There is nothing more down-home delicious than a breakfast of eggs. Just picture it: Think of Granny’s house in the fifties. Imagine it’s early in the morning and the kids are not up yet. But Granny is and she’s getting breakfast ready. Is it cold cereal? Is it granola? Is it even yogurt or a smoothie? Nope, it’s eggs, always eggs! Now don’t get me wrong there may have been some yogurt, cereal or a grapefruit on the table. But these were side-dishes to the main event, eggs! And bacon, sausage or even steak.
Even in the 70’s when eggs were just beginning to demonized as major contributor to heart disease for their cholesterol content, it was still scandalous to most adults to not serve eggs for breakfast! Back then it seemed to lots of older folks that this was borderline child neglect. I remember because we didn’t have eggs at our house for breakfast except on special occasions and I did hear about it from time to time. Generally we had cold cereal or pancakes, two very common breakfast meals now. Simpler-to-make breakfasts were definitely being pushed in the media at the time and my Mom, bless her heart, embraced the change with gusto :-).
We were all-too-hasty in dethroning eggs from their position as “King of the Breakfast Table”. Eggs are nutrient dense and remarkably versatile in the kitchen.
A Nutritional Powerhouse
Eggs are rich in just a about every nutrient. For decades they were considered nature’s most perfect food. They are especially high in vitamin A and D when the hens are eating properly. Eggs are very high in sulphur containing proteins. These sulphur rich proteins are vital to maintaining cell health and serve as a critical anti-oxidant in the body. They are an excellent source of EPA and DHA, two long-chain fatty acids that play an important role in managing inflammation in the body.
More importantly, our grandma and grandpa ate eggs, tons and tons of eggs! They placed considerable value on eating eggs and made the rearing of chickens and ducks a priority in their lives. In most towns in the US people were commonly raising yard hens as late as the 40’s. Eggs were a staple of the western traditional diet. Our grandparents knew deep in their bones that eggs were vital to health. Many dishes required eggs and an effort was made to include them even when they weren’t needed for flavor or binding. Why, in old cookbooks sometimes it can be hard to find a recipe that doesn’t call for eggs!
But What About Cholesterol?
Pretty much everyone is very afraid of eating eggs now. Almost as afraid as people are of eating butter. But does it make sense to fear eggs? Most of the anxiety comes from media promotion of the notion that eating cholesterol rich foods will raise your cholesterol and lead to heart disease. Debunking this belief is beyond the scope of this post, so I’ll point you to a few sources of good information on the subject. To sum up the findings of the articles below, eating cholesterol rich foods does not raise cholesterol and even if it did high cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease.
- No link between egg consumption and heart disease – CBS News
- Cholesterol does not cause heart disease – Dr Mercola
- Cholesterol Friend or Foe – Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD
Good Nutritional Value for Your Food Dollar
Even true free range eggs can be a very affordable source of nutrition. At $3.00 a dozen pastured eggs are a real nutritional bargain. Cheeseslave had an excellent post awhile back where she points out that ounce per ounce even at $5 a dozen you get a lot for little with eggs.
Let’s say you pay $5 for a dozen pastured eggs. That means each egg costs about 42 cents. A “large” egg is about 2 ounces, so you’re paying 20 cents per ounce.
Twenty cents, people. How does that compare to other foods of a similar nutrient density? (The prices are based on what we pay here in California.)
Raw grass fed organic butter ($8 per pound): 50 cents per ounce
Raw grass fed organic cream ($7 per pint): 44 cents per ounce
Pasteurized grass fed butter – ($5 per pound): 31 cents per ounce
Grass fed organic ground beef ($4 per pound): 25 cents per ounce
Grass fed organic beef liver ($3 per pound): 19 cents per ounce
Raw grass fed organic milk ($10.50 per gallon): 8 cents per ounce
I don’t know about you but I’ve never paid that much for dozen pastured eggs. Usually it’s around $3 a dozen, roughly. If you can keep a few hens yourself you can get the cost down by quite a bit more. But even if they did cost $5 they would still be a bargain both nutrition and filling-you-up wise … you get a lot of bang for the buck!
Do the labels cage-free, organic, or vegetarian mean anything?
Well, yes they mean something, just not what they’d like you think they mean ;-).
This brings us to the nitty-gritty of what to look for in buying eggs. The labeling of eggs is like the labeling of everything else at the store. It is deliberately confusing. Let’s consider the most common terms:
- Cage Free – The industry has caught on that we don’t want to see chickens living out their lives inside a tiny cage. But letting them roam free isn’t compatible with industrial scale egg farming. What to do? Oh, I know, let’s put them all in a giant room the size of a warehouse. They’ll still be terribly crowded and will get very sick, but hey it’s not technically a cage, right?
- Organic – This means that the hens were fed organic feed. This could be organic anything, though most likely soy and corn. While organic feed is better than conventional which would mean GMOs, the problem with this is that chickens are omnivores that need some insects or meat in their daily diet. These hens are locked up with nothing to eat but the organic feed with lots of soy in it to make up for the lack of protein.
- Vegetarian – This most likely means they been in a chicken house with nothing to eat but GMO corn and soy. Aside from the GMO exposure these birds will be missing the varied nutrients a diet rich in insects and small reptiles can provide.
At this point some readers may be surprised to find that chickens eat small reptiles. Yes, they do. You should see the games of chicken football that break out at our house if a hen finds something large like a frog to eat! All the other hens notice immediately and take out after her like she were the carrier of the ball. She has to run away and try to find somewhere quiet where she can eat this delicious morsel in peace! But the other hens will not have that! She must share, so they chase her stealing bits till the whole thing is gone. Sorry, if that was kind of gruesome, but it’s the facts of life on my granny homestead. I’m sure our chickens would happily eat a mouse if they could catch one!
The highest possible quality eggs come from hens that are allowed to forage in the open and in the sun. They are fed little in the way of grains, basically just enough to get them into the coop at night. This may seem like a tall order at first but there are a surprising number of people selling eggs from hens cared for in this way. You can look at farmers markets or online. A few years back when we didn’t have many hens I found a guy in a neighboring town on Craigslist who would bring us 5 dozen eggs each week while he was on his way to town.
How to get the best eggs you can afford
- Excellent ($$) – True free-range pastured eggs from hens fed little grain. These eggs will be richest in virtually all nutrients across the board and will have little risk of having salmonella or any other pathogen.
- Good/OK ($$$$) – Organic eggs sold in grocery stores. The hens are kept in confinement and not fed the best diet so there is some risk of contamination. Also, the nutrition in each egg is much reduced.
- Acceptable ($) – Supermarket eggs. The least expensive option here is only slightly cheaper than buying the best alternative, but it is more convenient. If you need to buy your eggs at the supermarket be sure they are cooked well before eating. Don’t use them in any recipes call for raw or undercooked egg.
So tell us, what has your experience been? Are pastured eggs cheaper or more expensive where you live? Do they taste better?