Confused about which eggs to choose? Dietitian Zoe Wilson has the latest – so you don’t need to get your feathers ruffled!
Choosing the right eggs can feel like, well, stepping on eggshells. You’ve probably heard horror stories about inhumane chook farming, or hens being pumped with hormones – and you want to make a humane and healthy choice. But even then, there are so many different symbols on the pack! So, what’s really better? Cage-free or barn-raised? And what about organic eggs? Or, eggs from hens that were fed a vegetarian diet? Then you look at the cost and no wonder you feel like your brain is scrambled!
Nutritionally, there’s no scientific evidence that shows eggs from one particular kind of farming are more nutritious. The only type that offers higher health benefits are omega-3 eggs, which come from hens that are fed a diet high in omega-3 rich seeds. They have almost twice the long-chain omega-3 fats as a regular egg. Two eggs will therefore give you all the long-chain omega-3 fats you need in your day.
Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse (see ‘A good egg!’, below). They get the Heart Foundation Tick of approval because they are low in saturated fat, salt and kilojoules. Research has now debunked the old theory that eggs are bad for your cholesterol and the Heart Foundation says eating up to six eggs a week should pose no threat to your cholesterol levels.
So, which eggs to choose? Some people have a taste preference (who can go past an egg laid fresh that morning from a farmhouse hen?).
Some swear the taste of free range eggs is superior, while others can’t taste any difference. A survey commissioned by the Australian Egg Corp actually found without packaging guidance, people couldn’t distinguish between a free-range, barn-laid or cage egg.
How do I know my eggs come from ‘happy’ hens?
The biggest distinguishing factor in your choice of which egg to buy is a moral or ethical decision. You need to weigh this up against how much you’re prepared to pay, as eggs can range from a couple of dollars a dozen to as much as $10.
Here’s a broad overview of what the farming styles mean. Regardless of the type of farm, all farms must comply with the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, which is the minimum standard for welfare.
Cage eggs come from hens that are housed in small cages in a barn or shed. They don’t see natural daylight. The minimum space allocated for each bird is roughly an A4-sized area. Overseas, caged hens were banned last year by the European Union and here, some suppliers are phasing them out. These are the cheapest eggs to produce and to buy.
You will probably see the term ‘cage-free’ on a variety of eggs. Cage-free eggs can be either barn-laid or free range eggs (which are quite different, see below). However, most of the time, eggs marketed as ‘cage-free’ will be barn-laid.
Barn-laid hens are raised indoors, but are not kept in cages. ‘Barn laid’ hens must have some mobility with nest boxes. If you want to make a better welfare choice for barn laid eggs, look for the RSPCA Approved logo. This means the farm complies with the Model Code, plus additional welfare criteria – such as the hens having perching facilities, as well as litter on the floor that allows for scratching and dust bathing.
This means the hens have access to natural daylight. It can be more problematic to farm as hens get exposed to more disease, parasites and predators. This is why these eggs are more expensive than cage eggs or barn-laid. A free-range stamp without any kind of certificate means no independent authority has confirmed the manufacturer’s claim. If you’re paying the free range price, look for one of the following stamps of approval.
The RSPCA Approved and the Free Range Egg and Poultry Association (FREPA) logos have two of the highest welfare standards. The hens from these farms have the most space, quality outside grounds and access to daylight.
The Egg Corp Assured logo guarantees the farms comply to the Model Code for free-range and are allowed outdoors for at least eight hours a day.
These come from hens that are free range and are fed a certified organic diet with no synthetic chemicals, fertilisers or genetically modified organisms used. The Australian Certified Organic logo is a sign you’re making a good organic choice.
This is a term without regulation. It’s better to choose a cage-free variety that’s been independently authorised.
Myth busted: Eggs are packed with hormones
So, heard the one about the hormone-inflated chicken? Almost 80 per cent of us believe hens are pumped with growth hormones, according to a study by the Australian Food and Grocery Council.
In fact, hormones were outlawed back in the 1950s. Antibiotics may still be used when a bird is ill, but the bird is quarantined and their eggs are banned from sale. Don’t be misled into paying extra for eggs labelled hormone- or antibiotic-free (they all are).
What’s that red spot on the yolk?
Nothing to worry about, it’s caused by a broken blood vessel on the yolk’s surface during the egg’s formation. This spot usually disappears with age – so it’s actually a good sign the egg is very fresh.
Why is one yolk brighter than another?
It’s the antioxidant carotenoid, which has a yellow/red pigment. Some producers may add extra carotenoids to their hen’s diet to ensure a consistency of colour in their eggs.
A good egg!
You’ll find all of this goodness housed in one little shell.
Two eggs have a low 710Kj.
You’ll get five grams of mostly the right kind of fat in every two eggs and a decent six grams of protein to keep you full (great for appetite control).
Eggs are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium, needed for strong bones.
Eggs are high in antioxidants that promote healthy eye sight, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin which may help to prevent age-related macular degeneration.
The yolks are a great source of choline, good for the brain and nervous system – particularly during pregnancy.
Two eggs will give you 48 per cent of your recommended daily intake for folate, which is essential for new cells, good for your heart, nervous system and a healthy pregnancy.
Eggs are a good source of omega-3 fats (even the regular eggs) which have anti-inflammatory properties and are important in protection against diseases.
They are high in sulphur, which helps to promote healthy nails and shiny hair.
Eggs are a source of iron and B vitamins, which aid the development of new blood cells and help to release energy from the food we eat.
Did you know? It’s perfectly healthy to eat six eggs per week, without worrying about your cholesterol!
Heart it! Nutritionally, there is no measurable difference between cage eggs and free-range eggs.