The egg yolk of a commercial egg is pale yellow, verses free range yolks which are a darker orange, just one of the visual differences between the two that are obvious, but how do they differ nutritionally?
Farm fresh eggs contain
1/3 less cholesterol
1/4 less saturated fat
2/3 more vitamin A
2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
3 times more Vitamin E
7 times more beta carotene
4-6 times more vitamin D
…than commercial eggs.
These dramatically differing nutrient levels are most likely the result of the different diets of birds that produce these two types of eggs. True free-range birds eat their natural diet — all kinds of seeds, green plants, insects and worms, usually along with grain or formulated chicken feed, and their eggs don’t require refrigeration. You can keep them on the counter for up to three weeks. Commercially raised chickens never even see the outdoors, let alone get to forage for their natural diet. Instead they are fed the cheapest possible mixture of corn, soy and/or cottonseed meals, with all kinds of additives, supplements, growth hormones and antibiotics to stave off sickness caused by overcrowded living conditions.
The conventional egg industry wants very much to deny that free-range/pastured eggs are better than eggs from birds kept in crowded, inhumane indoor conditions. A statement on the American Egg Board’s Web site says, “True free-range eggs are those produced by hens raised outdoors or that have daily access to the outdoors.” The problem lies in their definition of “true free-range.” The USDA isn’t helping consumers learn the truth, either: “Allowed access to the outside” is how the USDA defines “free-range.” This inadequate definition means that producers can, and do, label their eggs as “free-range” even if all they do is leave little doors open on their giant sheds, regardless of whether the birds ever learn to go outside, and regardless of whether there is good pasture or just bare dirt or concrete outside those doors.
So, assuming that we’re considering only eggs from healthy chickens raised on pastures, are raw eggs better for you? The jury seems to be out on that right now. There is currently a strong movement towards raw foods in general. However, the Weston A. Price Foundation has long been an exceptionally reliable source of information on nutritional issues, and their stance is that cooked eggs are just fine. The Foundation notes accurately that egg whites are healthier when cooked. Raw egg whites have an enzyme inhibitor that can be harmful to digestion. In most people eating no more than two eggs a day, this is normally not a significant problem. However, in larger quantities, it can matter. Also, be aware that raw egg whites are never good for cats.
One of the fears peddled about eggs is the idea that they are dangerous if eaten raw, because they may contain salmonella. To that, I would suggest that modern factory farming has created the reason for concern. Salmonella exists in eggs only when laid by unhealthy chickens. If the hens are disease-free, so are their eggs. So, if you eat eggs produced in factory settings, you’re not only supporting some of the worst animal abuses that have ever been publicized, you’re also likely to suffer for it yourself.
Mayonnaise is traditionally made from raw eggs. If it had been dangerous, what is the likelihood that mayonnaise would have become one of the representatives of great French cookery? Look in any serious recipe book for how to make mayonnaise, and you’ll find that it always includes raw egg. Enter the words mayonnaise and recipe on a search engine, and you’ll see recipe after recipe, all of which use raw eggs. Could mayonnaise be so ubiquitous if it were dangerous?
Do be aware, of course, that modern mayonnaise purchased in supermarkets is not made from raw eggs. That’s why it has extra ingredients, such as stabilizers, emulsifiers, and thickeners.
If you normally eat eggs from free range and organically fed chickens, especially if they’re locally sourced, then your body will likely have the ability to fend off salmonella bacteria. If you’ve been eating eggs from battery hens, then you’ve been compromising your immune system with antibiotics and other drugs that have gone through the chickens into the eggs.
The right choice for your health and the right moral choice are the same: Eggs from free-range pastured hens are superior in every way. They’re tastier, more nutritious, and safer.