It comes in its own package, albeit a tad fragile. It has a reasonable shelf life, even at room temperature. It has relatively low production costs and a high food value. The micronutrients are phenomenal and the macronutrients ideal. Eating them can help you lose weight, control your cholesterol and help fight heart disease. They can make you smarter, stronger and leaner. What is this superfood? It’s the humble, delicious and nutritionally balanced chicken egg. If you want all these things, don’t skimp and buy the cheap, factory version. You’ll get what you pay for. No, instead, get the best eggs you can to get the most out of the shell. Here is a guide for selecting the best of the aptly monikered incredible, edible egg.
The best. The best egg comes from the healthiest chicken eating the healthiest food and the best way to know the background of the egg you eat is to gather it yourself in your own backyard. The trend toward backyard chicken coops is increasing. Provided you have some green space, you can raise laying chickens yourself. Here in Omaha, you can have as many hens as practicable based on a Human Society inspection of your yard. First, go to www.douglascountyhealth.com and follow the Healthy Living link to the animals permit page to fill out a permit request. You’ll be contacted by an inspector to guide you through the process. You must maintain a safe shelter for your brood. And no roosters allowed. Four hens will give you over two dozen eggs a week. Your clutch will eat grass, insects, worms and almost anything you toss out there. You’ll be getting the freshest eggs possible. Tip: Test freshness of any egg by placing it in a large bowl of cold water. A fresh egg will immediately sink and lay horizontally. An older egg will point one end up or even float. And don’t wash fresh eggs. They are coated with a natural “bloom” that keeps them safe and fresh.
The worst. Cheap commercial eggs have no place in my kitchen. Debeaked, overstressed and medicated hens living thousands to a building sans daylight or fresh air cannot produce the egg I want to eat. There is no telling how old a commercial egg is when on the shelf. A coded date the USDA requires tells when the egg was packed, not when it was laid. And the “sell by” date can be up to 45 days after that. You could be buying an egg that was laid two months ago. And studies show the nutritional profile is wanting.
Egg terms defined. Free range: Sounds nice but means little. Evokes images of chickens running in pasture. Not so. Legally, you can call an egg “free range” even if the layer never left the metal shed it lived in its entire life. Is that “free range”? The USDA says, “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” Key word? “Allowed.” A chicken producer told me this, simply put: “Layers live thousands to the building. The first 18 days we’re allowed to keep them indoors since going outdoors they could contract disease. True enough since their immune systems are non-existent due to monoculture breeding. After 18 days we open a small 2 by 2 door down at the end of the metal building that goes outdoors. Let me put it this way: Ain’t no chicken going to leave their flock, leave their food, their water, their nest to go outside. That’s ‘free range’ for ya.” Allowed access. Nice.
Cage free. Another term with little value. Thousands of birds living in a huge building in crowded and filthy conditions can be called “cage free” as long as they are not confined in battery cages. Not much advantage in this term. In fact, there are claims that hens in these conditions are actually worse off than caged ones because of the stress of a larger flock and greater competition. Eggs from cage free hens are actually suspected of having higher levels of stress hormones.
Organic This term does have some meaning. Hens that lay organic eggs cannot be given antibiotics (unless sick) or hormones and must be fed organic feed. That means no GMO grains. They are cage free but see above.
Omega eggs Given an enhanced diet, the hens lay eggs with greater levels of omega three fatty acids, considered to be beneficial to human diet. All other conditions could be the same as factory eggs.
Pastured This is a relatively new term claimed by some producers. If verifiable, it’s one of the best. If a chicken is raised by a producer primarily on pasture, fed organic grain to augment and kept from drugs, it’s as close to home-raised as you can get. The advantages of a natural diet for the chicken are reflected in the nutritional profile of the egg. It will be lower in bad fats and higher in good fats. It will have more conjugated linoleic acid (a good thing), more vitamins A and E, more beta carotene and over two times more Omega-3 than a factory egg. Now here’s a deeper question. Yes, chickens eat grass. The beta carotene in grass is what makes an egg yolk that deep orange-yellow color. And conventional egg producers aren’t stupid. They buy feed that contains marigold extract and guess what? That colors the egg yolk to make it look nice and orange. Tricky, eh?
If you’re not harvesting your own backyard eggs, best idea is to get them from a farmer you know and trust. You’ll be getting one of the most nutritious foods nature offers and real food is your first medicine.
Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Access past columns at www.HeartlandHealing.com