Eggs are all the rage these days, from the brown “world-record egg” photo that just made news for setting the world record in Instagram likes, to celebs like Jennifer Aniston and Gweneth Paltrow raising chickens in their backyards. Social media is full of articles like “Scientists were wrong! Eggs don’t raise your cholesterol” and “This woman ate an egg every day for a year. See what she looks like now!”
While we at VanHoveln Farm are obviously on the bandwagon for eggs raised on small farms, I also know that there is a lot of mis-information out there about the different types of eggs, the nutrition they provide, and the reasons for purchasing eggs fresh from your local farmer (or crazy chicken lady, as the case may be). So, today begins the first in a series I’m calling “Eggs 101,” where you will learn everything you wanted to know, and probably a whole lot you didn’t, about the nutritional value of eggs, what all the egg labels mean, and how to store your farm-fresh eggs once you get them home.
First up: Basic egg nutrition
Eggs are quite close to being the perfect food. This isn’t really surprising when you consider the purpose of an egg- to protect and nourish a chick from fertilization to hatch. Loaded with easily-digestible protein and highly-important fat-soluble vitamins, all the nutrients for the chick’s first 21-ish days of life are provided right there in that perfect little package.
The USDA reports these stats for one large, conventionally-raised egg (For brevity’s sake, I didn’t include nutrients that eggs contain in microscopic amounts. In all, the USDA tracks 138 nutrients, antioxidants, and amino acids, and eggs contain nearly every one.):
.11 milligrams isoflavones
6.28 grams of protein
4.75 grams of fat
1.6 grams saturated fat
1.8 grams monounsaturated
1.0 gram polyunsaturated fat
186 milligrams cholesterol
0.4 grams of carbohydrate
28 milligrams of calcium
.88 milligrams of iron
6 milligrams of magnesium
99 milligrams of phosphorus
69 milligrams of potassium
71 milligram of sodium
15 micrograms of selenium
24 micrograms of folate
147 milligrams of choline
270 IU of vitamin A 80 micrograms of retinol
252 micrograms of lutein
41 IU of vitamin D
Eggs also contain all the amino acids, including ones that we can’t synthesize in the body. Look for information about amino acids and some of the lesser-known nutrients like selenium and choline, in upcoming articles.
So, what does this mean for you?
Well, conventionally-raised eggs are highly nutritious source of energy. For the mere 70-ish calories one egg contains, its protein (11%), vitamin A (10%), and vitamin D (10%) levels are considered “good.” Its selenium (27% RDA), choline (27%), and phosphorus (14%) are considered “great”. Since these vitamins, especially choline and the fat-soluble A and D, are typically hard to come by in standard American fare, eggs are a key component of a healthy diet.
Why eggs from small farms?
If we are what we eat, then eggs are what a hen eats. Take the nutrition from a grocery-store egg laid by a chicken fed a steady diet of corn and soy, and imagine how much better it could be in an egg laid from a chicken fed a more-nutritious and varied diet. While corn and soy aren’t terrible, they aren’t the most nutritious grains out there. Commercial chicken feed is often fortified with a nutrition balancer made of extra soy protein, yeast, fish meal, grain by-products, and other things. Even then, the hens are fed just enough of the vitamins and minerals to keep them laying consistently, without any real concern for their health or the end result of the egg.
On the other hand, small farms like ours often want what is best for the health of our animals, not just our bottom line. Most local farms, especially here in Iowa where corn and soy are the lifeblood of many, still use corn and soy as the basis of their chickens’ nutrition. But, many supplement their commercial feed with kitchen scraps, garden cuttings, and all kinds of yummy treats like mealworms, in addition to letting their hens forage for hours a day for whatever greens, flowers, bugs, and worms they can find on their own.
All this results in a more nutritious egg for the same calorie count. Farm-fresh eggs from pastured chickens often have higher amounts of vitamin D since the chickens are out in the sun topping off their own vitamin D stores every day. They also tend to contain higher levels of vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids, due to the high levels of these nutrients the chickens are consuming when they eat bright green grasses and leaves. Farm-fresh eggs from pastured hens also have slightly lower levels of cholesterol, though no one is sure why that is.
A More Nutritious Egg
Here at VanHoveln Farm, we aren’t content with better-than-conventional eggs. We want the most nutritious eggs we can get, while still making sure our chickens are strong and healthy. We give the idea that “we eat what our food eats” the highest priority. For example, soy isoflavones have been proven to show up in eggs from chickens fed a soy-based feed. Even eggs labelled “organic” or “non-GMO” often contain soy isoflavones because the chickens are simply fed organically-grown soy, rather than none at all. So, for those with an allergy to soy or who are concerned with phytoestrogens in their food, conventional eggs are a no-go. After taking this into account, along with my concerns over using genetically-modified or herbicide-tolerant grains (as 90% of corn and 95% of soy are), we decided to forego commercially-available chicken feeds and create our own.
Our hens eat a diet of as much foraged greenery and bugs as they are able to find in a day. We supplement with vegetable and meat scraps from our kitchen and garden, plus provide grass hay and a multigrain and seed feed in their coop. To make this feed more easily digested and to allow our chickens to extract as much nutrition from it as possible, the seeds and grains are fermented for 3-4 days before being mixed with sprouted peas, dried kelp, and mealworms. While it’s a bit of extra work, and a bit of extra expense, we think the health of our chickens and a more nutritious egg is worth it!
Thanks so much for reading this week. Let me know what you think in the comments. What questions do you have about egg nutrition? Anything I missed? And stay tuned next week for part 2 of our “Egg 101” series. Have a son-shine day!
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