Nutrition Column – Designer Eggs: the Cracking Edge

An egg for every need seems to be the theme these days in the egg aisle of the grocery store. Gone are the days when your main decision was whether to buy the medium, large or extra-large eggs. Today, you can choose between omega-3 eggs, lower cholesterol eggs, free-range eggs, organic eggs, even eggs that have been pasteurized in the shell. Of course, you’ll pay extra for these added features, but for some, they may be worth the price. How are these "designer" or specialty eggs produced and what do they offer the consumer? Here’s the low-down on some of the more common specialty eggs.

Omega-3 eggs: The types of fatty acids found in the yolk of an egg are directly related to the types of fat fed to the chicken. Thus, adding products high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed, marine algae, fish and fish oil, to chicken feed can increase the omega-3 fatty acid content in the egg yolk. This is good since the American diet tends to be low in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for optimal development of an infant’s brain and eyes. These fats also have many other important benefits, including helping reduce one’s risk of arteriosclerosis and stroke. Omega-3 fatty acid-enriched eggs taste and cook like other eggs, but typically have a darker yolk color. Currently, there are several companies that market omega-3 eggs, including Gold Circle Farms in Boulder, Colo.

Eggs with lower saturated fat and cholesterol: Some designer egg manufacturers have focused on lowering the cholesterol and ratio of saturated to unsaturated fat in their eggs. This is generally done by feeding the chickens an all-vegetarian diet high in canola oil. To market a product as being lower in cholesterol or saturated fat, the product must have 25 percent less of the nutrient in question than the standard product. A large egg contains approximately 200-220 milligrams of cholesterol. Eggland’s Best is one company that markets reduced cholesterol and saturated fat eggs.

Cage-free or free-roaming eggs: The majority of commercial egg-laying chickens are housed in cages. Caging hens reduces the spread of disease by separating birds from their feces, reduces that amount of dust and ammonia present in the hen house and reduces the amount of physical labor required to manage chickens and collect the eggs. However, this system can be viewed as being less humane to the chicken; therefore, there is a niche market for eggs produced by chickens raised in a cage-free or free-roaming system. Typically, birds raised in a cage-free or free-roaming system are kept inside and maintained on the floor of the poultry house. Only if the label says "free-range" can you expect that the chickens were allowed to graze or roam outdoors.

Organic eggs: To be label as organically produced eggs, the eggs must be produced from hens that have been fed certified-organic feed produced without synthetic pesticides or herbicides, antibiotics or genetically-modified crops. In addition, synthetic pesticides cannot be used to control parasites that may affect the chicken. Typically, organic eggs also are produced from hens in cage-free systems.

Fertile eggs: Almost all eggs produced commercially are infertile. Roosters do not have to be present for hens to lay eggs and roosters, therefore, are generally not kept with laying flocks. Eggs purchased from a producer that allows the roosters to run with the chickens will often be fertile. There is no difference in the nutritional value of fertilized or unfertilized eggs; both are safe to eat.

Pasteurized eggs: Wish you could enjoy Caesar salad and sunny side-up eggs without the worry of salmonella? If so, you may want to consider pasteurized eggs. Raw eggs are pasteurized in the shell through the use of extended warm-water baths. Once pasteurized, the eggs are cooled to refrigerator temperatures, then coated with an FDA-approved sealant to help prevent future contamination. Pasteurized eggs are identified with a USDA Certified Pasteurize shield stamped on the package (not on each egg).