By Dr. Mercola
Egg production in the U.S. is pretty impressive: 50 billion eggs per year, but unfortunately that large number is achieved through the use of industrial agriculture, namely concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).1
About 70 percent of the eggs produced are sold as is, while the rest have their shells removed for conversion into both liquid and dried egg products, sometimes with just the whites (as the yolks have been touted as causing heart disease).
Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and California are the biggest producers, and the U.S. is the largest egg-producing country in the world.
Some people say brown eggs are better for you because they contain more nutrients. Others are convinced they're better for cooking fluffy things like quiches, while white eggs are better for baking cakes. Then there are those who believe just the opposite.
What's the real difference between brown eggs and white eggs? One expert says that there's no difference on the inside, nutrition-wise, whether the egg is brown or white (although the way the chickens are raised can change that).
Other Factors in Regard to Brown Versus White Eggs
Thickness of the shells is another visually related factor. Some shells are thick and protective and others are thinner.
Some scientists say that whether the egg is brown or white, the thickness is relatively the same and differences have more to do with the age of the chicken. Young chickens typically lay eggs with harder, thicker shells while the older set lay thinner-shelled eggs.
Here's one you probably didn't guess: Chickens that lay white eggs are generally white or light-colored, but the kicker is that they also have white earlobes. Brown eggs are most often laid by red-, brown- or otherwise dark-feathered hens, this time having red earlobes.
Simon Whistler, the face behind Today I Found Out, an informative YouTube site, explained:2
"This is not a universal truth, just a general rule. Further, the chickens' earlobes are really the indicator here, not the feathers, but there is a very strong correlation between earlobe color and feather color, so feather color can be a decent indicator, too.
Ultimately, egg color is determined by genetics, but the earlobe-feather-color thing is a good indicator …
In the end, red-lobed chickens tend to be larger than their white-lobed counterparts, which is why they eat more. The farmers need to get reimbursed for the extra feed somehow, so they up the price of brown eggs."
Chickens' Diet Differences Affect Taste, Yolk Color and Nutrition
Whistler maintains that if you took a brown-egg-laying chicken that was also brown and raised it on the typical white chicken diet, their eggs would taste identical and be indistinguishable from the other eggs aside from the color of the shell. If the diets are the same, the yolks will even be the same color.
Most CAFO-raised chickens, whether they lay brown or white eggs, are all getting fed the same thing, perhaps with a slight variance depending on who's running the operation.
If you've ever tasted eggs laid by a pasture-raised chicken, however, you already know there may be a difference in taste between those and cheap, white CAFO eggs with their anemic-looking yolks.
How do you know if the eggs you purchase are good for you? According to the George Mateljan Foundation, a not-for-profit healthy food site:
"Go beyond organic by asking for pasture-raised. Don't get sidetracked by the confusing array of labeling terms.
You are likely to find phrases like 'pasture-raised,' 'pastured,' 'free-range' and 'cage-free' on egg packaging, but labeling laws allow products to display these terms even if the egg-laying chickens spend little or no time outdoors in a pasture setting.
Talk to your grocer or the chicken producer and find out how the chickens were actually raised."
Why Do Most Stores Sell White Eggs?
That explains why, in some regions of the world, white eggs tend to be purchased most often. As previously explained, white-lobed chickens don't cost as much to raise. That makes their eggs less expensive, generally, and leads to the tendency of grocers to buy more white eggs. These, unfortunately, typically come from CAFOs.
As far as good nutrition, it has everything to do with the chicken's diet. Differences in the hen's diet, as well as the way it's raised, will affect the taste of the eggs, the nutrition and even the color of the yolk.
As a matter of fact, eggs from CAFO chickens are not good for you, and in fact are very bad, for a number of reasons. First, they're crowded into unbelievably unsanitary conditions, and some are so packed in with other chickens that their feet barely touch the ground.
They're also a breeding ground for disease. These chickens are usually fed genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans instead of their natural diet of green plants, seeds, insects and worms.
This fosters disease, and processing byproducts such as chicken feathers and other animal parts may be regularly added to the feed. To prevent the spread of disease, they're routinely fed antibiotics (although hormones are no longer permitted in American-raised chickens).
How Chickens Are Raised Determines How Healthy Their Eggs Are
The question of whether there's a difference nutritionally between eggs from CAFO-raised chickens fed GE grain supplemented with vitamins and possibly treated with antibiotics, aka, your standard supermarket eggs, or organic, pastured eggs is an important one.
Too often it's believed that there's little difference in nutritional quality. This is patently untrue. It must be noted that while most eggs sold commercially are white and come from white chickens, brown eggs laid by brown chickens are most often found at home-grown operations, Whistler says.
In fact, you can tell if your eggs are free-range or pastured by the color of the egg yolk. Hens allowed to forage in the pasture produce eggs with bright orange yolks. Small, pale yellow yolks are a dead giveaway your eggs are from caged hens that are not allowed to forage for their natural diet.
Truth or Myth: When Your Doctor Advises Against Eating Eggs
Doctors may allow egg consumption in their meal recommendations, but they sometimes still warn their patients to use caution because eggs (they say) contain high amounts of cholesterol and may increase your heart disease incidence. However, the George Mateljan Foundation notes:
"Interestingly, several recent large-scale diet studies suggest that the cholesterol content of an egg may be less of a concern in relationship to heart disease than previously thought. In these studies, no increased risk of either heart attack or stroke was shown with intake of one to six eggs per week.
Equally interesting was the link between egg intake and increased levels of HDL cholesterol (the 'good' cholesterol) in participants. Not only did egg intake increase the number of HDL molecules, it also improved their composition and allowed them to function more effectively."3
It's finally becoming common knowledge that dietary cholesterol from natural sources poses no threat to your health and is actually good for you. In fact, the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines have even removed the cholesterol limit and added egg yolks to the list of recommended protein sources.
With all the focus on keeping their patients from consuming too much cholesterol, many doctors forgot that eggs are an abundant source of vitamins, protein and antioxidants that many Americans are lacking, which is damaging to their health.
An estimated 90 percent of the U.S. population may be deficient in choline, a B vitamin known for its role in brain development and memory that's linked to low levels. Deficiency symptoms include cognitive problems, low energy and brain fog, but a single egg yolk contains nearly 215 milligrams (mg) of choline.
If you live in an area where you can get the pastured kind, go for it, even if you have to drive a few miles, because the nutrition is worth it. Or, find a local health food store to find a high-quality local egg source. For more egg information about the healthiest eggs, from nutrition to how to tell if they're really fresh, see Everything You Need To Know About Eggs.