After studying Nutrition at Oregon State, and doing countless hours of research on my own, I feel pretty confident and comfortable with most things nutrition, health and wellness, and fitness related — especially when it comes to questions people have. But no matter how much I think I know, I am always learning something new. One thing in particular that really caught my attention was my lack of awareness in regards to certain proteins — eggs in particular.

I never realized how many “types” of eggs there were out there. Have you ever been shopping at the grocery store and seen the number of eggs they have on the shelves? It can be a little confusing, and even kind of intimidating – especially if you don’t have a particular “type” in mind. With so many choices, it is easy to get caught up in the labels when choosing which eggs to go with. But do you even know what those labels really mean?

I recently discovered that there are roughly 13 kinds of eggs! Can you believe it? … 13! To be fair, only about 4-5 of them are typically sold on supermarket shelves: Certified Organic, Cage-Free, Free-Range, Omega-Enhanced, and the most common, Natural.

The “Labels”

Certified Organic*: The birds are un-caged, inside barns, and are required to have outdoor access, but the amount, duration, and quality of outdoor access is undefined. They are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides. And their treatment and lifestyle is subject to the birds’ owners.

Cage-Free*: The definition for “cage-free” is quite literal: All it means is that the hens aren’t kept in cages. It doesn’t mean they’re treated well. They can still be cooped up in large industrial chicken houses with no room to walk around. And as the term implies, the hens laying eggs labeled as “cage-free” are un-caged, inside barns, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors.

Free-Range*: Although there is a defined the meaning of “free-range” for some poultry products, there are no standards for “free-range” eggs. Typically, free-range hens are un-caged inside barns and have some degree of outdoor access, but there are no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access.

Omega-3 Enriched: This label claim has no relevance to animal welfare.

Natural: This label claim has no relevance to animal welfare.

*The terms organic, free-range, and cage free have nothing to do with contamination, but that does not mean that the eggs will be salmonella-free. However, it may ensure the hen has a better life.

Which Egg Is The Best?

Some recent studies suggest the nutritional content of eggs from hens that forage daily on a grass range is superior to that of eggs produced by conventional means – aka Free-Range. These studies report higher levels of Omega 3 and Vitamins A and E, and lower levels of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and Omega 6.

So which egg do you choose? Go for farmer’s fresh eggs if possible. These will typically be found at the local farmers’ markets, and are fresher than the eggs found in the grocery stores. If you don’t have the option of farmer’s market eggs, in-store Free-Range is the next best. Although there are still some grey areas in the true conditions of all types of eggs, Free-Range will provide you with the highest quality overall.

Don’t get me wrong, eggs, no matter which you choose, are a great option. They provide vitamins, nutrients, and one of the highest amounts of non-animal protein. But if you want the best bang for your buck, and the best option for your nutrition, go with the freshest eggs you can, and look for Free-Range.

**Here are some tips to keep you in the clear when buying and preparing your eggs!

Egg Buying Tips:

  • Check eggs before buying to make sure there are no cracked or leaking eggs, which could transfer any bacteria that are present.
  • Immediately refrigerate eggs to 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below so if bacteria are present, they won’t multiply.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly so the white and yolk are firm, which kills salmonella.
  • Wash hands, utensils, and preparation surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water when handling and preparing eggs.
  • When buying fresh eggs from a local farmer’s market, ask whether they’ve been washed and refrigerated within 36 hours of being collected, which cuts the risk salmonella.

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