Egg-ceptionally Confusing Eggs


The supermarket case displays a wide variety of egg choices—at a wide range of prices. Are some eggs really better than others? Here are the important things to consider when deciding which eggs are the right choice for you:

The Basics: Color, size, and grade are the primary ways eggs are grouped.

  • Egg color is determined by the breed of chicken. Shell color has absolutely no impact on nutritional content or quality.
  • Size (Small, Medium, Large, X-Large, and Jumbo) is actually measured by weight per dozen, not by the dimensions of each egg. Weights range from 18 to 30 ounces (oz) per dozen. Large eggs, at about 24 oz per dozen, tend to be the standard size called for in recipes.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a voluntary egg grading program. Graders examine interior and exterior quality, check weight, and monitor plant processing equipment, facilitates, sanitation, and operating procedures. Nearly all eggs in supermarkets are Grade A.
Eggs provide high quality protein, unsaturated fatty acids, and health-promoting bioactive compounds, and eating up to one egg a day has been deemed to have little effect on cardiovascular health for most individuals. Choose eggs in place of refined carbohydrates like bagels and pancakes, hold the sides of white potatoes and processed meats, and follow these tips for making the best choices for you:

  • Go large. Choose eggs marked “Large” if you plan to cook with them because it’s the standard called for in recipes.
  • Look at labels. Label language provides information about how the hens live, what they’re fed, and how they’re treated to help you choose what matter most to you.
  • Keep eggs refrigerated. This prevents the growth of bacteria.
  • Don’t go by color. It has no bearing on nutrition.

Nutrition: One large egg has 75 calories, seven grams of high-quality protein, and five grams of fat (just under two grams of which are saturated fat) along with iron, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, which support eye health. Eggs are one of the richest sources of dietary cholesterol—around 200 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol in one large egg yolk—and contribute, on average, 25 percent of dietary cholesterol in the U.S. The latest research indicates that, at current intake levels (about 250 mg per day for women and 350 mg per day for men from all  food sources), dietary cholesterol is only weakly related to levels of cholesterol in the blood and neither dietary cholesterol nor egg consumption is significantly associated with cardiovascular disease risk. The American Heart Association’s 2019 scientific advisory on dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular risk advises that healthy individuals can include up to one whole egg daily without concern. Older individuals with normal cholesterol levels and vegetarians (who do not get cholesterol from meat-based cholesterol-containing foods) may include more eggs in their diets. “There are some individuals, such as those with diabetes, high cholesterol levels, or risk for heart failure, who should be more cautious in consuming foods rich in cholesterol,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory and executive editor of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter. “If you are concerned, check with your healthcare provider and follow their recommendation.”

While a typical egg contains about 30 or 40 milligrams (mg) of omega-3 fatty acids, hens fed flaxseed will lay eggs that typically have around 125 mg of this fat, but most of this is in the form of ALA, not the heart-healthy forms, EPA and DHA. “Eggs advertised as high in omega-3 fatty acids are still not a particularly good source,” says Lichtenstein. A serving of salmon is a much better way to get omega-3 fatty acids than eggs—even if they say omega-3-enriched.

What we eat with—and instead of—our eggs matters. “It is not infrequent for eggs to be partnered with bacon, sausage, white toast, and/or white potatoes,” says Lichtenstein. “These are not the components of a heart-healthy meal. Eggs scrambled with some sautéed onions, peppers, spinach, or another readily available vegetable (even poured out of a bag of frozen veggies), along with whole wheat toast, is a good choice for breakfast—far better than presweetened breakfast cereals and other options like bagels and pancakes made with refined-grains.”

Animal Welfare: Egg-laying hens are typically kept in crowded cages that restrict natural behaviors and may increase disease risk. They have their beaks cut so they can’t peck at themselves or each other and are sometimes starved to induce molting (shedding of feathers). Eggs labelled “cage-free” or “free-range” come from hens with some access to the outdoors. These eggs will likely be more expensive because of higher production costs. Some private groups offer “humane” certification for eggs from hens that have outdoor access, are not forced to molt, and do not have their beaks cut. (See “Decoding Egg Labels”).

Safety: The USDA requires eggs to be washed and refrigerated to reduce risk of bacterial contamination. Keeping eggs at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or lower prevents growth of bacteria like Salmonella. Eggs naturally have a thin film around the shell that protects them from bacterial intrusion. Eggs that have not been washed can be kept at room temperature because this coating is still intact, but their shelf life will be shorter than that of refrigerated eggs.

Always closely inspect your eggs for cracks. Bacteria can make its way through cracks and contaminate the egg. If your eggs crack on the way home, break them into a container that can be tightly sealed, refrigerate and use within two days,
or freeze.

Bottom Line: “The evidence suggests that, for most individuals, moderate egg consumption (the equivalent of a couple of eggs every other day), has little effect on blood cholesterol levels and heart health,” says Lichtenstein. “More important is making healthy choices to eat with the eggs.” Whether you choose based on price, animal welfare, or other concerns, which eggs to buy ultimately comes down to what matters most to you.

Animal Welfare Approved: Hens are cage-free with open outdoor perching access. Beak cutting is prohibited, and natural molting is mandatory.

Antibiotic-free: Federal regulations assure that all eggs in the U.S. are free of antibiotic residues, so this label is meaningless.

Cage-Free: Hens roam freely in large industrial buildings. They have unlimited access to food and water. Outdoor access is not required. Beak cutting and forced molting are allowed.

Free-Range/free-roaming: Hens live uncaged in barns with continuous outdoor access. Beak cutting and forced molting are allowed.

Hormone-free: All eggs in the U.S. must be free of hormones. This label is meaningless.

Natural, all-natural, or farm fresh: These terms are not regulated and have no legal definition.

USDA Organic: Organic eggs are laid by free-range hens fed only organic feed. No hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides may be used. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are allowed.

Vegetarian Fed: This label almost guarantees chickens were not allowed to forage for food. Chickens are naturally omnivores and eat plants, bugs, and worms in the wild. In a factory farm, their vegetarian diet is likely mostly fortified corn.



  1. A nationally syndicated medical columnist, Dr Oz, stated recently that egg consumption is correlated with diabetes. Any comments?

    • The article clearly states that 1 egg a day or two eggs every two days has no effect on cardiovascular disease.

      I think it’s safe to assume then that if you have 4 eggs every morning…. especially with white pancakes and sausage….. You will see a correlation to heart disease.

      They have given one egg per day as a healthy guideline.

  2. Is there any brand of eggs in the markets which come from farms where beaks are not cut & molting is not
    happening via starvation???

  3. Thanks so much for the “Decoding Egg Labels” feature. I thought I knew egg labels but I had a lot to learn. I’m horrified that I’ve eaten eggs from chickens who were forced to molt or who had their beaks cut!

    • Unfortunately, this is the life for the majority of laying hens. We once went to buy laying hens and my kids wondered why their beaks were “deformed”. I had no idea and when we asked the sales clerk, he told us that the beaks were cut to keep them from pecking each other. They looked so odd and this is typical for most hens, sadly. 😞

  4. Certified humane answers joanne’s question.
    On the carton, they do seek at Whole Foods & food co-ops. Even saw at regular supermarket, not at Trader Joe’s. Just check egg carton.

  5. I had never heard of debeaking or forced molting so I reached out to a friend that grew up on a family chicken/egg producing operation. Here is what she said about debeaking.
    “There are a lot of chicken raising practices from the past that are seen as barbaric now. However if you’ve ever seen a chicken pecking out the anus of a weaker chicken until the intestines are pulled out you may not think debeaking is so bad. Just a thought.”

  6. I am a vegan but if I do eat an egg where I live in Costa Rica, it has come from a chicken fully intact running around in the sun foraging for itself. If you have chickens here, most likely they will eat all the ticks and eliminate tick borne diseases. Since my neighbour’s chickens have foraged on my property, I have no ticks and no human or pet have had tick or tick borne diseases. So chickens here contribute to health. My daughter’s chickens in NH eliminated all her ticks on her property, vital in that her family trains and cares for dogs.


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