Each Friday, we share five things that are getting buzz around the Cooking Light offices—from what we’re reading around the Web, to what’s hot on Instagram, or even our latest favorite ingredient.
This week, we’re looking at five common nutrition claims on egg cartons and what they really mean. What’s the difference between the $1.89 store-brand eggs and the $5 organic? A lot, actually, and we’re not just talking dollars and cents.
Omega-3 fortified eggs come from hens fed a diet supplemented with omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods (often flaxseed). This claim doesn’t reveal anything about the living conditions of the hens. Also: You shouldn’t skip the yolks if you’re eating omega-3 fortified eggs. That’s where all the good fats are stored.
Hens fed vegetarian diets lay vegetarian eggs. These eggs have become more widely available as consumers have become more concerned about the possible negative effects of chickens eating diets with animal by-products. Vegetarian eggs are sought out by ovo-vegetarians especially. Like the omega-3 label, the vegetarian label does not indicate how the hens are raised.
Per USDA requirements, eggs labeled natural must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. The all-natural label does not indicate how the hens were raised.
Caged hens spend their lives inside small, often cramped cages. Cage-free or free run eggs come from hens allowed to move freely within a building, room, or enclosed area. They have unlimited access to food and fresh water. However, cage-free hens do not have access to outdoor areas.
Free-range hens are allowed to move freely within a sheltered room or building and also have unlimited access to fresh water and food. Unlike cage-free hens, free-range hens are allowed continuous access to the outdoors. (The outdoor area may be fenced or covered.) The free-range label is regulated by the USDA.
Both cage-free and free-range hens may be provided with perches and bedding, too.
In order for eggs to be labeled “organic,” the USDA requires that hen houses meet specific animal health and welfare standards. These standards require specific minimum space requirements and that the hens have access to fresh food, water, nest boxes, perches, bedding, and the outdoors. Organic eggs come from hens who are not given growth hormones or antibiotics and who eat organic feed.
Bonus: Find out if brown eggs are more nutritious than white.
For more information about egg labels, read the egg-buying guide from the World Society for the Protection of Animals. They encourage consumers to learn more about eggs, how the hens are raised, and pledge to go cage-free. Happy hens make happy eggs!