Pastured vs Omega-3 vs Conventional Eggs – What’s The Difference?

Chicken And EggI love eggs and eat 3-4 of them for breakfast, every single day.

I don’t lose sleep over it, because research shows that they are good for my health.

But depending on what the hens themselves ate, the nutritional value of the eggs can differ greatly.

The Different Types of Eggs Are a Confusing Mess

There are several different types of eggs, which can leave people confused.

What all of them have in common is that they come from chickens, but they vary depending on how the chickens were raised and what they were fed.

  • Conventional Eggs – These are your standard supermarket eggs. The chickens are usually raised in an overfilled hen house or a cage and never see the light of day.
     
    They are usually fed grain-based crap, supplemented with vitamins and minerals. May also be treated with antibiotics and hormones.
  • Organic Eggs – Were not treated with antibiotics or hormones and received organic feed. May have had limited access to the outdoors.
  • Pastured Eggs – Chickens are allowed to roam free, eating plants and insects (their natural food) along with some commercial feed.
  • Omega-3 Enriched Eggs – Basically, they’re like conventional chickens except that their feed is supplemented with an Omega-3 source like flax seeds. May have had some access to the outside.

Conventional vs. Omega-3 Eggs

A study compared the fatty acid composition of 3 types of eggs: conventional, organic and omega-3 enriched (1).

Woman smiling and holding an egg

  1. Omega-3 eggs had 39% less Arachidonic Acid, an inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acid that most people eat too much of.
  2. Omega-3 eggs had 5 times as much Omega-3 as the conventional eggs.
  3. There was very little difference between organic and conventional eggs.

It is clear that hens fed an omega-3 enriched diets lay eggs that are much higher in Omega-3 than conventional eggs.

This is important because most people eat too little Omega-3.

Unfortunately this study didn’t measure other nutrients, only the fatty acid composition.

Conventional vs. Pastured Eggs

In 2007, Mother Earth News magazine decided to test the nutritional value of pastured eggs and received such eggs from 14 different farms.

They were measured in a chemical lab, then compared to the USDA standard conventional egg.

Pastured Vs Conventional Eggs

As you can see, eggs from pastured hens are more nutritious than the conventional eggs you might find at the supermarket.

They are higher in Vitamin A, E and Omega-3s. They are also lower in Cholesterol and Saturated Fat, but I don’t think that matters.

A study I found on pastured eggs produced similar results (2).

Other Terms For Eggs

Egg

There are other more loose and confusing terms, including Free Range and Cage Free, which may or may not be any better than conventional eggs.

Free range could mean that there’s a small window on the hen house where the hens have the option of going outside.

Cage free just means that they aren’t raised in a cage. They could still be raised in a smelly, dirty overstuffed hen house.

Take Home Message

At the end of the day, pastured eggs are your best bet. They are more nutritious and the hens were allowed free access to the outside and ate a more natural diet.

If you can’t get pastured eggs (like me) then Omega-3 enriched eggs will be your second best choice. If you can’t get either pastured or Omega-3 eggs, then try to find eggs that are either free-range, cage-free or organic.

But even if that’s not an option, then conventional eggs are still among the healthiest and most nutritious foods you can eat.

To sum up:

Pastured > Omega-3 > Organic > Free Range/Cage Free > Conventional

This just goes to show that what we eat isn’t all that matters… it also matters what our foods eat.

52 Comments

  1. Kris,

    I go through about a dozen eggs a week, so opting for Omega-3 eggs is an easy way to improve the Omega-3 content in my diet. I also take a krill oil supplement daily. They are slightly more expensive, but well worth it in my opinion.

    Alykhan

  2. Kris,

    I really like your website. It’s visually pleasing and I think your topics are intriguing. I’m a follower of Marks Daily Apple, Diet Doctor, Diagnosis Diet, Gary Taube’s, Living La Vida Low Carb and Chris Kresser. I look forward to your posts every morning with my coffee.

    Thanks

  3. Great article. One major caveat people should be aware of: Omega-3 eggs are from hens fed flax seeds that are probably not whole or protected from air, light and heat. Omega-3 fatty acids are inherently prone to oxidation from air, heat and light.

    It’s therefore likely the hens are consuming rancid flax seeds/Omega-3s — and that you are then consuming concentrated, rancid Omega-3s. Dr. Mercola alludes to this (for example, see http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/03/10/The-Sunny-Side-of-Eggs.aspx)
    One producer I’m aware of (http://goldcirclefarms.com/) offers Omega-3 eggs that include marine algae AND flax in the hens’ diets.

    While cage-free, these eggs are neither free-range nor organic. And they still include some flax. Best bet: pasture-raised or organic, free-range eggs.

    • Marethere says:

      I raise free range laying hens for my own family use. They eat a commercial diet a from local farm and a natural diet from free ranging. They love eating young tender grass as well as their other natural foods.

      The shiny, waxy substance (fat) that coats the blades of grass contains the right balance of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids in the same balance as flax seeds. I learned this while taking an equine nutrition course as I have horses. It’s nature’s perfect food for grazing animals!

      As for grass fed beef, I buy local beef that was butchered at the end of the summer. In the winter, cattle are fed hay (dried, cured grass) and still called grass fed but the hay has much less omega 3 fat because it’s dried and that nice waxy fat just flakes away.

      As far as flax seeds, they do not oxidize until the seed is broken open so feeding whole flax seeds to hens is fine. They are ground up in the gizzard. I grind my flax seeds in a coffee grinder just before adding to my horse feed during the winter months when they don’t have access to pasture grass.

      • I feed my chickens all my scraps from the kitchen, fruit, vegetables, etc. During the summer along with the kitchen scraps, I give them fresh lawn clippings. There are 10 chickens and have a yard that is 10×16 with a room 8×8 to lay their eggs. When I let them roam, they come onto my patio and poop everywhere and destroy my landscaping, so that had to stop. What category would you put my chickens in?

  4. Sarah Gray says:

    Kris, enjoy your daily articles from here in Australia.

    Do you know of a recipe for a healthy, weight safe breakfast shake? I do not have gluten, sugar or milk in my diet and cannot face eggs every day.
    Sarah

    • Sure. You mean in a blender, right?

      I personally like shakes with coconut milk and berries (either blueberries or strawberries). It is very satisfying, keeps me satiated for many hours. I put one raw egg in my shake instead of protein powder.

  5. Thanks, great feed.

  6. Hi Kris,
    Great article, thanks for writing it. I always thought there was something funny about egg producers advertising “from vegetarian-fed hens.” Cows graze, but chickens attack (ie, peck). Would you go so far as to say that if you can’t find or afford pastured eggs, then just don’t eat eggs?

  7. I recently purchased my first dozen omega 3 free range eggs. What a disappointment! The yolks of the first 6 I cracked broke as soon as the were in the pan. They were also a pale yellow. Having raised laying hens myself, I know an egg from a free run bird has a yolk that stands up much higher than store bought and is a deep yellow to orange color when the birds are fed greens. The shells are also more difficult to crack.

    I pitched the last half dozen eggs and will never buy them again. I’ll stick with the local farmers “uninspected” eggs.

  8. Stipetic says:

    Good morning from the continental mainland (I’m in Greece)! Just arrived at your site recently and I like what I read. Great job.

    About omega-3 eggs, you say: “5 times as much Omega-3.”

    I think we probably would agree are by far that EPA and DHA are the most beneficial omega-3s, as the conversion of anything else to these two are of a low order. I’ve heard that none or little of the omega-3 found in eggs are either EPA or DHA. Do you know this to be true? If so, do you still think they are worth the extra cost?

    • A lot of the ALA fed to the chickens gets converted into EPA and DHA. So you will be getting a mix of the three. Yes, I believe they are worth the extra cost.

      • Stipetic says:

        Thanks for the feedback. It doesn’t seem like there’s a consensus on this issue.

        According to this review “http://www.acneeinstein.com/omega-3-eggs-worth-it/” it appears the amount of EPA and DHA in omega-3 eggs still remains pretty low (to me, it’s not worth the cost for the amount of available EPA and DHA). However, if there’s a benefit (and this might be worth the cost) it appears to lie in the more reasonable omega-6 to 3 ratio. Just sayin’.

  9. Great work Kris, ever since my daughter sent me the link to your articles I am hooked!
    I have lost 8kg in approx 3 months and feel awesome. Thank you

  10. Novan Man says:

    Aren’t conventional eggs laid by hens whose feed are almost entirely GMO?

    If this is the case won’t this somehow, someway negatively affect the person consuming them? Perhaps on a genetic level?

    I only eat conventional eggs and this has been an issue in the back of my mind every time I’m enjoying some.

  11. Kudou Kou says:

    You’re write up here is really good and informative, however you’re mistaken on one aspect- Chickens are NOT fed hormones.* It’s illegal to feed them hormones. You are correct about overdosing with antibiotics though. Beef has growth hormones and the like but chicken does not, so anytime you see “hormone free” on chicken it’s just bull***t advertising. It’s like saying “Anti-freeze free!”…

    *Speaking from a US point of view, I don’t know about other countries but I suspect it’s similar since many places are more strict than the US on food safety.

    • Please explain to me then why factory chickens in China are ready to be slaughtered in 4-5 weeks after the have hatched. What’s illegal in America is not necessarily illegal everywhere else. Even if it’s illegal, the law might not be enforced. I live in China and have insight in what is happening in the poultry industry. They get injected with growth hormones and arsenic containing antibiotics. I would not touch these eggs. I get my eggs from a farmer I know personally.

  12. Thank you for a good simple explanation again! I’ve been wondering where I can get hold of “pastured” eggs in the UK as all the low carb sites rave about them and I’d never seen them here… turns out that in the UK we call them “free range” and I’ve been eating them for a decade!!

  13. What a great article and I learned even more by reading all of your responses. I have raised my own ‘pasture fed’ flock for decades, even in Alaska for a time and I have always preferred the quality of the eggs and meat to anything you can get in the store, but I didn’t really understand why. Now I’m doing my own little bit of research. I guess I have been on the right track. Next study, ‘the natural diet of chickens and what they get from their feed.’

  14. Shola Sam says:

    It is a pleasure reading the article and comments posted. @ Stipetic Omega-3 enriched eggs can provide the long chain fatty acids (DHA, EPA) at higher and acceptable levels than conventional eggs. However, flavor of such eggs could be affected depending on the source of omega-3 oil used in the chicken diet.

  15. SickOfBeingSick says:

    While researching anti-inflammatory foods, I learned about the benefits of Omega-3. There was a statement in one article about O-3 in eggs to the effect that the O-3 (and other things) are contained in the yolks. Since I eat eggs for the protein and lower calories, and learned that the whites are lower in calories and cholesterol, and higher in protein than the yolks, I eat only the whites.

    If, therefore, there is no O-3 in the whites, I guess it won’t benefit me any to switch to pasture eggs (although I might do that anyway, if they’re readily available, simply because they’re obviously “purer”), and I’ll have to depend on my daily portion of fish (salmon and tilapia) for my O-3. Does this make sense to you?

    BTW, I found your site when I was researching O-3 in eggs, and like your style of writing. It’s informative without getting too technical. I’ve bookmarked it and will return every time I have another nutrition question. Thank you!

  16. Hi Sickofbeingsic, this isn’t a very active thread but I follow it anyway. To answer your statement, yes you will benefit yourself by switching to pasture fed eggs. Hard as heck to find and expensive, but worth it.

    If you buy eggs from a farmers market ask the question: do the laying hens have access to grass pastures? Many times even the farm eggs will come from coop hens. Mine don’t, they range on several acres in Texas lands and folks who enjoy my eggs are never sick.

    My own daughter gets deathly ill from anything with commercial eggs, but she can eat mine all day… and lose weight. Hubby and I have never had our cholesterol looking better. Hope this helps your decision.

  17. Sigrid Steinkellner says:

    All very interesting facts. However, consider how fortunate you are when there are millions around the world, who would be happy to have ONE egg, regardless of its source.

  18. My son eats 8 (yes eight!) eggs a day. Is that still healthy in your opinion? He only hard boils them but that’s still a lot of fat!

  19. Do you have any more neutral sources for the conventional vs. pastured eggs study? I tend to take research performed by what could obviously be a very biased source with a huge grain of salt.

  20. I raise chickens in a fenced in yard (20×20) with wire on top and all around. They would not survive otherwise. I feed them Purina Layena Omega 3 plus. My question is, since they are fed this will eating them every day raise cholesterol anyway?

  21. Mother Earth News had an independent lab do a study of free range eggs from all over the US VS conventionally raised eggs and the results were quite remarkable. Look up Mother Earth News and the study can be found there.

  22. Just wondering, how can you not find pastured eggs? I went on craigslist in Pittsburgh, and I found 4 different ads for pastured eggs. There is even a farm that delivers to dozens of drop-off points in the state that you can pick up. It’s not hard, though you may have to do some sleuthing. Just because your grocery stores doesn’t carry it doesn’t mean that it’s not available to you. It’s worth it to the environment, the local economy, and your health to eat natural local food.

  23. Hi Kris, not sure if this thread is still active but thought I’d write. Interesting article and thought you might have some advice on the following. I am a strict vegan and hence don’t eat eggs, I’ve been a vegan for 8 years now. However I suspect I have PCOS due to various hormone tests that I’ve had, although not officially diagnosed by the doctors yet.

    As you may know PCOS is an inflammatory condition so I’m trying to up my content of anti-inflammatory foods which is where omega 3 comes in. I’m not prepared to consume fish oils as that is a step too far for me, however I’m considering eating eggs again.

    I already consume walnuts which are high in plant ALA but can’t consume flax even though they are much higher in omega 3 as this contains lignans, which are plant estrogens. My blood tests have showed that I have high estrogen levels so I’m avoiding all plant estrogens altogether such as soya etc.

    So I was wondering what your opinion is on whether I should also consume the eggs as well as the walnuts?

    And are there any other foods you recommend which have high omega-3 properties? Algae? I already taken spirulina everyday.

    Thanks for your time.

    • I think in your case, having some eggs would be a great idea. Taking some sort of EPA/DHA supplement could be a good idea as well.

      I haven’t done much research on it, but I’ve heard from many places that a low-carb, real food based diet can help significantly with PCOS.

      • Thanks Kris, I will look out for some EPA/DHA supplements. Yes, you’re right about the low-carb diet; I’m only eating whole food low-carbs, high protein, no sugar or wheat and taking chromium supplements to balance blood sugar levels as well as other vitamins/minerals. I learnt that if I consume sugar it causes too much inflammation and I get spots around my mouth, another common symptom.

  24. Pasteurized eggs? I thought this was simply a misnomer but it isn’t.

    Pasteurized is pasteurized and has nothing to do with how long a chicken spends outside eating natural foods.

    I wish I could find such a thing as real chicken eggs.

    I’m wondering how much here is worth considering.

  25. Pastured = Free Range. I think that’s a term many are familiar with.

    Free range hens on a farm also eat a more normal commercial or farm mixed grain based feed as well with the important addition of some specific amino acids such as lysine and methionine. If the hens are to produce a high quality protein egg at least 5 times a week they need the raw materials to build that protein. There is also added calcium for the egg shells plus other minerals.

    It always amazes me how a hen can produce such a perfect food; the material to produce a chick plus food for that chick to grow on in such a large egg almost daily!!

    I love my hens :-)

  26. Oops.

    I said “pasteurized” and that is what I meant. I don’t like wiki much but it can’t be that wrong on this. The word means what the word means.

    But you clearly said “pastured” Sorry.

    I just bought a dozen pasteurized and now I feel I spent an extra buck for a bunch of s****T.

  27. Hey Kris, what do you think about this article from Mercola’s website that addresses the negative effect of Omega-3 enriched eggs?

    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/08/27/eating-eggs.aspx

    • I disagree with it.

      What he’s saying doesn’t even make sense, the quote he uses is not even talking about Omega-3 eggs, neither are the references he cites (#18 and #19).

  28. Alexander Petersen says:

    Hi, I like your blog. According to this research which I just found on the net (http://www.ajol.info/index.php/sajas/article/view/3776/11841), the nutritional fatty acid profile of eggs from hens fed fish oil is the same as that of hens fed flax seeds, including the long chain fatty acids EPA and DHA. I guess the chickens convert the alpha linoleic acid (ALA) to the longer chains in their own bodies before the egg is produced.

    • That’s how pastured/free range hens produce eggs with good amounts of EPA & DHA. They get lots of ALA from eating grass.

  29. Great article!

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