If you’ve never eaten an egg from a hen raised on sunshine, bugs and grass, then you are in for quite a treat. Deep orange, gooey yolks stand up tall within their thick, milky whites unlike any store-bought egg you’ve ever seen.
Their color, flavor and texture are made distinctive by high amounts of Vitamin A, D, E, B-12, folate, riboflavin, zinc, calcium, beta carotene, choline, and tons of omega 3 fatty acids, including DHA, EPA, ALA, and AA. A pasture-raised egg is a true superfood.
Second only to the lactalbumin protein in human mother’s milk, eggs have the highest quality protein of any food. In addition to being an affordable, extremely dense source of nutrition, eggs can be prepared in a variety of tasty ways. This is especially true of a pasture-raised egg.
Mother Earth News conducted an egg testing project in 2007, and found that eggs produced by truly free-ranging hens were far superior to those produced by battery cage hens. The study involved 14 flocks across the United States whose eggs were tested by an accredited Portland, Oregon, laboratory.
They found that the benefits of pasture raised eggs include:
They also found that eggs from hens raised outdoors on pasture have from three to six times more vitamin D than eggs from hens raised in confinement. Pastured hens are exposed to direct sunlight, which their bodies convert to vitamin D and then pass on to their eggs. Eating just two of these eggs will give you from 63-126% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D!
Note that this benefit comes only from hens that are free to graze fresh greens, eat bugs, and bask in the sun. 99% of the eggs sold in the supermarket do not meet this criterion. Even though the label says that the eggs are “certified organic” or come from “cage free” or “free range” hens, or from hens fed an “all-vegetarian” diet (chickens are NOT vegetarians!), this is no guarantee that the hens had access to the outdoors or pasture—which makes all the difference.
In addition to the Mother Earth News research findings, there have been a number of other studies showing that pasture-raised eggs are healthier than those produced by confinement-raised hens. Findings include the following:
Long and Alterman (2007) attribute the dramatic differences in nutritional content to the fact that pasture-raised hens consume a more natural, omnivorous diet that includes seeds, worms, insects and green plants, and they get a lot of sunshine.
Factory farm birds—both conventional and organic—never get to see the outdoors, let alone get to forage for their natural diet. Instead they are fed the cheapest possible mixture of corn, soy and/or cottonseed meals, with all kinds of additives, including arsenic .
So for the best eggs you can get, look for eggs from “pasture-raised” hens that are only supplementally fed with organic grains. You are most likely to find these superior eggs at farmer’s markets or natural food stores. Better yet, purchase them directly from your local farmer, or raise a few chickens yourself. The benefits of pasture raised eggs can’t be beat!
In the end, all of this is just one more reminder that while certifications and labels may be useful tools, there is no substitute for having a real relationship with your local farmer(s) and knowing where your food comes from.