Eggs 1024x585 - How to Shop for Eggs

How to Shop for Eggs

Shopping for eggs has to be one of the most confusing whole, real foods to buy. Organic? Cage free? Free Range? Brown vs. White? There’s no food label to read, the marketing jargon on the egg cartons are confusing, and you can often find yourself staring at a cold shelf of eggs for at least 5 minutes before you say “forget it, I’ll just get this one.”

Today, we’re going to squash all of that and share 10 helpful tips to make your shopping trip a bit easier next time.

First, Some Vocabulary

FOOD LABEL: Regular (Grade A, AA, or B Eggs)
RATE: Worst
COST: ~ $2.99/dozen (guestimate)
TRUTH: These are “commercially farmed” chickens, most likely raised in battery cages (small cages stacked on top of each other), where the bird has clipped wings and beaks to prevent harm and cannibalism. They are kept in dark covered spaces and have no exposure to sunlight or exercise.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture came up with a “grading system” to rate the quality of eggs. Here’s a quick rundown of what that means:

  • Grade AA – have thick, firm whites, yolks are high and round, and are best for frying or poaching (most common)
  • Grade A – are similar to AA eggs, except for the whites are slightly less firm (most common)
  • Grade B – have thinner whites and a flatter yolk, and are commonly used for liquid, frozen, dry egg products, or scrambles

COST: ~ $3.99/dozen (guestimate)
TRUTH: Cage Free means that the chickens are not raised in battery cages, however they still most likely are raised in tight conditions, in a dark, barn-like setting, with clipped beaks and wings, and very little exposure to sunlight. “Cage Free” can sound deceiving because you would think they’d be free, roaming little hens. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean so.

FOOD LABEL: Free Range
COST: ~ $3.99/dozen (guestimate)
TRUTH: Free Range means that the chickens have some exposure to the outdoors in a portion of their life. According to SFGate, “It does not mean that the poultry must be allowed access to pastures or grassy yards, nor does it ensure a certain amount of time outdoors or the size of the area for a given number of birds.” It’s another deceiving term because again, you would think the chickens can roam free.

FOOD LABEL: Certified Organic
STARS: ☆☆☆
RATE: Better
COST: ~ $4.99/dozen (guestimate)
TRUTH: Certified Organic Eggs mean that the feed that is given to the chickens is organic, and the chickens are not pumped with antibiotics – which does reduce your exposure to pesticides. These chickens most likely have some (not all) exposure to sunlight.

FOOD LABEL: Organic Vegetarian Fed
STARS: ☆☆☆
RATE: A Little Better
COST: ~ $5.50/dozen (guestimate)
TRUTH: Organic Vegetarian Fed mean that the chickens are fed a no-meat/no-fish, organic vegetarian-based diet. While this might sound like a “natural” thing because chickens are not meant to eat beef, pig or seafood parts, they aren’t meant to be a vegetarian-fed animal. The best fed chickens do eat bugs and worms.

FOOD LABEL: Omega-3 Enriched
STARS: n/a
RATE: (shouldn’t be a determining factor)
COST: ~ $5.50/dozen (guestimate)
TRUTH: Omega-3 Enriched eggs means that the feed given to the chickens are enriched with an omega-3 diet, usually in the form of flaxseed. It is a fairly new marketing term added to egg cartons. As buzz words around the benefits of Omega-3’s popped up in markets, farmers saw an opportunity to enrich their chickens with these healthy fats. You are better off getting your Omega-3’s directly from a good piece of wild, salmon.

FOOD LABEL: Brown vs. White
STARS: n/a
RATE: (shouldn’t be a determining factor)
COST: ~ $3 – 5.50/dozen (guestimate)
TRUTH: Eggs come in different colors: brown, white, blue, and green, however the most common that you’ll see in supermarkets are white and brown. There is no difference in nutritional benefits and brown does not equal a healthier egg. In fact the colors of the eggs are purely based off of the genetics of the chicken.

FOOD LABEL: Pasture Raised
STARS: ☆☆☆☆☆
RATE: Best
COST: ~ $8.00/dozen (guestimate)
TRUTH: Pasture Raised eggs mean that the chickens are free to roam on open grassland, eat an organic diet, enjoy bugs and worms, see daylight, are not given hormones or antibiotics, have darker/richer yolks, have been known to taste better, and have better nutritional profiles (in vitamins A, E, betacarotine, Omega-3’s, etc.). Makes sense that they’d be healthier animals and produce a healthier egg because of how they are grown.

10 Tips for Selecting Eggs

So now that you are a bit more familiar with the vocab piece of the puzzle, what should you buy?

First, remember that “eating healthy” is a journey, which means you may start off buying one thing (even for a year), and gradually change your choices depending on: 1) what you can afford; 2) your current values and what’s most important to you; and 3) what you are cooking.

If you are on a tight budget and just ramping up your healthy-eating game to focus on whole, real foods (vs. processed stuff), then regular eggs is a way better option than sugar cereal for breakfast.

Today, it may be “free range” eggs in your shopping cart, and next week you may decide that sacrificing $4.50 on ice cream or that Starbucks latte is well worth a highly nutritious dozen of pasture raised eggs for $8/dozen. Something to think about.

Here are some shopping tips:

  1. When it comes to eggs, price is a good indicator of quality.
  2. When a chicken is under stress (dark, tight, confining headquarters), you won’t get the most nutritious egg.
  3. “Free Range” and “Cage Free” are better than regular eggs, primarily because of the treatment of the animal.
  4. Organic “Free Range” and “Cage Free” are better than regular eggs, both for YOU and the ANIMAL.
  5. Choose organic when possible.
  6. Brown and white don’t make a difference.
  7. Chickens are not meant to be vegetarians because they should eat worms (just not pig, cow, and fish parts).
  8. Enriched Omega-3 eggs benefits the farmer’s pocket more than you. Just eat wild fish or 100% grassfed meat if you need more Omega-3’s in your diet.
  9. If you are baking (and on a budget), go with a slightly less quality egg than you would for plain egg consumption.
  10. Save $4-5 elsewhere and consider the $8/dozen pasture raised eggs IF you are a regular egg eater. (Don’t forget to hit up friends/family that raise chickens for a barter or exchange).


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