Pastured Eggs from Free-Range Chickens: Are They Healthier?
Eggs are a huge part of modern diets, but the ways we raise chickens has changed a lot over the past 100 years.
To be fair, egg consumption has probably been a big part of our diets as long as humans have been…well…human. Imagine carrying home a whopping 19-inch egg from the prehistoric dinosaur segnosaurus, who laid the biggest eggs we’ve ever seen! (Just kidding, of course – humans never existed anywhere near the same time as any yummy dinosaur eggs.)
Nowadays, egg consumption around the world is unfortunately dinosaur-free, so we’re left with what makes up the bulk of the world’s modern egg diet—quail eggs in Asia, ostrich eggs in Africa, and of course, chicken eggs pretty much everywhere else.
Among these eggs are a sometimes-overwhelming number of options—cage-free, organic, all-natural, free-range, and pastured, to name just a few.
So what good are pastured and free-range eggs anyway, and what makes them different from eggs that are farmed in the typical way?
How Chickens are Raised
1. Not surprisingly, pastured chickens are given pasture to roam around in. This is different from just “free-range,” where the chickens may be let out of their coop but just into a dirt enclosure where they can walk around. So there’s a pretty big difference, at least from an animal-welfare perspective between pastured and free-range.
2. Because pastured chickens are not restricted to dirt enclosures, they are free to wander in and consume grasses. This eliminates the processed food that most chickens are fed, which often includes leftover oil (like soybean oil from restaurants) and even, as the FDA admits, arsenic. (And we all know that pretty much anything that goes into the chicken eventually makes its way to humans through the eggs.)
3. In addition to a wide variety of grasses, pastured chickens are also free to consume their natural diet, which includes bugs, worms, seeds, and dirt. Because this is what they would eat in the wild, the chickens and the eggs they produce will be more nutritious.
Why Pastured Eggs are Healthier
1. Chickens that have access to their natural diets in a pasture produce eggs that are packed with beta-carotenes, which are responsible for the yellow color of the yolk. (This is why, if you have ever been to places like Eastern Europe where chickens are typically raised in the back yard, the yolks are very orange instead of yellow—more beta-carotene.) This helps you maintain a healthy weight and protects your skin from being damaged by the sun.
2. You can expect two times more omega-3 in pastured eggs, due largely to the higher amount of grasses in the diet of pastured chickens. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation throughout the body, thereby lowering the risk for inflammatory diseases like heart disease and asthma. Some research also suggests that omega-3s can reduce depression and help to protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia.
3. Pastured eggs have, on average, three times as much vitamin E as regular eggs. Vitamin E has antioxidant properties that prevent damage in your body, such as the destruction of vitamin A through oxidation reactions. Vitamin E also improves the health of cell membranes, and since cells make up every single part of our body, we need them to be healthy!
It’s pretty clear that eggs from pastured chickens are nutritionally superior to industrially-produced eggs.
As far as labels go, “pastured” makes a lot more difference than “free-range,” “cage-free,” or “organic.”
And apart from nutrition, pastured chickens tend to have better living conditions. (Note, however, that this is not universally true. The truth is that chickens are quite mean animals in a lot of ways, and if they’re pastured along with too many other chickens, they’ll live short and brutish lives.)
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