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Healthy Eating

Deciphering Egg Labels

Should you buy Free-Range? Omega-3-Enriched? Certified Organic? And what's the deal with brown eggs, anyway? Here's what you need to know.

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Gone are the simple days when you could purchase a pound of sugar, a garden rake, and a new pair of shoes at the local general store. In a society that touts individuality, everything seems to have become as complicated as ordering that nonfat, sugar-free, soy latte. Just step into the egg aisle of your grocery store—you’ll see that farms are offering different eggs to everyone from animal rights activists, to body builders, to cholesterol-conscious consumers. 

Studies have restored the “incredible, edible” egg from its bad rap, but we face the new challenge of deciphering the confounding labels that seek to attract with buzzwords like “organic” and “cage-free.”  So how can you be sure that you’re buying a farm-fresh, wholesome product?  Here are some definitions that can help you pick only good eggs.  

Certified Organic: Hens are fed an all-organic, vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides.

Vegetarian or Vegetarian-Fed: Much like Certified Organic, hens are fed a vegetarian diet. Does not mean that the eggs are vegetarian or vegan.

Omega-3 Enriched: Hens are fed an omega-3 enriched diet containing fortified algae and/or flaxseed and lay naturally fortified eggs.

Pasteurized: Eggs are heated in a warm bath to kill any bacteria that may be present.  Good for recipes that require raw or partially cooked eggs.

Free-Range or Free-Roaming: Hens have outdoor access but are not necessarily fed an organic or vegetarian diet.

Fertile: Laid by hens that live with roosters; most likely uncaged; no known nutritional advantages.

With the exception of the omega-3-enriched eggs, which contain more of the fatty acid, the nutritional profile behind these labels is generally the same. That goes for brown eggs, too. Shell color is determined by the breed of the hen and has nothing to do with the quality, flavor, or nutritive value of the eggs.

And that nutritive value is considerable. All eggs boast high protein content and are used as the standard by which other protein-rich foods are compared. In fact, eggs contain all nine amino acids the body needs. They contain all the vitamins (except for vitamin C) and essential minerals such as iron, zinc, and potassium. High amounts of choline help brain function and health, while carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin protect against macular degeneration, an age-related eye disease.

So what’s the verdict? You don’t have to compromise nutrition to purchase tailor-fit eggs—just know your labels. Whether you’re shelling out a few extra cents to buy an organic, fortified dozen or reaching for generic grade A’s, eggs are an affordable, low-calorie, nutrient-dense food that has few competitors. Look on the sunny side, because you can have your egg and eat it too!