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What’s in the Shell: free-range, organic vs. conventional eggs

Health differences between conventionally produced foods and their organic counterparts seem to become more evident and profound the more we study and compare them. Not only does organically produced food have a greater nutritional content across the board, but also contains far less harmful toxins. It’s also much more humane to the animals involved and gentler on the land used in farming. The one and only drawback of organic food remains the price. Organic food is far more costly to produce due to slower (natural) growth rates and less production per unit of land or per animal. As the benefits of organic foods continue to make themselves abundantly clear and consumer demand shifts towards organic foods, expect the price difference to shrink exponentially over time. As scale increases due to an increase in consumer demand, organic farming practices will improve and hopefully at some point, the government will begin to shift farm subsidies from mass production of cheap and unhealthy food ingredients to organically produced foods. At this point we will begin to see a seismic improvement in our overall health and health care costs will nosedive, but I digress. Nowhere is the difference between organic and conventional more pronounced than the standard chicken egg.

A dozen conventional eggs at a discount retailer costs about $1.39. Whereas, a dozen organic, free-range eggs often approaches $5.00 or more; 3-4 times as much. So, why would anyone spend this much more money on something which is essentially the same thing? For one, true organic free-range eggs (the chickens that lay them anyway) live great lives. They are free to roam about, eat a healthy diet and do not suffer harsh conditions and extreme confinement. Keep in mind; however, that the government definition of “free range” has loop holes that allow some growers to just let their birds out of the cage once a day onto a concrete yard to meet these criteria, however that is not truly free-range. With that said, conventionally raised chickens are confined to a cage just big enough for their body their entire life and fed a diet of chemical and hormone filled feed to optimize egg size and frequency and nothing else. Secondly are the profound nutritional differences between organic, free-range and conventional eggs:

  • Vitamin D – Organic, free-range eggs have 4 to 6x the amount of vitamin D due to the birds’ ability to spend time outside in the sun and develop vitamin D.

  • Cholesterol – Organic, free-range eggs have 33% less cholesterol. Not only that, but with the cholesterol they do have, the ratio of HDL (good cholesterol) to LDL (bad cholesterol) is far superior to that of conventional eggs.

  • Saturated fat – Organic, free-range has 25% less unhealthy saturated fat

  • Vitamin A and E – Organic, free-range eggs have 65% more vitamin A and 300% more vitamin E

  • Omega3 Fatty acids – Organic, free-range eggs have 2 times (and sometimes far more) omega3 fatty acids

  • Beta-carotene – Organic, free range eggs have 700% more beta-carotene. This difference is why organic egg yolks are so much darker and richer as they get color from the carotenes and other fat-soluble vitamins, whereas conventional egg yolks lack that dark color from a deficiency in these nutrients

  • Lutein and zeaxanthin – Organic, free range eggs are rich in these two antioxidant powerhouses. Conventionally raised eggs have virtually none.

Thirdly, organic, free-range eggs overall have far less toxic contaminants such as PCB’s and are far less likely to contain salmonella as conventional eggs. While eating eggs once doesn’t expose you to much risk, eating conventional eggs regularly over time can expose you to dangerous levels of PCB’s and other toxins.

Rich in a plethora of vitamins, protein, healthy fats and more, free-range organic eggs are a great way to get and stay healthy. Unfortunately, they are expensive. Their cheap, conventionally raised counterparts are light years away as far as nutrition and health benefits. So much so in fact, that a meal of a few organic free-range eggs is actually a very healthy meal. It has high quality protein, healthy fats, and loads of vitamins and nutrients. On the other hand, conventionally produced eggs simply are not that healthy. The vitamins and nutrients are basically gone and the types of fats are far inferior. Unfortunately, conventional eggs remain the only affordable choice for many people. As the public becomes more and more educated on the benefits of organic foods we can expect a gradual shift to more organic farming and prices will in turn decline. In the meantime, finances permitting, opt for free-range organic eggs, as you get what you pay for.

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