By Dr. Mercola
The definitions of "free-range" are such that the commercial egg industry can run industrial farm egg laying facilities and still call them "free-range" eggs, despite the fact that the birds' foraging conditions are far from what you'd call natural.
True free-range eggs are from hens that roam freely outdoors on a pasture where they can forage for their natural diet, which includes seeds, green plants, insects, and worms.
Large commercial egg facilities typically house tens of thousands of hens and can even go up to hundreds of thousands of hens.
Obviously they cannot allow all of them to forage freely.
These confined animal feeding operations, also known as CAFO's, are where the vast majority of commercially available eggs come from.
But while flimsy definitions of "free range" allow such facilities to sell their products as free range, please beware that a hen that is let outside into a barren lot for mere minutes a day, and is fed a diet of corn, soy, cottonseed meals and synthetic additives is NOT a free-range hen, and simply will not produce the same quality eggs as its foraging counterpart...
Free Range Eggs are More Nutritious
Mother Earth News' 2007 egg testing project clearly demonstrated the nutritional differences between eggs from free-range pastured hens and commercially farmed hens. This difference is not an occasional fluke—it's the natural and inevitable result of the diet of the hen laying the egg. Compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:
✓ 1/3 less cholesterol
✓ 2/3 more vitamin A
✓ 3 times more vitamin E
✓ 1/4 less saturated fat
✓ 2 times more omega-3 fats
✓ 7 times more beta carotene
Where and How to Find High Quality Free Range Eggs
Your best source for fresh eggs is a local farmer that allows his hens to forage freely outdoors. If you live in an urban area, visiting a local health food store is typically the quickest route to finding high-quality local egg sources. Your local farmers market is another source for fresh free range eggs, and is a great way to meet the people who produce your food. With face-to-face contact, you can get your questions answered and know exactly what you're buying. Better yet, visit the farm and ask for a tour. Most will be eager to show off their operation, as long as they've got nothing to hide. Your egg farmer should be paying attention to proper nutrition, clean water, adequate housing space, and good ventilation to reduce stress on the hens and support their immunity.
Cornucopia.org offers a helpful organic egg scorecard that rates egg manufacturers based on 22 criteria that are important for organic consumers. According to Cornucopia, their report "showcases ethical family farms, and their brands, and exposes factory farm producers and brands in grocery store coolers that threaten to take over organic livestock agriculture."
Besides that, you can tell the eggs are free range by the color of the egg yolk. Foraged hens produce eggs with bright orange yolks. Dull, pale yellow yolks are a sure sign you're getting eggs form caged hens that are not allowed to forage for their natural diet.
How to Eat Your Eggs for Maximum Health Benefits
The CDC and other public health organizations will advise you to thoroughly cook your eggs to lower the risk of salmonella, but eating eggs RAW is actually the best in terms of your health. While this may sound like a scary proposition for many, it's important to realize that salmonella risk comes from chickens raised in unsanitary conditions. These conditions are the norm for CAFO's, but are extremely rare for small organic farms. In fact, one study by the British government found that 23 percent of farms with caged hens tested positive for salmonella, compared to just over 4 percent in organic flocks and 6.5 percent in free-range flocks.
So, as long as you're getting fresh pastured eggs, your risk of getting ill from a raw egg is quite slim. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, of the 69 billion eggs produced annually in the United States, some 2.3 million are contaminated with Salmonella—equivalent to just one in every 30,000 eggs1.
While eggs are often one of your most allergenic foods, I believe this is because they are typically cooked too much. Heating the egg protein actually changes its chemical shape, and this distortion can easily lead to allergies. If you consume your eggs in their raw state, the incidence of egg allergy virtually disappears. I also believe eating eggs raw helps preserve many of the highly perishable nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are powerful prevention elements for age-related macular degeneration, which is the most common cause of blindness.
Fresh raw egg yolk actually tastes like vanilla, in my opinion. The egg white is usually what most people object to when they say they don't like the texture of raw egg. If this is an issue, consider discarding the egg white, or simply blend the whole raw egg into a shake or smoothie. Personally, I eat just the raw egg yolks—I have four nearly every morning. I remove the whites because it's just too much protein for my challenged kidneys. Beware of consuming raw egg whites without the yolks as raw egg whites contain avidin, which can bind to biotin. If you cook the egg white the avidin is not an issue. Likewise, if you consume the whole raw egg (both yolk and egg white) there is more than enough biotin in the yolk to compensate for the avidin binding.
If you choose not to eat your eggs (or just egg yolk) raw, soft-boiled would be your next best option. Scrambling your eggs is one of the worst ways to eat eggs as it actually oxidizes the cholesterol in the egg yolk. If you have high cholesterol this may actually be a problem for you as the oxidized cholesterol may cause some damage in your body.
Cautionary Note for Pregnant Women
Please beware there's a potential problem with consuming the entire raw egg if you are pregnant. Biotin deficiency is a common concern in pregnancy and it is possible that consuming whole raw eggs might make it worse. If you are pregnant you have two options:
- Measure for biotin deficiency. This is best done through urinary excretion of 3-hydroxyisovaleric acid (3-HIA), which increases as a result of the decreased activity of the biotin-dependent enzyme methylcrotonyl-CoA carboxylase
- Alternatively, take a biotin supplement, or consume only the yolk raw (and cook the whites)
Eggs Won't Harm Your Heart
There is a major misconception that you must avoid foods like eggs and saturated fat to protect your heart. While it's true that fats from animal sources contain cholesterol, this is not necessarily a health hazard. As I've discussed on many occasions, your body actually requires cholesterol, and artificially driving your cholesterol levels down is nearly always doing far more harm than good. Every cell in your body needs cholesterol. It helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help you to digest fat. Cholesterol also helps in the formation of memories and is vital for your neurological function. In other words, dietary cholesterol is your friend, not your enemy.
Besides, numerous studies support the conclusion that eggs have virtually nothing to do with raising your cholesterol anyway. For instance, research published in the International Journal of Cardiology showed that, in healthy adults, eating eggs daily did not produce a negative effect on endothelial function, an aggregate measure of cardiac risk, nor an increase in cholesterol levels.