How To Choose To Buy Different Types Of Eggs: Nutrition, Safety And Cost

All you wanted was to buy a box of eggs at the grocery store. But when you get to the chilled section, you’re faced with an endless combination of options: organic, farm-raised, cage-free, vegetarian, grass-raised, nutritionally enhanced; the list goes on.

Egg prices also run the gamut, from $ 2.50 per dozen to $ 7.50 or more. Buying eggs now requires as much decision-making power as choosing a quality preschool for your little one.

Well, no more. Let’s decipher the once humble egg so you can make healthy choices for your family and save money on the grocery store.

Types of eggs: is there a difference?

Most grocery stores have two types of eggs: whites and browns. White feathered hens with white earlobes lay white eggs, while brown feathered hens with brown earlobes lay brown eggs.

There is no nutritional or taste difference between the two. Brown eggs are generally a bit more expensive than white eggs simply because brown chickens are larger and require more feed than white chickens. You can save money here by simply choosing white over brown.

Egg categories: AA, A and B

Eggs are sometimes assessed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Ratings are based on the weight and quality of the eggs. According to, the USDA ratings are as follows:

Grade AA

  • Firm and thick egg whites
  • The buds are tall and round, and practically free from blemishes.
  • Clean and intact shells

Class A

  • Egg whites are reasonably firm
  • The buds are tall and round, and practically free from blemishes.
  • Clean and intact shells

Category B

  • Whites can be finer
  • The buds can be larger and flatter.
  • The shells must be intact, but may show a slight coloration.
  • Typically used in liquid, frozen or dry products.

Please note that not all eggs are graded. Sorting is voluntary and egg farms must pay for this service. Egg farms that do not participate in the USDA grading program are monitored by the state. You will likely still see a note somewhere on the box, but it will not have the official USDA mark. Instead, the eggs will simply be labeled “Grade AA” or “Grade A”.

Egg sizes

There are also a variety of egg sizes, ranging from “small” to “jumbo”. Egg size is measured by the dozen. So, although individual eggs vary slightly in size and weight, once these eggs are packaged, they are categorized into a size category based on their net weight. As you can imagine, nutritional values ​​increase with the size of the egg.


  • 1.5 oz
  • 50 calories
  • 3.5 grams of fat
  • 5 grams of protein


  • 1.75 ounce
  • 60 calories
  • 4 grams of fat
  • 6 grams of protein


  • 2 ounces
  • 70 calories
  • 5 grams of fat
  • 6 grams of protein

Extra large

  • 2.25 ounces
  • 80 calories
  • 5 grams of fat
  • 7 grams of protein


  • 2.5 ounces
  • 96 calories
  • 6 grams of fat
  • 8 grams of protein

Most supermarkets sell medium, large and extra large eggs.

What’s in a name?

Rather than educating consumers on what they are buying, today’s egg labels often create confusion and frustration as there are few or no national standards for many of the categories listed below. below.


The word “natural” is one of the most misleading labels on egg cartons. A box may show happy, smiling chickens roaming a sunny meadow and be labeled “natural”; however, all eggs are natural, even if placed in factory farms.

The USDA defines “natural” as a product that does not contain artificial ingredients or added colors that is only minimally processed.

No added hormones

Here is another label that is as insignificant as it is “natural”. The USDA has never authorized the use of hormones in poultry. The term “without added hormones” is only used for commercial purposes.

Fortified or Omega-3 eggs

Some egg companies, like Eggland’s Best, fortify their chickens with a diet high in flax seeds and other grains. When these grains are digested, hens lay eggs rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain and heart health.

Eggland’s Best states that, compared to regular eggs, their fortified eggs have:

  • 10 times more vitamin E
  • Six times more vitamin D
  • Double vitamin B12
  • Double omega-3 fatty acids
  • 25% less saturated fat
  • 38% more lutein
  • Lower cholesterol level (170 mg vs. 185 mg)

Eggland’s Best Fortified Eggs cost around $ 3.30 to $ 4.00 at the supermarket, which is more than double the price of regular white eggs. However, they contain less cholesterol and saturated fat, and more other essential vitamins, so for some people they might be a healthier option.

Free range

The “free-rearing” label may be the most misleading you can find on an egg carton. When you read “free range” you automatically imagine chickens living freely in a pasture, spending a lot of time in society and eating a lot of tasty bugs while the wind ruffles their feathers.

Unfortunately for most brands this is not the case. According to United Egg Producers, farms can use the term “free range” if their chickens have access to the outdoors. This is a dangerous gray area, as some farms only leave their chickens outside for five to ten minutes a day, and only on dirt or concrete ground. Other times the chickens only have access to a “pop hole,” which is basically a hole in the wall where they can stick their heads out.

However, other farms label their eggs “free range” and offer their hens plenty of time outdoors. But because there is no standard definition for the “free range” label and there is no monitoring, it is impossible to know which eggs are actually free range chickens unless they are. research each egg supplier.

Cage free

The “cage-free” label means that these eggs come from hens that are not confined to a cage. However, that doesn’t mean they have access to the outdoors and there are no federal guidelines for defining how much space a hen should have. This means that some factory farms pack their chickens in large sheds, leaving them very little room to roam freely. Most chickens on factory “cage-free” farms have about a square foot of personal space.


The “organic” label is probably the safest and most reliable label to look for, as these eggs meet USDA organic standards and are certified by private and public agencies.

According to the USDA, organic eggs come from chickens fed a 100% organic diet. Your diet should not contain animal by-products, hormones, antibiotics, manure or products derived from GMOs. Even your bedding should be organic.

The organic label also helps to guarantee a more humane living environment. Chickens should have access to the outdoors all year round, including shade, shelter and exercise areas. Adequate sanitation must be maintained and farms must take steps to reduce or eliminate pain or stress to animals.


Like the “cage-free” and “outdoor” labels, there are no federal guidelines for defining “pasture-raised” chickens. According to United Egg Producers, hens raised in the prairies have access to the outdoors and primarily graze on grass and insects.

The individual space that grass-raised chickens get can vary widely, from 30 square feet to 100 square feet or more. It all depends on the size of the herd and the size of the pasture. Eggs from certified cruelty-free hens must have 108 square feet of outdoor space.

Of course, it costs farmers more to provide a large outdoor space for their chickens, which is why pasture-raised eggs are some of the highest prices you’ll find on supermarket shelves.

When to pay more

Determining which eggs are worth the most is difficult because that decision is based on your food budget and your values. Eggs from factory farms are, of course, cheaper than organic or free-range eggs. These eggs average 0.09 or 0.10 cents per egg, which is half the price of cage-free eggs and much less than organic or pasture-raised eggs. But we must also take into account the ethical implications.

As vague as the labels are, “cage-free” and “pasture-raised” are even more humane than factory farms that confine chickens in battery cages. These wire cages typically hold five to ten chickens, and each chicken has less space than a sheet of paper. They cannot walk, spread their wings, or even turn around. Most chickens’ bodies deteriorate from lack of use and they live without fresh air, exercise, social interactions, and other natural behavior. This cage system, which is illegal in Europe, is the life of 95% of all laying hens in the United States.

The good news is that the cage system will soon be a thing of the past. Many large companies, such as Burger King and McDonald’s, are in the process of sourcing only eggs from cage-less farms. Thanks to his initiative, other large restaurant and supermarket chains are also demanding eggs from farms without cages and cutting ties with farms that supply eggs from caged hens.

As much as you want to buy organic pasture-raised eggs, the reality is that these “ethical eggs” are still out of the budget for many people.

A better option is to buy eggs at your local farmers market. Local eggs usually come from small family farms where the chickens can graze most or all day. The price of these local eggs is also very reasonable – most eggs sold at farmers’ markets will cost between $ 3 and $ 5 a dozen. Another advantage is that buying local eggs means that you are also supporting the farmers in your community.

To find a local farm that sells eggs or to locate a farmer’s market near you, visit Local Harvest.

How long do eggs last?

According to the American Egg Board, eggs can be stored in the refrigerator for five weeks after the date of packaging, or three weeks after purchase, as long as they are still in their shell. Hard-shelled eggs can be stored for a week, while hard-shelled eggs should be eaten the same day they are boiled.

Storage dates may be extended for eggs from the local farmers market, if they are not washed. When hens lay eggs, they are coated with a natural sealer called “bloom”. Eggs processed in large facilities are usually washed within 24 hours of laying; this makes them more attractive to consumers. However, the flower is also washed away, which means that the eggs are more vulnerable to bacteria.

Unwashed eggs can be stored for up to two months in the refrigerator or two weeks on the counter. Store eggs with the pointed end down and the round end up. There is an air bag at the rounded end that helps keep moisture out, and placing them this way will further extend the life of your eggs. Eggs are also porous, which means they’ll absorb odors from your fridge if they’re not in a cardboard box or plastic-wrapped container.

Last word

We buy a fair amount of eggs from my house, and I’m fortunate that there is a small farmers market about a mile from my house that sells local eggs at a reasonable price. This saves me quite a bit of money at the grocery store, where organic pasture-raised eggs typically cost around $ 7 a dozen.

What type of eggs do you buy for your family?

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