Monday, May 4, 2009

Pastured Eggs

Eggs are an exceptionally nutritious food. It's not surprising, considering they contain everything necessary to build a chick! But all eggs are not created equal. Anyone who has seen the tall, orange yolk, viscous white, and tough shell of a true pastured egg knows they're profoundly different. So has anyone who's tasted one. This has been vigorously denied by the American Egg Board and the Egg Nutrition Council, primarily representing conventional egg farmers, which assert that eggs from giant smelly barns are nutritionally equal to their pastured counterparts.

In 2007, the magazine Mother Earth News decided to test that claim. They sent for pastured eggs from 14 farms around the U.S., tested them for a number of nutrients, and compared them to the figures listed in the USDA Nutrient Database for conventional eggs. Here are the results per 100 grams for conventional eggs, the average of all the pastured eggs, and eggs from Skagit River Ranch, which sells at my farmer's market:

Vitamin A:
  • Conventional: 487 IU
  • Pastured avg: 792 IU
  • Skagit Ranch: 1013 IU
Vitamin D:
  • Conventional: 34 IU
  • Pastured avg: 136 - 204 IU
  • Skagit Ranch: not determined
Vitamin E:
  • Conventional: 0.97 mg
  • Pastured avg: 3.73 mg
  • Skagit Ranch: 4.02 mg
  • Conventional: 10 mcg
  • Pastured avg: 79 mcg
  • Skagit Ranch: 100 mcg
Omega-3 fatty acids:
  • Conventional: 0.22 g
  • Pastured avg: 0.66 g
  • Skagit Ranch: 0.74 g

Looks like the American Egg Board and the Egg Nutrition Council have some egg on their faces...

Eggs also contain vitamin K2, with the amount varying substantially according to the hen's diet. Guess where the A, D, K2, beta-carotene and omega-3 fatty acids are? In the yolk of course. Throwing the yolk away turns this powerhouse into a bland, nutritionally unimpressive food.

It's important to note that "free range" supermarket eggs are nutritionally similar to conventional eggs. The reason pastured eggs are so nutritious is that the chickens get to supplement their diets with abundant fresh plants and insects. Having little doors on the side of a giant smelly barn just doesn't replicate that.


Anonymous said...

Skagit River! My favorite stand at the market. I just bought a quarter cow from those guys. Nice people. I've bought a lot of eggs from them too but they aren't as orange as some of the other local eggs. The white part is so viscous it doesn't spread out in the pan and its harder to fry!

chlOe said...

Oh man I hate conventional eggs
Once you go local pastured, you never go back

Not to mention all the waste that's created out of conventional chicken egg farms - I mean, have you seen what they do with male chicks?

Jenny Light said...

At the farm where we buy our fresh eggs every Tuesday, the chickens are allowed to run free, so get the benefit of bugs, grass etc. Their grain is supplemented with fish meal for added omega 3 (flaxseed would be the other feed source).

The farmer’s wife was born and raised in Europe where eggs are not stored in the fridge, but rather, in a cupboard or on the kitchen counter. The reason for this is that the eggs are not washed! Eggs from the hen are coated with an invisible protective film that prevents bacteria/microbes from breaching the shell. Once washed, this protection disappears. They will store for up to 2 months unrefrigerated!

Ask your farmer not to wash your eggs (soil is wiped off with a rag) if you can! Unrefrigerated, the beneficial enzymes within remain alive, and I would imagine that the vitamins and minerals remain uncompromised. I have been eating raw yolks in my smoothies for 7.5 years, and have never gotten ill from eating them this way.

If you purchase your eggs from the grocery, you MUST continue to store the washed eggs in the fridge.

I wonder if the eggs used in the investigation at Mother Earth News were fresh from the hen or out of the dairy case? It would be interesting to know if there is indeed nutritional benefit (other than the living enzymes) in keeping the eggs out of the refrigerator.

Monica said...

Kudos, Stephan. I wonder if this is the same Mother Earth News study I saw awhile back or a new one... I'll have to check out your link. Busy now.

Of course, all of industrial ag. tries to pull this nonsense. Here's an absurd editorial that looks like it was paid for by Monsanto.

I haven't really investigated the growth hormone issue, but to claim that "milk is milk" is so ignorant when milk from pastured cows is demonstrably different. Curiously, this op/ed came out before the PNAS paper claiming that growth hormone reduces environmental impact. Whether she's connected with Monsanto or just believe the propaganda is hard to say.

It's really sad when industrial farmers actually believe the propaganda they spread, and I've met some. A whole new generation of farmers and vets are too young to remember the older ways of farming. (These big ag groups are also heavily politically connected. When you have the sanction of the government you can get away with saying just about anything.)

Nick said...

Stephan, thank you for another great post. What a difference acting on this kind of information makes in our daily lives and our health!

daiikkon said...

Hey Stephen

I think I found out the insomnia problem. A few years ago I started taking kelp and within a few weeks I started showing hyperthyroid symptoms.
In your iodine post you said there is a good amount of iodine in real fermented cod liver oil. I was taking 2 teaspoons of this a day. The same symptoms I had back then appeared again. Needless to say I have stopped the CLO.
My question is do you know if raw grass fed butter or calf's liver have a lot of iodine in them? I was not able to find any info about the iodine content of these two foods.
I feel really good on the raw butter so maybe it was just the iodine in CLO?


Nick said...


I am always interested in sleep issues as they have been a recurrent theme in my life due to sleep apnea. I saw your earlier post with regard to your five hour sleep limit and Stephan's response.

I have been stuck at five hours for about a month and haven't been able to figure out why, but assumed going LC, grain free and adding a number of supplements had to be creating unintended metabolic changes along with the welcome intended changes. Unlike you, I am told that I am hypothyroid, so have been thinking that is the culprit.

I did begin one teaspoon of CLO about a month ago...hmmm.

My doc just started me on a half grain of Nature Throid, so I'll let you know if that works, but it is for hypo, not hyperthyroid.

Unknown said...

Would you comment about arachidonic acid in the yolks?

Half Navajo said...

i wouldn't buy those DHA cage free eggs, they don't seem to natural to me, probably better just to go with organic valley regular organic eggs if you can't get truly pastured eggs. When i worked on this one farm in texas, our pastured eggs were so strong, i could throw them like a baseball and they would skip across the ground without breaking... it was pretty funny!


Stephan Guyenet said...


Very cool. Their eggs aren't super orange in the winter but they get more colorful in spring and summer. I've been to the farm and the chickens get plenty of grass.


It's based on the same study, except that they recently tested vitamin D as well. No big surprise that it's higher in eggs from chickens that spend time outdoors.


OK, that makes sense. Hopefully that will do the trick. I take about 1/3 teaspoon of the fermented CLO per day. Butter and liver will contain some iodine but not a lot.


The Skagit eggs aren't the darkest but they do get darker in the summer when they're pastured more.


I haven't thought about it much, I assume you mean in the context of eicosanoids and inflammation? I'm not concerned, since eggs have yet to be linked to any chronic diseases that I'm aware of. They were obviously a focus of studies on heart disease and no one was ever able to show convincingly that they contribute or even associate with it. The AA content could perhaps be a drawback, I don't know, but I think the positives outweigh it in any case.


Could you hit them with a bat too??

Stephan Guyenet said...


Just wanted to add one more thing. AA itself isn't a problem, and in fact it's an important nutrient. But what could potentially be a problem is a lot of AA without enough EPA/DHA to balance it. But the relationship is not as simple as more AA = more inflammation anyway.

Unknown said...

Anyone know of a good place to get quality eggs in the Portland Oregon area? Right now I'm buying my eggs form Whole Foods.

Swede said...

Same question as Thomas but in the San Diego area? I currently buy Trader Joes Organic Grade AA medium brown eggs. They are wonderful, firm yolk and a thick shell. But I would like to support a local farmer and buy eggs I know for sure come from true pastured hens.

Half Navajo said...

hey thomas,

when i lived in portland, the best eggs i found were from Wild THIngs, and they set up camp at the peoples food co-op farmers market every wednesday. Get there early because everyone wants there eggs. At the SDSU farmers market there was one good seller, but i think they were like almost 7 bucks a dozen...


Unknown said...


I have family in Portland and there is a farmers market on Sat. in Beaverton ( probably others as well )

I was able to get pastured eggs and grass fed beef

Unknown said...

While I'm sold on pastured eggs, I do have to comment that the Mother Earth study wasn't really fair or scientific. Instead of comparing the nutrients of specific pastured eggs with what the USDA says industrial eggs contain, they should have bought industrial eggs at a store and then done the comparison. Or (and of course this would be ridiculous), compare what the USDA says the nutrients are in industrial eggs and what the USDA says the nutrients are in pastured eggs.

I'm sure Mother Earth would have come to the same or even better conclusions had they compared real eggs with real eggs, but as it stands, the study seems unfair and almost like a setup when you look at it closely.

Stephan Guyenet said...


The USDA data they compared the pastured eggs to presumably come from eggs analyzed in a similar way. I agree they ideally should have included conventional eggs as a control. But the values for the pastured eggs didn't even overlap with the numbers from the conventional eggs, so I think we can be pretty confident that the pastured eggs are more nutritious.

Unknown said...

Finally found a source of pastured eggs

Double yokers and huge


AngloAmerikan said...

I have always felt it was wrong to eat the whites of eggs and throw the yokes away. From these statistics it looks like you could get the same benefits from conventional eggs if you ate three times as many.

daiikkon said...

Hey Stephan

Any idea on how much iodine is in High Vitamin Butter Oil? Should I keep away from this for a while? If you take HVBO, how much do you take a day?

Thank You

Stephan Guyenet said...


I have no idea. I wouldn't expect it to contain a lot. You can try asking Green Pastures, they've measured a number of the nutrients in it.

Alaflo said...

Do you have any idea if hard-boiled eggs are less nutritious than, say, scrambled eggs? I am just curious as to how much nutrient availability is lost if I don't eat my pastured eggs raw. Also, are they actually harmed by being refrigerated? Thanks!

Stephan Guyenet said...


They will be nutritious whether you scramble or boil them. The fat-soluble vitamins are heat-stable. I don't think they're harmed by refrigeration but they may lose some nutritional value if they're stored for a long time.

Monica said...

I fried up a bunch of farm eggs alongside a factory farmed egg ages ago. Here's the picture:

In hindsight, I'm pretty sure those were duck eggs (egg white). Oooops! Still, the color of the yolk is comparable to chicken eggs that I get from the same farm.

chlOe said...

here's a really good comparison

Stephan Guyenet said...


You can definitely tell the difference there. I agree those look like duck eggs. Big yolk, more translucent white. But I occasionally buy conventional duck eggs and the yolks are just as pale as conventional chicken eggs. By the way, duck eggs are super nutritious.


That is a striking picture! How you could see something like that and then say there's no nutritional difference between the two blows my mind.

Brian said...

Wow, I've been getting "free range" eggs (not simply cage-free), from a local health food store, who got them from a farm in the state. I assumed they would be healthier.

What should I find out from the farm to determine if these are the healthier pasture eggs or the smelly barn eggs?

Anna said...


Be very skeptical when you see "free range" on an egg carton. There is no legal definition of the term; it's a marketing term and subject to interpretation. See if you can contact the farm/ranch and ask directly about how much the chickens are outside and how much they actually are able to forage for non-grain rations. Most consumers picture a very different poultry setting than what is more likely to be the reality. Michael Pollan has a great analysis of this in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma, calling it Pastoral Literature, and it is usually accompanied by nostalgic pastoral images of red barns, farmers in denim overalls, and chickens pecking on the ground outside. It's very often misleading, as it is intended to be. And it's effective.

Commercial egg ranching on the scale that is necessary to supply widespread retail networks works against truly free ranging poultry, so its rather rare to find pastured chicken eggs in chain retail stores ("pastured" is a better term than free range, IMO, but I'd still ask the producer what that actually means with his/her operation). More likely the chickens are housed in large buildings with attached dirt pens where some chickens can go outdoors via ann access door that is sometimes open. But if the feed is indoors, that's were the chickens are likely to stay. Sometimes there are open air wire "walls" to a building, so it is more of a roofed open-air enclosure, but grasses and sunshine aren't necessarily a major feature.

These days, most chicken operations are scared to dead of allowing their chickens outdoors for fear of disease. The laying breeds that are most productive on a large scale (therefore profitable) are not always very hardy, so have to be protected, esp if they are in very large flocks and stressed. Bio-haz-mat suits are required to enter the facilities in my county's local egg ranches.

The only truly free range eggs I could find in local "natural food stores" were imported from New Zealand and cost a small fortune for a half doz. So instead I sought out local people who live in the rural and rural-suburban areas who like to keep some chickens as part of their lifetsyle, from a few dozen to a few hundred layers, not 50 to 70 thousand (like the local egg ranches). There are more of of these "lifestyle" chicken keepers than you might imagine. A friend of mine buys eggs from the owner of a property she passes while trail riding through a semi-rural"horsey" section of our city. My neighbor works at a local bio-tech firm, but her co-worker keeps 80 chickens at her large semi-rural property (also in a "horsey" area) and sells the eggs ("horsey" areas are a good place to wander around looking for "eggs for sale" signs at driveways). I buy 7 doz most weeks via my neighbor's co-worker and distribute a few of those doz to some other friends.

It takes some sleuthing and networking, but "backyard" chickens that have protected access to green plants, bugs, sunshine, etc. are around if you look, and well worth it (when you eat 2-3 eggs daily, you get bored with supermarket eggs, even the premium ones). Try your local 4-H chapter, too. Lots of kids keep laying chickens. Another lead might be fine-dining restaurant chefs, who often seek out special local eggs. is another resource - put your zip code and a search radius in and ther emay be egg listings in your area. You may not find all these "alternative" options are certified organic, but if the chicken have a change to forage for much of the day, they aren't eating as much non-organic grain, anyway, and might be "beyond organic". And these eggs are often cheaper than store eggs anyway. My former source only charged $2 dz with carton recycling (and she delivered!), my current source charges $3/dz (and my neighbor picks up the eggs at her work and delivers to me). The eggs I buy at the store (Trader Joe's) when I run out are $4/dz. All are quite a bargain for high quality and versatile protein, in my view.

Stephan Guyenet said...


Ask them how the chickens are raised. Do they spend a significant amount of time outdoors pecking around? Don't let them weasel out of it by saying they have "access" to the outdoors, ask them specifically how much time they actually spend outdoors and how much green space they have to peck around in.

Brian said...

Thanks to your recommendations, I just bought 6 dozen pastured eggs from a local farm. And they're great!

Check out the comparison photos I've posted here:

Stephan Guyenet said...


That looks about right! Firm white, tall dark yolk.

Muchacha en la ventana said...

Repeating paleoRD's point: Do you know any place to buy pastured eggs and poultry in San Diego area?
I have been searching it for a while.Right now I am buying organic eggs from Fresh and Easy .
Any help wuld be great.

Anna said...


Here are my SD tips for finding the foods you want, but the same strategies are useful anywhere.

Many people love a rural lifestyle that includes raising animals naturally, and they sell some for extra income or to defray the cost of keeping animals. Most of these people aren't full-time farmers and don't advertise much, except via word of mouth.

None of the local big egg ranches in East SD County have truly pastured eggs (that I am aware of).

There are some great eggs at a few of the farmer's markets and roadside farm stands, but shop around and ask questions - some are very pricey and some are not what I call "truly free range" There are some nice eggs at the Hernandez roadside farm stand in east Escondido (ostrich and turkey eggs, otrich jerky, too).

Contact Kim Schuette, a nutritionist in Solana Beach and the leader of the SD chapter leader of the Weston A. Price Foundation, to see if she knows of an egg or poultry producer in your part of SD county.

You can also ask Kim to add you to the SD Nourishing Traditions yahoo group. You can ask there; sometimes there are posts with offers for eggs, meat, and raw goat milk.

Call or email the manager of your closest farmer's market to let him/her know you want vendors that sell meat/poultry/eggs/dairy. Those foods are sorely lacking at the SD area farmers markets - though the fruits and veg variety is great.

Subscribe to Check the SD county farm bureau's website, too.

Glacier Grown bison ranch in Montana delivers pastured bison orders twice a year to SD county. I've been very pleased with my purchases from the Dunhams. A half bison (much smaller than a half steer) will fill a side-by-side freezer compartment usually. I use bison instead of beef most of the time now. Same recipes. Sometimes a couple of households arrange to split an order.

If you go to the SD Fair (coming up very soon in June - check the SD Fair website for more details and the calendar). Connect with the kids who raise animals. Ask questions and learn. Sometimes you can find a good source that way.

On the day of the livestock auction at the fair (maybe the last day around July 4), meat processors are there for hire to transport and custom process, butcher, wrap, and freeze the animals (pigs, calves, steers, goats, lambs, etc.) that people buy. If that seems like "too much", just go and meet people and ask questions, and think it for the next year.

I've had a harder time finding local pastured chicken meat. I am near the coast and most people just keep egg layers. I might try one of the online retailers, like US Wellness meats or the one in Texas. Bulk orders than you can split with friends are much cheaper per pound. Again, a freezer helps.

Homegrown Meats in La Jolla stocks NC-raised French heritage breed (Red Neck) chickens that are small and delicious, and moderately meat.
They are just like the chickens found in small markets in France, on the small side, fairly lean, flavorful, and not as over developed as the big-breasted flaccid, bland American supermarket chickens. But be prepared to pay $6.99 a pound for whole chicken (about $25 a chicken).

Without knowing your SD location, those are the best tips I have for now. Just keep exploring and asking. That's what I do, and I'm finding new things all the time.

stern said...

is organic eggs same as pastured?
where can i find fertile eggs?

Stephan Guyenet said...


Organic is not the same as pastured. Organic eggs are from chickens raised in giant smelly barns that eat organic feed. I think their housing conditions are supposed to be better also. Pastured chickens run around in a field of grass, get sunshine and eat bugs.

I doubt there's any nutritional difference between fertilized and non-fertilized eggs.

Unknown said...

Stephan do you have an explanation for the study by Poultry expert Dr Kenneth Anderson who compared the nutritional content of 500 eggs produced by different methods over two years and found that free range eggs are nutritionally identical to caged eggs?