Unscrambling The Labels On Your Egg Carton

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Tart Cherry Juice Lowers Blood Pressure
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Tart Cherry Juice Lowers Blood Pressure
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Do You Know What The Label On Your Eggs Really Means?

What kind of eggs do you want? Brown eggs, cage-free eggs, free-range eggs, natural eggs? When you go to the store, you’re assaulted by more than a half dozen choices.

Some of those terms aren’t even regulated. So how do you know what eggs are best for you? Do you think cage-free is the way to go?

Brown Eggs

If you’ve ever gotten fresh eggs directly from a farm, you probably know that color really doesn’t mean anything. When I get eggs direct from a farmer, I get a dozen different colors. Some chickens even lay blue eggs. An egg’s color has absolutely nothing to do with nutritional value, so don’t worry about picking brown eggs.

Vegetarian Eggs

The chickens that make these eggs are force-fed a plant-based diet. So if you’re looking for humanely-treated eggs from chickens that got to choose what they eat, leave these in the refrigerator section.


This term is yet to be regulated by the FDA. As of right now, it’s simply a marketing term that can be used as long as it’s relatively true. All eggs can be considered natural because they all come from chickens and aren’t manufactured. So don’t let this term trick you into paying a premium price.


It’s sad, but these chickens aren’t much better off than their caged counterparts. They often live in multi-level aviaries. As you’d think, they don’t have to have access to the outdoors to be able to use this on the label. These chickens are not running freely around a yard eating whatever they want.


Surely these chickens can run around and eat whatever they want though… Well, that’s not entirely inaccurate. To qualify for free-range, the chickens simply have to have access to the outdoors. They don’t actually have to go outside their cages. A chicken is going to do what it wants to do. Unfortunately, many of them will stay in their cage and not go outside.


It’s best to assume people are trying to trick you at this point. And they are. To qualify for organic, the hens just have to be fed an organic diet. So at least you’ll get better nutrition than a regular egg. Bit unless there’s something else on the label that denotes otherwise, these chickens are probably still living in a cage.


Finally, these are the eggs you’re looking for. It’s going to cost you a lot more though. But, these chickens are raised more humanely than their counterparts, they get plenty of access to the outdoors, and they can eat the bugs and seeds and whatever else they find in the yard. Unfortunately, this term is not yet regulated by the FDA either. So you’d be wise to call the farmer or stop by for a visit.

Your Best Option

Buy Directly from a Farmer

There are plenty of farmers that raise chickens and sell eggs. By buying directly from a farmer, not only are you supporting your local economy, but you’ll also be able to see the hens that are laying the eggs. You’ll know exactly what you’re getting. Of course, it’s going to cost about $5 a dozen. But if the farmer is providing you with eggs from hens that get to roam around the yard, these eggs are going to be a lot more nutritious than the other eggs that are available in your grocery store (excluding pasture-raised because they’re probably on the same level).

Which Eggs Should You Buy?

If you have access to local fresh eggs, $5 a dozen is a lot to ask for something you can pay just over $1 for. If you can’t afford $5 a dozen, then make your selection based on what you can afford and the guide above.


Green Market Glossary: Farmers Market Labels Demystified

Farmers Market ProduceShopping at your local farmers market is a great way to support farmers and food practices you believe in — and often pay less for fresher, tastier produce and meat. But all of those little labels poking out of crates of corn and stuck on egg cartons can be confusing or even misleading. Use this glossary for your next shopping trip, and be sure to ask the farmers at the stand if you have any questions about their methods.


Animal Welfare Approved: Available only to family farms, this certification requires that animals be hormone-free and given continuous access to the outdoors. Cattle must be at least 70% grass-fed, and chickens must be cage-free.


Cage-Free: Chickens with this label do not live in cages and have enough space to walk and spread their wings, but don’t generally have access to the outdoors. They may still be put through processes like beak cutting, which is done so chickens in tight quarters don’t violently peck at each other.


Certified Organic: Products deemed “organic” have been given the label by a certification body of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To get it, farms must provide a production plan that the USDA inspects for sustainability. Meat labeled organic comes from animals that were given organic food and access to the outdoors, and organic produce is farmed without synthetic pesticides or chemicals.


Certified Naturally Grown: Some smaller farms choose not to go through the process of becoming certified organic because it can be expensive, opting instead for this label, which has similar guidelines to the USDA organic label. The certification is offered by a grassroots organization formed to help small farms.


Conventional: A farm with this label doesn’t have any special certifications but may have introduced some sustainable practices. Ask the farmer.


Free-Range: This term is regulated by the USDA and means that the farmer must prove that poultry have access to the outdoors, though for an unregulated amount of time. The term does not regulate eggs.


Grass-Fed: To get this label, the majority of an animal’s feed must be from grass or forage. In addition to giving meat a different taste, a “grass-fed” label means that the farm did not have to ship in soy or corn feed, reducing the farm’s carbon footprint. However, the label does not mean that the animals were given the chance to graze outside.





Heirloom TomatoesHeirloom and Heritage: These labels, often seen on foods like multicolored tomatoes and twisty squash, refer to varieties of plants and animals that have been passed through the generations to preserve unique colors, textures and tastes. These lines are not mass-produced because they tend to me more delicate.

Locally Grown: Refers to products that come from the surrounding area. There is not a standard for how far away “local” food comes from.

Natural: This refers to a product containing no artificial ingredients or added color that’s only minimally processed, according to the USDA. This claim doesn’t need to be certified, however, and only applies to meat and poultry.

On everything else, natural is often more confusing than helpful. This is one label to definitely be wary of. Marketers have long ago realized the word “natural’ will influence purchases.

Related Rescources

How To Tell The Difference Between Natural and Organic

Why Labels on Genetically Engineered Foods Won’t Cost Consumers a Dime

Sweeteners In Milk Lead To Another Labeling Fight

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