Saturday, September 26, 2009

Free-Range Eggs Nutritionally Superior to Factory Eggs

Photo courtesy: George & Eiko Vojkovich. Left to their own devices, chickens prefer to hang out in lush, green pastures rather than cramped, steel cages (these are from Skagit River Ranch of Washington).

I first started eating eggs from only free-range, organically fed hens several years ago. If my organic, free-range eggs are not available, I don't eat eggs until they are. This began as my personal protest against the inhumane treatment of battery hens.

I have since found that there are added benefits to eating only free-range or pastured eggs - more and better nutrition plus a fresher, more intense taste.

In 2007, Mother Earth News conducted an eggs testing project. Their testing has found that, compared to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from free-range hens may 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

The conclusion? Free-range eggs are nutritionally better for you than eggs from battery hens.

These amazing results come from 14 flocks around the USA that either range freely on pastured land or are housed in movable pens that are rotated frequently to maximize access to fresh pasture.

Mother Earth News maintains that the following summary of six studies indicated that free-range or pastured eggs are richer in nutrients than typical supermarket eggs.
•In 1974, the British Journal of Nutrition found that pastured eggs had 50 percent more folic acid and 70 percent more vitamin B12 than eggs from factory farm hens.

•In 1988, Artemis Simopoulos, co-author of The Omega Diet, found pastured eggs in Greece contained 13 times more omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids than U.S. commercial eggs.

•A 1998 study in Animal Feed Science and Technology found that pastured eggs had higher omega-3s and vitamin E than eggs from caged hens.

•A 1999 study by Barb Gorski at Pennsylvania State University found that eggs from pastured birds had 10 percent less fat, 34 percent less cholesterol, 40 percent more vitamin A, and four times the omega-3s compared to the standard USDA data. Her study also tested pastured chicken meat, and found it to have 21 percent less fat, 30 percent less saturated fat and 50 percent more vitamin A than the USDA standard.

•In 2003, Heather Karsten at Pennsylvania State University compared eggs from two groups of Hy-Line variety hens, with one kept in standard crowded factory farm conditions and the other on mixed grass and legume pasture. The eggs had similar levels of fat and cholesterol, but the pastured eggs had three times more omega-3s, 220 percent more vitamin E and 62 percent more vitamin A than eggs from caged hens.

•The 2005 study Mother Earth News conducted of four heritage-breed pastured flocks in Kansas found that pastured eggs had roughly half the cholesterol, 50 percent more vitamin E, and three times more beta carotene.

•The 2007 results from 14 producers are shown here.

Mother Earth News (and I) believe the dramatically differing nutrient levels are the result of the different diets of birds. True free-range birds eat a chicken’s natural diet — various seeds, green plants, insects and worms, usually along with grain or laying mash. Factory farm birds 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.

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