Egg nutrition has little to do with color, grade or price

This article was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 1, 2o14.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 10.44.53 PMAnyone who’s stood in the egg aisle pondering the many choices knows shopping for this seemingly simple food can be complicated.

Should I get the eggs that promise the chickens that laid them ranged free? Are free-range eggs also organic? Should I pay more for organic? Does it matter? Are there any special nutritional benefits in brown eggs, which cost more, over white? And what about the different grades?

On the last two points, experts say, you don’t have to shell out extra money to get nutritious eggs.

Eggs with brown shells and white shells are equally healthy, as are eggs with different grades like AA, A or B, according to Consumer Report research.

Egg grades, determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are based on the quality of the yolk and white and the shell’s condition, but all USDA graded eggs have been washed, sanitized and refrigerated to protect against salmonella. The term “large” means the eggs are the standard size most recipes call for. If eggs aren’t graded, it’s because the egg company chose not to have them graded. It’s not required.

A carton that says the eggs have been enriched with omega-3s means the chickens were fed special diets to produce eggs with more healthy fats. But a Berkeley Wellness report says these enriched eggs “rarely provide enough extra nutrients to be worth their higher cost” and “contain only a small amount compared to fatty fish, such as salmon.”

The USDA organic seal means hens ate feed grown without synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or fertilizers, and they were supposed to have had outdoor access. Berkeley Wellness says these eggs cost more because companies have to pay for more expensive feed and certification, but they are not more nutritious. And while they’re free of pesticides, they are not necessarily safer from bacteria than nonorganic eggs.

By the way, nonorganic eggs can also come from free-range chickens.