Are pastured eggs more paleo? Is there really a nutritional difference between pastured eggs vs free-range/organic eggs vs regular eggs? Are CAFO eggs really nutritionally bankrupt? I'm curious what the general consensus is in the paleo community.
I think that anytime an animal has access to it's natural food source, the end result is going to be healthier.
Here is a post from Whole Health Source on the subject: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2009/05/pastured-eggs.html
Vitamin A: Conventional: 487 IU Pastured avg: 792 IU
Vitamin D: Conventional: 34 IU Pastured avg: 136 - 204 IU
Vitamin E: Conventional: 0.97 mg Pastured avg: 3.73 mg
Beta-carotene: Conventional: 10 mcg Pastured avg: 79 mcg
Omega-3 fatty acids: Conventional: 0.22 g Pastured avg: 0.66 g
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.
Pastured eggs are far superior to battery, 'free-range' or organic eggs. "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Micheal Pollan, outlines the way in which consumers are duped into thinking 'free-range' mean more nutritious (and cruelty-free), by a variety of clever marketing ploys, which succeeds in keeping the truth about the farming techniques away from the public eye:
Nor is organic agriculture necessarily the answer: Pollan visits big industrial organic operations that hardly differ from their nonorganic counterparts. Many chickens advertised as "free-range" never touch a patch of grass in their short lives.
In the book Pollan describes visiting a free-range egg producing outfit where there is a strip of grass next to the henhouse (holding tens of thousands of chickens) and a small access door which the hens never use, because they do not know how. The fact that the strip of grass is there means that the eggs receive free-range status, but the chickens never see daylight and are fed exclusively on corn. He goes on to tell how pictures of woods and farms on the egg boxes lure people into a false sense of security about what they are buying.
Going to a farm where you can see the chickens and know that they are scratching around for insects completely in freedom (giving their eggs a higher Omega-3 count) is worth more than any supermarket label that claims free-range, woodland eggs or organic.
The fact is, all eggs that have yellow yolks have been corn fed and the hens probably did not receive any sunshine (rendering the eggs low in vit. D) whereas true farm-raised, pastured-egg yolks are always deep orange, indicating that the hens ate copious amounts of insects and a variety of wild plants, received minimal corn-based supplementation and were able to exercise and receive ample sunlight.
For more nutritional info on grass fed eggs and chickens see Pastured Poultry Profits by Joe Salatin - it is an eye opener.
From what I have seen on the net, I believe that there is a general consensus in the paleo community that grass-fed is better, but it depends on what you define as better; maybe many paleo eaters are still eating intensively-raised meat and battery-produced eggs from the supermarket without a second thought, as they think that any meat, any eggs are better than grains and sugar (do they have a point?).
I hope not, the more support for pastured, the better, regardless of whether it is a paleo food or not.
One thing to note is that real pastured eggs are pretty hard to find... at least that is my experience.
My regular supermarket (Giant) sells eggs that are "cage-free" and "all vegetarian diet" but that is not the same at all; and why would I want eggs from hens that are explicitly denied the protein that is part of their natural diet!? Only Whole Foods has eggs that are truly pasture raised, and even those are not always in stock. The farmers market I go to on Sundays is the only place to reliably get real, free-range eggs.
The more an animal is in the natural environment, the more nutritious it is. Pastured eggs are more nutritious because the chickens are getting sunshine and are eating all kinds of bugs--it is not what it is fed. The following features should be ignored: Cage-free, flax seed, and vegetarian feed, what color the egg is. The following features are positives: farm-to-consumer, intact cuticle (not washed or dipped in chlorine/detergent/chemicals), bug-eating. You should go see for yourself where the chickens are kept. They will typically have bare dirt near the henhouse for scratching, dust baths, and strategically to make it difficult for snakes to hide in the grass, but they should have at least 50% of the perimeter area grassy. Some places have a mobile henhouse where they are rotated over multiple fields.
Free range eggs (pastured) from a local farmer is the only way to go. Besides the extra nutrients you will not have to worry about salmonella. I have been eating raw eggs every day for years with no problems.
There are many, many worse things one could eat than factory-farmed eggs, but yeah, pastured ones are a lot better. More O3s, better flavor, and happier chickens. Look around for a local source, either a nearby farm or via a farmers' market... you will be very happily surprised by the difference.
There weren't any battery cages stuffed full of de-beaked, highly inbred layer chickens sitting around the Ice Age tundra waiting for industrial, antibiotic and steroid-laced chicken feed to be dispensed to them, that's for sure. I'd go so far as to say that any eggs that aren't free-range aren't very Paleo (in the diet/lifestyle sense).
Chickens are neolithic; we only started domesticating them 10,000 years ago, and we've bred them hard for egg size ever since. But I'd think that they're an adequate substitute for grouse and other fowl if you can't hunt your own.
Check out Whole9's recent blog on eggs -http://whole9life.com/2010/11/the-conscientious-omnivore-eggs/
The same thing happens to chickens and their eggs as happens to humans (and cattle, for that matter) when you feed them grain: they have more omega-6 fat.
Less O-6 and more O-3 is an important reason to eat pastured eggs and meat (though not the only reason).
In addition to what everyone mentioned about nutrition, there's the cruelty factor in CAFO chicken "factories."
And as Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms says - he lets chickens be chickens - to freely scratch around. The idealist in me can't help but think that chickens happily doing what they do best produce superior eggs.