How to buy the best and healthiest eggs possible

Eggs are among the most nutritious foods you can eat, providing protein and essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, B12 and selenium. Eggs are not only packed with nutrition, but they are also versatile and easy to make, making them a staple in many people’s diets.

Although eggs can be a healthy choice, shopping for them can be confusing, due to the multiple labels found on egg cartons. It is important to understand what these labels mean, as they convey information about how the animals are treated, as well as the nutritional content of the eggs inside the carton.

Here’s what you need to know about egg types, including information on common egg carton labels and how to choose nutritious, humanely raised eggs.

If you care about animal welfare and the environment, buying pasture-raised eggs is the best option. Eggs with the pasture-raised seal come from hens that spend at least six hours outdoors on pasture a day, with each hen having at least 108 square feet of pasture to roam.

Studies show that eggs from pasture-raised eggs are generally more nutritious than conventional eggs, with pasture-raised eggs providing more omega-3, vitamin A, vitamin E, carotenoid antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids.

Grass-fed chickens are also better for the environment, as this practice supports soil quality and ecosystem health.Note that “pastured-raised” is not a term regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), so it’s best to buy pasture-raised eggs that also come with an animal welfare certification, such as Certified Humane Raised and Handled, which establishes strict animal welfare requirements.

This USDA-regulated term means the hens are raised without cages and are allowed to engage in natural behaviors such as scratching and laying. However, this does not mean that the chickens have access to the outside. Eggs labeled “cage-free” must come from hens that were allowed to roam both vertically and horizontally in the indoor housing.

Cage-free systems vary, but many farms raise chickens in crowded conditions in indoor environments without windows. Today, cage-free hens make up about 38% of the laying flock in the United States, and their popularity is increasing as more people demand better living conditions for laying hens.

Free range is another term regulated by the USDA that requires laying hens to have continuous access to outdoor space during their laying cycle. Each hen should have a minimum of 2 square feet of range area. However, the USDA does not specify the amount of time or the type of outdoor access. Free-range chickens must have protection from predators and adequate housing that promotes animal welfare.

This is a USDA regulated label that requires laying hens to be fed 100% certified organic feed. Treatment with antibiotics or growth hormones is also prohibited in organic laying hens and must be free-range.

Although many of these labels require laying hens to be raised in conditions that improve the quality of their lives, most laying hens in the US are raised in abysmal conditions. Although the number of cage-free laying hens grows each year, nearly 71% of all eggs produced in the US come from hens raised in conventional cage systems.

Hens raised in these systems live their entire lives confined to cages so small that they cannot turn around and engage in natural behaviors such as spreading their wings and scratching.

Not only do these conditions affect the health and quality of life of laying hens, but studies show that eggs from hens raised in conventional cage systems produce the lowest quality eggs according to industry and consumer preferences, including eggs with a weak shell and a pale yolk color. .

The USDA has mandatory requirements for egg safety and health, but USDA egg grading, which is a system that checks the quality and size of eggs, is voluntary.

Eggs that carry an egg grade have been graded under the supervision of a USDA egg grader. During this process, eggs are assessed using methods such as automatic candling or mass electronic scanning to determine their grade, which ranges from AA to B.

Eggs are graded based on several factors, including shell cleanliness, yolk defects, blood stains, and uneven shells.

Here’s what USDA egg grades mean:

  • USDA Grade AA: This classification indicates the highest quality eggs, such as those with clean, unbroken shells and firm, round yolks.
  • USDA Grade A: This rating indicates very high quality eggs, including those with clean shells and reasonably thick whites.
  • USDA Grade B: Grade B eggs indicate lower quality eggs that have defects. These eggs are typically used for liquid egg products.

In addition, the eggs are weighed during processing and separated into weight classes. Here are the six US egg weight classes based on minimum net weight per dozen eggs:

  • Jumbo: 30 ounces (oz)
  • Extra Large: 27 oz
  • large: 24 oz
  • Medium: 21 oz
  • Small: 18 oz
  • Smallness: 15 oz

Large eggs are the most common type sold in grocery stores.

In addition to the labels and ratings mentioned above, there are a few more certifications and labels to look out for when buying eggs.

  • Certified Human: Eggs bearing this certification must meet Certified Humane standards. These rules prohibit the use of all cages and require sufficient freedom of movement, perches, quality feed and more. Note that this certification does not require the hens to have access to the outdoors.
  • HFAC Certified Human Pasture: Eggs bearing this label come from hens raised in an environment that allows at least 2.5 acres of pasture for every 1,000 birds, which equates to 108 square feet per bird. They also meet other animal welfare requirements.
  • Animal welfare certificate: This certification, which is a program of the non-profit Global Animal Partnership, has different certification levels ranging from one to five. Level one requires no access to outdoor space, while level five requires continuous outdoor living in pastures.

These certifications are voluntary and are verified annually by their respective organizations.

You’ll also see labels related to the feed the chickens are getting. For example, omega-3-enriched eggs come from hens fed omega-3-enriched feed. These eggs are higher in omega-3 compared to hens fed conventional feed. Studies show that omega-3-enriched eggs can contain up to five times more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional eggs.

Eggs can also be fortified with vitamin D, an essential nutrient for immune function, bone health and more. Eggs from hens fed vitamin D-enriched feed can contain up to 78% more vitamin D compared to eggs from hens fed conventional feed.

Like chicken eggs, the USDA inspects eggs from other types of domesticated birds, such as ducks, turkeys, and geese.

The Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA), which was passed in 1970, was created to protect consumers by inspecting eggs sold in the US. The inspection process ensures that the eggs are not adulterated and that the eggs are properly labeled and packaged so that they are safe for consumers to eat.

Like chicken eggs, egg producers of other domesticated birds can grade their eggs, which is voluntary.

While all eggs provide important nutrients, choosing certain eggs can support animal welfare and increase your chances of buying the healthiest eggs.

For example, studies show that eggs from pasture-raised chickens have more nutrients compared to conventional eggs. Pasture-raised eggs are generally more concentrated in vitamin A, vitamin D, omega-3 fats, and carotenoid antioxidants than conventional eggs, making them a healthier choice.

Not only that, but chickens raised on pasture have much better living conditions and a significantly higher quality of life compared to chickens raised in conventional cage systems.

While most people buy eggs from grocery stores, you can also buy your eggs from local farms that use humane practices and raise their chickens on pasture, which produce more nutritious eggs.

If you don’t want to spend the extra money to buy pasture-raised eggs, consider choosing eggs from companies that use humane practices and those that carry labels like Humane Certified or Animal Welfare Certified.

Eggs are nutritious, easy to prepare and versatile, which is why they are one of the most popular sources of protein in the world. However, eggs come with a number of labels, which can be confusing when trying to narrow down the most nutritious product.

Although all eggs provide important nutrients, some types of eggs, such as those from pasture-raised hens, contain higher levels of certain vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. In addition, some certifications ensure that laying hens are treated humanely and raised in healthier environments.

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