Eggs - What does the label say?

Eggs are not only versatile and economical, they are also convenient and nutritious.

Eggs are not only versatile and economical, but Michigan State University Extension reminds that they are convenient and, yes, nutritious. Marketing for eggs includes nutritional as well as environmental claims. While a large egg provides about 72 calories, it is the feed that the hen eats that determines the exact nutrients in that egg.

Hen feed consists of primarily corn and soybeans in the U.S. and it is the corn’s yellow pigment that makes the egg yolks a deeper yellow. When hens are fed a wheat-based diet, the yolks are lighter in color. Multiple claims and terminology can be found on egg cartons and can be confusing at times. Eggs are given grades on the carton signifying that they have been voluntarily inspected and graded for how the yolk and the white will stand up to cooking as well as the exterior of the egg shell. The majority of eggs are sold as Grade A. The weight of the egg determines its stated size. Large eggs are the standard for cake mixes and other recipes. The color of the egg shell, white, brown or green is entirely dependent upon the breed of the hen. It is not an indication of the nutritional value.

Egg cartons advertised as organic indicate that by virtue of USDA’s organic standards, there have been no pesticides, hormones or low-dose antibiotics fed to the hens. Antibiotics are not given to hens unless they are ill, because it would interfere with their egg laying. Hormones are not given to egg-laying chickens as it would affect the laying cycle. So, whether the carton states hormone free or not, all egg production is hormone-free.

A free-range egg from hens means that the hens are allowed access to the outdoors, theoretically with room to walk and flap their wings. The definition of “outdoors” varies and can be a porch, a fenced-in yard or truly roaming around outside.

Eggs contain omega-3 fatty acids and lutein. In the U.S., flaxseed and algae are added to hen feed to boost omega-3 fatty acid content of the yolks. USDA labeling regulations require that the amount of omega-3 be listed on the label, but not the source. Omega-3 from algae is more potent than omega-3 from flaxseed. Flaxseed is usually used in the U.S. If you want a significant omega-3 boost, choose eggs that specify DHA. And note that the omega-3 is in the yolk and not the whites. Eggs provide Lutein naturally, but eggs from hens raised on lutein-fortified feed boast even higher amounts. Lutein from eggs is absorbed better than from other lutein-rich foods like spinach. A diet rich in lutein can help ward off age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss among older people. Lutein is found in the yolk.

Although the egg has received negative press for its unhealthy traits, such as fat and cholesterol, the nutritional components outweigh the unhealthy. Most research actually shows little correlation between egg intake and cardiovascular disease. Keep in mind that moderation is the key combined with a balance of other healthy foods and physical activity.

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