Are Free Range Eggs Healthier

Image Credit: sk8geek / Flickr

Are free-range eggs healthier than conventional eggs?

I have recently read that there is a difference between commercial eggs and farm eggs — I have six chickens that roam freely, and I use the eggs for cooking, for the occasional breakfast, and even for a dinner at least once a week. Am I wrong to think my eggs are healthier?

cmcauliffe / Originally asked in Bad Egg

Answer:

That may be true of particularly pasture-raised hens, but a new study published this summer found no significant difference between cholesterol levels in “free-range” compared to conventional eggs (over 200mg per jumbo egg in each case).

Free-range eggs are certainly better from an animal welfare standpoint, and also less likely to be contaminated with Salmonella (the leading cause of food-borne illness related hospitalization and death in the United States–see my video Total Recall), but don’t appear to have less cholesterol, the most important health reason to minimize one’s egg intake (see for example my videos Egg Cholesterol in the Diet and Avoiding Cholesterol Is a No Brainer).

Image credit: sk8geek / Flickr

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


12 responses to “Are free-range eggs healthier than conventional eggs?

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  1. I live with a set of three men who each eat 4 to 8 raw eggs (from organic farms) per day, as well as raw organic milk and raw organ meats and muscle meats from pasture-fed cattle. To hear them tell it, pasture-fed cattle have such a different lipid profile that you’d think their meat was as healthy as vegetables. Can you comment on the effects of a diet rich in the wildest, most pasture-fed, least hormone-adulterated beef possible, as opposed to conventionally-raised beef? And how does that compare to the vegan diet that I’ve been eating since I saw your “Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death” video last October? These guys are hard-core; they grind and juice vegetables in a hand-cranked juicer because an electric one would heat the vegetables too much and destroy the enzymes in theme. I think they’re over the top, as well as horribly clogging their arteries. Your input?

    1. As you can see here, although the meat cuts are not identical because the USDA does not have a near identical cut, both contain saturated fat, trans fat and significant amounts of cholesterol. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/beef-products/6191/2 http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/beef-products/10526/2 In regards to juicing http://nutritionfacts.org/video/fruit-juice-fail/ Organic and conventional make tittle difference in regards to increased IGF-1 http://nutritionfacts.org/index.php?s=igf-1 as well as endotoxemia http://nutritionfacts.org/index.php?s=endotoxemia. Your friends may be just going off of what they read off of an enticing article or book, but their diets have no scientific base.

    2. Hi Kennita. I’ve been in the Valley of Indecision about which diet best serves my body’s needs and which ones undermine it. The regimen followed by your male friends sounds like that of a man I once met (who recently died) named Aajonus Vonderplanitz. Raw organ and muscle meats from grass fed animals, generous helpings of raw fertile eggs hatched from free range hens, raw milk in glass containers, raw butter and cream and rivers of raw green juices daily. To hear him tell it, people who had adverse conditions which were unresponsive to conventional treatments turned around dramatically after the diet described above was followed.

      I did it for awhile, and felt strong, but was a bit queasy about my rising cholesterol and triglyceride levels. I was told by other proponents of this diet that there’s no correlation between lipid intake and blood cholesterol levels, but all of the members of my family with elevated blood fat readings either currently have cardiac issues or have already dropped dead from them..With that in mind I’ve begun growing my own food (sprouting a wide variety of seeds, legumes and grains like rye and quinoa…) I feel weaker, but could that be a cleansing reaction? Just curious.

      Please let me know what you think. Since brothers seem to have more problems with the effects of animal protein and fat consumption than others do I’d really appreciate your perspective.

      Smiles,

      Clifford
      nimaste@verizon.net

      1. Hi Clifford — I don’t really know unusually much about nutrition, but my intuition is that if you continue feeling weak after six weeks, you’re probably past any cleansing phase and you may want to check your macronutrient profile, to make sure you’re getting sufficient protein. If you’re losing a lot of weight, up your fats (probably with nuts). If you’re not taking a multivitamin, you may want to (I take one, with extra omega-3, B12, and D3).

        Live long and prosper,
        Kennita

  2. I’m a vegan 80/20 life style life the my husband and I got into 5 month ago but my last blood test still show my liver’s inflation still is higher. What else can I do to help my liver, for once I can’t eat walnuts I get pin pull in my face but I can drink almond milk. It’s nuts affect my liver? Pls advise. Thank u

  3. This is helpful information about free-range eggs. Do you know of any studies that analyze whether pasture-raised meat (such as grass-fed beef) is healthier than conventionally raised (factory-farmed) meat? I have some close family that eat pasture-raised meat whenever possible and disregard studies published against meat that don’t take into consideration whether the meat was conventionally grown or pasture-raised. Thank you for your help!

  4. The “new” study cited by Dr Greger (Andersen, 2011, Poultry Science) refers to laying hens with “access to the range.”

    But what does this mean? Lacking access to the full study, and seeing where the study was published (a poultry industry publication) I would guess that this is probably a typical poultry barn with holes cut in the wall, and a small fenced area. That is what many many commercial egg farmers offer in order to call their hens “free range.”

    Because the hens are fed grain all day long, they have no incentive to venture outside. In fact, their instincts probably tell them to stay inside, where they’ve lived all their lives, where there is no scary sky, with scary birds overhead.

    In my understanding, free range means hens that are ranging outside, on pasture, ALL DAY LONG, only going inside when being enclosed at night for protection against predators.

    Another important set of variables involves questions such as, what plants are the hens offered to eat during their ranging? What is the quality of soil in this pasture? What are the populations of insects in this soil and on the pasture? What other animals grazed (and left droppings) before the hens were moved in?

    None of these questions are answered, yet these different conditions would present radically different results in the nutritional content of the resulting eggs.

    My parents keep laying hens on our farm. My wife and I live 20 minutes away, and we and our children eat 4 or 5 dozen eggs a week. I can tell when my parents need to move the hens to new pasture because the yolks of the eggs get lighter and more easily ruptured. In contrast, when the hens are ranging on fresh pasture, with lots of grass and insects, their yolks are dark orange and firm. Because rich flavor is a sure indicator of nutritiousness, I can attest to the superior quality of these eggs.

    These are really important questions. They should not be dismissed by touting a CAFO industry study that perpetuates the confusion between pasture-raised and free-range.

  5. 12 eggs a week, why such divergent messages? I want eggs, love the flavor, but am inclined to accept Dr. G’s recommendation to stay away, however…… am torn, why is there such divergent information?

    Story at-a-glance

    You can safely eat at least one dozen eggs per week, provided they’re pasture-raised and eaten raw or very lightly cooked

    Eating 12 eggs per week had no effect on cholesterol levels or triglyceride levels compared to eating less than two eggs per week

    Study participants eating 12 eggs per week reported less hunger and greater satiety after breakfast

    see http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/04/01/eggs-cholesterol-levels.aspx

    1. macduff40: I haven’t looked at that particular study, but here’s how these studies typically go: Give eggs to people who are eating the Standard American Diet and thus who already have maxed out their cholesterol levels. So, adding those eggs makes it magically appear that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat (both abundant in eggs no matter how you cook them or how the moms are raised) does not appear to affect cholesterol levels.

      In other words: It turns out that our bodies reach a saturation limit for cholesterol. Feeding people cholesterol and saturated fat causes cholesterol levels to go up and up, until the numbers reach a certain limit. Then our bodies start to accommodate even if you keep eating more saturated fat and cholesterol. Pro-egg studies usually take advantage of this well known phenomenon. (In other words, it’s my guess that they weren’t doing this study on people whose total cholesterol was below 150 and whose LDL was below 70.) Sadly, at that point which your numbers level off, you are in a big danger zone health-wise.

      So, once you are already in the danger zone, adding a few more eggs is not going to make that much of a difference. It’s like the difference between smoking 40 cigarettes a day compared to 50. You probably won’t see that much of an effect in a study on the health effects of smoking if. But if you did a reasonable study which compared the health of people who don’t smoke to those those who smoke 40 cigarettes a day, you will see a significant health impact.

      The same goes for eggs. If you compare to people who have truly healthy levels of cholesterol, adding eggs makes a difference every time. But if you add eggs to people who have already basically maxed out their cholesterol levels, you won’t see much of a difference.

      The bit about satiety is also likely misleading. Compared to eating what??? What were they eating when they weren’t eating 12 eggs a weak for breakfast? Same calories? Sugary cereal? ???

      What do you think?

    1. Obsessedwitheggs: I hear you. Most people have a harder time abstaining from cheese than from eggs. But every once in a while, we get someone who is “obsessed with eggs”. I can understand why you might think that the yolk is healthier. It turns out, however, that egg whites are just as unhealthy as the yolk. Below is my standard reply when people ask about egg whites. I hope it is helpful.
      **************************
      There are two problems with eggs, the yolk and the white. (To paraphrase Dr. Barnard.) Egg whites are likely a big problem health-wise, just like the yolks. It is true that egg whites do not have cholesterol. But egg whites are essentially all animal protein. Here’s what we know about animal protein in general and egg whites in particular:

      Dr. Barnard links potential kidney problems to animal protein (though I don’t have the details on that). And Dr. Greger talks about the problems of animal protein in general in his annual summary video, “Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet” http://nutritionfacts.org/video/food-as-medicine

      Here on NutritionFacts, you can get a great education on how animal protein is linked to the body’s over-production of a growth hormone called IGF-1. IGF-1 helps cancer to grow. To watch the series about IGF-1, click on the link below and then keep clicking the “next video” link on the button to the right until you get through the bodybuilding video. Then you will have seen the entire series.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/igf-1-as-one-stop-cancer-shop/

      Here’s another great tidbit from NutritionFacts on another mechanism linking egg whites to cancer as well as increased virus infections: “why would animal protein and fat increase cancer risk? Well, as I noted in Bowel Wars, if you eat egg whites, for example, between 5 and 35% of the protein isn’t digested, isn’t absorbed, and ends up in the colon, where it undergoes a process called putrefaction. When animal protein putrefies in the gut, it can lead to the production of the rotten egg gas, hydrogen sulfide, which, over and above its objectionable odor, can produce changes that increase cancer risk. Putrefying protein also produces ammonia.”
      To learn more details about the process, check out:
      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/putrefying-protein-and-toxifying-enzymes/

      Darryl at one point reminded me of the methionine issue, which I think I first learned from Rami and later from Dr. Greger. Egg whites have *the* highest concentration of methionine of any food:
      http://nutritiondata.self.com/foods-000084000000000000000.html?categories=1,18,9,0,13,14,5,4,42,16,17,15,6,3,2,11,7,19,21,12,10,8,22
      Dr. Greger did a nice video showing the link between methionine and cancer.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/starving-cancer-with-methionine-restriction/

      Darryl also pointed out that, “…high methionine diets increase coronary risk in humans. In its associations with cardiovascular disease and other disorders, homocysteine may be functioning partly as a marker for the major culprit, excess methionine.”
      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0939475305001092

      Dr. Greger recently posted some videos on how animal protein can raise insulin levels. The first of the following videos even specifically addresses egg whites. The last link is to a post on the topic with some really great info.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/paleo-diets-may-negate-benefits-of-exercise/#comment-1978464793
      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/if-white-rice-is-linked-to-diabetes-what-about-china/
      http://nutritionfacts.org/2016/09/06/paleo-diet-may-undermine-benefit-of-crossfit-exercise/

      In summary: there are at least three pathways potentially linking animal proteins, especially egg whites, to cancer: the IGF-1, methionine, and putrefaction. And there is some good evidence that egg white consumption contributes to heart disease and potential problems with T2 diabetes by raising insulin levels in a bad way. All of these reductionist-type studies lend support the bigger general population studies showing that the healthiest populations on earth are those which eat the least amount of animal protein.

      With all of the information we have about the harmful effects of animal protein in general and egg white in particular, I think it’s best to stay away from egg white. Why not get your protein from safe sources? IE: Sources which are known to have lots of positive health effects and will naturally give you a balanced amount of protein? (ie: whole plant foods) Make sense?

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