in a cage-free environment are not confined to cages, but are still housed in barns (they are required to have 1 square foot of space each) with thousands of birds and often have little to no exposure to sunlight. They may eat the same feed as conventional hens and may be given antibiotics, or they may be given healthier feed depending on the farm.

Free Range

Most small family farms, such as Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs in New Hampshire, ensure that hens have space to roam outdoors, thereby producing free-range eggs.

“We believe that all hens should be raised in a way that allows them to engage in the behaviors that come naturally to them, such as foraging in the grass, scratching around in the dirt, and enjoying fresh air and sunshine,” says Jesse Laflamme, CEO of Pete and Gerry’s. Space standards are the same as cage-free, but free-range chickens are guaranteed access to the outdoors, even if that means a fenced-in concrete slab—a loophole that larger operations often abuse. Free-range hen feed cannot contain antibiotics.

Pasture Raised

These birds are living a bucolic life. With flocks of only a few thousand and access to more than 108 square feet per bird, hens are given several acres to roam, scratch, dust-bathe and do chicken-y things. Pastures are rotated as needed and regrow naturally. Because hens are not confined or stressed, they produce an egg that’s superior in flavor and nutrition.

“This is really what egg farming used to be like 100 years ago,” says Dan Brooks, director of brand design and communications at Vital Farms, which sells organic and pasture-raised eggs. “And it’s what it should look like today.”

Certified Humane

This label isn’t managed by the government, but rather a nonprofit that uses consumers’ good conscience to drive more-humane farming practices.

“Certified Humane is the most highly respected third-party animal welfare standard in the world, with rigorous annual audits and unannounced inspections of farms. So, when a consumer sees the Certified Humane seal, they can rest assured that the hens have the highest quality of life possible,” says Laflamme.

Nutrient Enhanced

Hens are fed a nutritionally enhanced vegetarian feed. “At Eggland’s Best, we know that consumers are looking for fresh, nutritious, better-tasting eggs, so it’s important that our hens are eating a nutritious diet,” says David Holdsworth, vice president of marketing at Eggland’s Best vegetarian-fed eggs. “We feed them a proprietary high-nutrition formula of good grains like rice bran and alfalfa, plus canola oil, sea kelp and vitamin E, without any recycled or processed ingredients, or hormones or antibiotics.”

Egg Nutrition Facts

  • 57% of egg protein is found in the egg white.
  • The majority of an egg’s nutrients are found in the yolk.
  • 1 Large Egg Contains: 70 calories  |  5 grams fat | 6 grams protein

Plus varying amounts of 13 vitamins and minerals, including choline, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B12
and vitamin D

Some Brands to Look for in the Egg Aisle:

Vital Farms

Pete and Gerry’s

Simple Truth

Eggland’s Best

Organic Valley

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