Contrary to what we read all the time, cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease. Instead, cholesterol is the thing that heart disease acts upon. So the trick here is to keep your cholesterol healthy – not try to eliminate it as if it were the enemy. It’s an important and natural part of your body. This difference is important – case in point…
Have you heard that a compound in eggs called phosphatidylcholine helps to keep cholesterol soluble in your blood and keeps you from absorbing too much?1 So, eggs are playing that role of keeping your cholesterol healthy.
I’ve read quite a few studies that support this. One of the best came out of Harvard. It followed 118,000 men and women for 14 years. The study found “no evidence of an overall significant association between egg consumption and risk of CHD or stroke in either men or women.”2
In fact, in another study, those who ate four or more eggs per week had lower serum cholesterols than those who ate one or less per week.3
A Perfect Food
There are other reasons to rescue the much-attacked egg. Eggs are a perfect food. You can digest the protein from eggs better than meat, fish, or any other food you eat. It’s why all other foods are compared to egg’s perfect protein rating of “100.”
Eggs also contain all the amino acids you need and many vitamins and minerals. There’s vitamin A, riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid (vitamin B9), vitamin B6, vitamin B12, choline, iron, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, and more.
Just by eating eggs, you’ll have higher levels of vitamins B12, A, E, and C circulating in your body.4 You’re going to improve your nervous system, have better skin, and get more protection against disease.
But how can you still get healthy eggs from today’s agro-industrial food factories? Well, let’s see if I can help…
What Kind of Eggs Do You Buy?
I know it’s confusing when you stand in front of the egg display. There are a lot of choices, and they all make some claim to being natural and healthy.
The most important first distinction is to look for eggs labeled, “Cage-free” or “Pastured.”
Cage-free or pastured is the “Rolls-Royce” of cage-free eggs. These eggs have much higher nutrient levels and less chance of passing along disease.
Cage-free means hens live in enclosures rather than cages. They have plenty of room to stand up, lie down, turn around, stretch out, and flap their wings. They get exercise, natural sunlight, and fresh air.
Pastured chickens live on small farms where they run around freely. Each day they’re herded in small groups to fresh pastureland. At night, they go back to roost, where they’re protected from predators. They have fresh greens to eat and a clean environment. These chickens have plenty of space, sunshine, and a natural diet to eat.
Conventional eggs come from factory-farmed chickens raised in battery cages.
Battery means an array. Think of hundreds of cages stacked as many as two stories high.
Each battery cage contains around six hens. Each hen has “67 square inches of floor space.” That’s about ¾ of a single sheet of notebook paper.
Battery-caged hens live out their life without enough room to stand up straight or move from side to side. It prevents them from doing what is natural and instinctive. Native behaviors such as nesting, grooming, or laying eggs in privacy.5
I don’t know how much you care about chickens, but to me it’s an unnecessary form of extreme and disturbing animal cruelty. But the point of my letters to you is your health. And, on that subject, these conditions can have consequences. These conditions are exceptionally stressful to the animal.
Are Some Eggs Healthier Than Others?
Think about what a hen’s stress level is doing to the nutrition of the eggs you eat.
You know what stress can do to you as your cortisol levels go up. Cortisol is the “fight or flight” hormone that reacts to danger and to stress. It usually drops back down once your stress levels return to normal.
But when stress remains high, your cortisol level remains high. This can lower your immunity against disease. It prevents you from absorbing nutrients and may cause you to get sick. Over the long term, it can affect your DNA.
Animals can react the same way. When hens are cramped together in an unnatural environment, they have excess cortisol their whole lives.
Hens can’t absorb nutrients under these conditions. And their diet is unnatural. It consists of grain products, plant protein products, processed grain byproducts, roughage products, and forage products.6 Notice how it’s all “products” and “byproducts” instead of just the name of a real food. This is why so little nutrition passes along into the egg.
After a while, it affects a hen’s DNA.7 Inferior genetic material is passed along into the egg. So when you buy conventional eggs, they have little of the nutrition you expect.
But hens that have the run of a pasture live in a natural, native environment. Their behavior remains instinctual. And they eat the way nature intended. Fresh grass every day, plenty of insects and grubs. Their diet is rich in vitamins, minerals, and a natural source of protein.
Cage-free, pastured eggs give you:8
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 3-4 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
- 4-6 times the vitamin D
I came across a chart comparing eggs from 14 farms in the U.S. to battery-caged birds. Here’s a summary of what was found:9
All values are per 100 grams of egg.
Vitamin E (mg)
Vitamin A (IU)
Beta Carotene (mcg)
Saturated Fat (g)
|Eggs from Confined Birds (per USDA Nutrient Database)||
|Eggs from Non-Confined Birds (Mother Earth News, 2007)||
More Space Equals Less Disease
The World Health Organization (WHO) was also concerned about the health of your eggs. They wanted to know if a hen’s living conditions had any impact on the risk of salmonella.
Salmonella is the most common illness you can get from food. In the U.S., more than 1.4 million people are infected every year.
WHO discovered you’ve got a greater chance of salmonella when you buy conventional eggs from battery-caged hens.
When the number of chickens living together is reduced by one-fourth, your chance of contracting salmonella is cut in half.10 More space per hen, and your chances are even lower.
I’ve read many more similar studies from the European Union, where battery cages will be illegal by 2012.
Almost 24% of farms with battery-caged hens test positive for salmonella compared to 6.5% in flocks that are free to roam.11
And the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) wrote, “Without exception…there was significantly higher risk of salmonella infection in hens confined in cages.”
The EFSA found battery-cage systems have 25 times greater odds of salmonella contamination than cage-free environments.12
Making Sense of the Labels
It can be confusing to shop for eggs. So I hope I’ve made it a little easier by recommending “cage-free” or “pastured” rather than conventional eggs.
But you may come across a few other choices when you shop for eggs. So here’s a short breakdown of what else you might find.
1. Free-Range: Free-range may also mean cage-free and pastured, but not necessarily. There’s a wide variety of interpretation by farmers. The USDA defines free-range as “Allowed access to the outside.” Chickens do have a door, so they can get outside. But chickens may never learn to go out. They get sunlight, exercise, and fresh air. Free-range eggs have better nutrition than conventional eggs.
2. Vegetarian: Vegetarian eggs come from cage-free hens. They may be pastured. But they’re only fed vegetarian feed. But this isn’t a normal diet for chickens. If they’re let outside, chickens will naturally eat bugs, worms, and other non-vegetarian fare. Vegetarian eggs have better nutrition than conventional eggs.
3. Omega-3 Eggs: Omega-3 eggs may come from cage-free hens. They may be pastured. Chickens are fed more flax and canola seed to increase the omega-3 content of the egg. But you get far less than what you find in a small piece of salmon or fish oil supplement. Omega-3 eggs have better nutrition than conventional eggs.
4. Organic: Organic eggs come from cage-free hens fed organic, vegetarian feed. Neither the hens nor their feed are subjected to antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, or herbicides. Organic eggs have better nutrition than conventional eggs. Look for a “USDA Organic” symbol as shown here.
5. Certified Humane Raised and Handled: This means the eggs come from cage-free chickens that are raised and treated humanely. Look for a “Certified Humane” symbol as shown here.
Your Best Source for Cage-Free Eggs
Here in our office, all of us are getting our eggs from a local farmer. I thank A.N. and her family. My foundation, Wellness and Research Foundation, is assisting her so she can convert her farm to organic.
Her chickens are cage-free and pastured. The hens go outside and eat grass, grubs, and worms. At night, they’re brought in so they’re safe from predators.
She supplements their feed with flax seed to increase the omega-3 content. The hens are in the sun, so vitamin D is high. The nutrition is superior, and the taste is much richer. The minute you taste an egg like this, you swear you’ll never eat any other.
It may be worth it to you to know where your eggs are coming from. Do a little investigation into your supplier or farmer. Visit their farm if it’s local. Or call them up and ask questions. Make sure the eggs you buy come from hens that are cage-free and pastured.
I suggest you look for a local source like I did.
You can search here for cage-free or pastured eggs in your area. You can also use this link to search for farmer’s markets where you may find local farmers who carry them.
Or look for them at your local grocery store or a health-food store that carries eggs.
- Jiang, Y., Noh, SK,. Koo, SI. “ Egg Phosphatidylcholine Decreases the Lymphatic Absorption of Cholesterol in Rats,” Journal of Nutrition. 2001;131:2358-2363.
- Hu FB, Stampfer MJ., et al. “A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women.” JAMA. 1999 Apr 21;281(15):1387-94.
- Song, WO. Kerver, JM. “Nutritional Contribution of Eggs to American Diets,” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2000; 19( 90005): 556S-562S.
- “Scientists and Experts on Battery Cages and Laying Hen Welfare.” Humane Society of the United States. http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/HSUS-Synopsis-of-Expert-Opinions-on-Battery-Cages-and-Hen-Welfare.pdf Accessed 07 2010.
- “Caged Hen Diet” http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx?page=4 Accessed 07 2010.
- Bureau, C., Hennequet-Antier, C., Couty, M., Guemene, D. “Gene array analysis of adrenal glands in broiler chickens following ACTH treatment,“ BMC Genomics. 2009; 10: 430.
- Karsten, H. et al. “Pasture-ized Poultry.” Penn State Research Encyclopedia 2003;24(2).
- “Egg Chart” Mother Earth News. 2007. http://www.motherearthnews.com/uploadedFiles/Eggs%20chart.pdf
Accessed 07 2010.
- “Risk assessments of Salmonella in eggs and broiler chickens.“ World Health Organization Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2002. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2002/9291562307.pdf Accessed 07 2010.
- Snow, LC., Davies, RH., et al. “Survey of the prevalence of Salmonella species on commercial laying farms in the United Kingdom.” The Veterinary Record 2007;161:471-476.
- “Report of the Task Force on Zoonoses Data Collection on the Analysis of the baseline study on the prevalence of Salmonella in holdings of laying hen flocks of Gallus gallus” EFSA.2007 Feb.
- Oberholtzer, l., Greene, C., Lopez, E. “Organic Poultry and Eggs Capture High Price Premiums and Growing Share of Specialty Markets.” USDA http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/LDP/2006/12Dec/LDPM15001/ldpm15001.pdf