Read It Before You Eat It: Eggs

Now that I have a 6'6 husband who likes to eat more than just cereal and whatever I bake, I find myself at the grocery store more often than I ever have. Now that I grocery shop more often, I've realized how hard it is to decipher food labels and actually pick the healthiest food. I end up reading every label to compare types of lunch meat in hopes that I'll (blindly) pick the healthiest choice. And then as I put vegetables in the cart, I wonder how many chemicals have been sprayed on them, how far they've traveled, and if they'll even be nutritious after all that spraying and traveling.

So, imagine my excitement when I wandered through the library aisles and found this:

The author has a bachelor's in Clinical & Community Dietetics and a master's in Nutrition, so I feel she knows what she's talking about. The book has so much information on literally every type of food and all the packaging lingo that I've barely made my way through it. I wish I wasn't a cheapskate and could buy a copy so I can highlight and dog-ear everything. But instead, I thought I'd write a series of posts that focus on a single item of food so that once I return the book to the library, I still have the information I want (and now so do you!). (P.S. I'll do my best to summarize; if I use quotes, it's a direct quote of the book. Don't wanna be sued for plagiarism!) So without further ado, the first item of interest is: eggs.

EGGS: What to Look for on the Label

Grade: The USDA has a grading system for quality: AA, A, or B. AA is superior, but most eggs are Grade A.

Antiobiotic-free: Suggests that the hens weren't given antibiotics. Antibiotics may cause illness in humans because they encourage the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The term is unregulated and can't really be verified.
Brown eggs: No difference between brown and white eggs. Hens with brown feathers lay brown eggs; hens with white feathers lay white eggs. Easy enough.
Cage-free, free-range/ free-roaming: The hens aren't caged; however, there may be thousands crowded into a barn or warehouse. They probably don't have access to the outdoors or may not take advantage of that access. There's no verification of this practice unless the eggs are also certified organic. This term doesn't guarantee they're organic.
Fertile: The hens are regularly exposed to a rooster and are probably not caged. Fertile eggs are no different from non-fertile, except that they don't last as long and are more expensive to produce (and therefore more expensive to buy..).
Hormone-free: Hormones are banned in all poultry by the FDA, so companies can't put "hormone-free" on their label to advertise unless its followed up with "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones."
Natural: The term isn't regulated and doesn't mean the food is healthy in any way. However, the USDA's definition of "natural" is "being free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and ingredients that do not occur naturally in the food". For eggs, this means that unless they've been pasteurized, they're natural. "Natural" has nothing to do with how the animals are treated.
Omega-3-enriched: Omega-3s are heart-healthy and brain boosting. Enriched eggs come from hens who were fed more algae, fish oil, or ground flaxseeds than other hens.
Organic/certified organic: These eggs are certified by the USDA. The hens are never given antibiotics, they're cage-free and have access to the outdoors. Plus, they're fed organic chicken feed, which is free of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, commercial fertilizers, and animal by-products.
Pastured/pasture raised: These hens have free range outdoors and eat organically, plus they're usually raised without antibiotics. These hens are able to eat a more natural diet including grass, fruit, nuts, bugs, and worms in pasture. The eggs may have slightly more nutrients such as vitamins and omega-3s.
United Egg Producers Certified: Most egg producers comply with this program, but all it ensures is that the hens are fed food and water. The hens are also supposed to be given enough space, proper lighting and fresh air every day. However, the UEP doesn't regulate farm practices or caging, so these hens can be subjected to inhumane treatment and restrictive caging.

Vegetarian/vegetarian diet: This refers to the hens' diet. If its a vegetarian diet, there are no animal by-products. However, chickens are omnivores so they may eat insects and worms alongside the vegetarian diet provided by the farmers.

As you can tell from the pictures above, I didn't pick my eggs so well. Those eggs are as standard as you can get and are probably from chemically-enhanced, abused chickens somewhere in South America.

The healthiest choice? Certified organic: no chemicals, no antibiotics, no cages & a natural lifestyle. You probably already knew that, but hopefully now you know what all the other terms mean as well. I didn't, so I hope you learned as much as I did!

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