On a Whole Foods run last week, I was on a mission to buy a carton of eggs. Much to my dismay, there wasn’t a white egg to be found in the entire cooler—yet I had at least a dozen brands of brown eggs to choose from, all of them organic and from free-range hens.
Growing up with a grandfather who raised chickens, I don’t have a problem with brown eggs—I simply prefer white because that’s what I’m used to. But seeing shelf after shelf stocked with brown eggs at the market made me wonder: Are brown eggs healthier?
It turns out there’s much more to it than just the color. “I think there’s a major misconception about brown eggs being healthier,” says Rachel Fine, RD, owner of To The Pointe Nutrition.
Our society generally associates “brown foods” with health, she adds. Consider the scene in The Wedding Planner where Matthew McConaughey explains to Jennifer Lopez why he only eats brown M&Ms—he says he figures they have less artificial coloring because chocolate is already brown (a classic example of why you shouldn’t get your health information from Hollywood).
“This stems from the idea that whole grains are often darker because they have not been stripped of their bran hulls,” says Fine. “However, from a food-processing standpoint, color does not necessarily equate to healthier.”
While this is true in some cases—such as whole-wheat bread being healthier than white bread—other foods can’t be judged by their hue. Take brown sugar versus white sugar, for example—any potential health differences there are negligible. Similarly, brown and white eggs provide comparative nutritional profiles.
“There is no real nutritional difference between those two [colors] of eggs,” says Rachel Daniels, MS, RD, senior director of nutrition for Virtual Health Partners. Science backs that up: A 2010 study published in Poultry Science came to the same conclusion.
The color of the egg is dependent upon the breed of the chicken and the pigments they produce while laying the egg; that’s why we have white, brown, and even blue or blue-green eggs, notes Daniels. The nutritional content, on the other hand, has to do with the feed and lifestyle of the chicken, and the freshness of the egg.
Certain types of feed can lead hens to lay eggs with higher levels of vitamin D or omega-3 fatty acids, says Fine. She personally recommends consumers purchase eggs bearing the USDA Organic Seal, which indicates the producer meets specific requirements enforced by the USDA. Organic eggs are antibiotic-free by FDA regulation, as well.
Cartons labeled “hormone-free,” however, are a bit misleading, as no commercial egg-laying hens in the U.S. are ever given hormones, according to the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association. (So technically, any eggs you buy here are hormone-free, even if the label doesn’t explicitly state that.)
In general, a large egg contains 70 calories, 6 grams of protein and about 4 grams of fat, and is packed with nutrients like choline, selenium, biotin, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and iron, says Daniels. (By the way, here’s more from nutritionists on what you need to know about eggs being healthy.)
Overall, “eggs are an easy, inexpensive, nutrient-dense protein source and can be used in a variety of ways in your diet,” says Daniels, “so choose the type or color of egg you feel most comfortable with that’s available in your area and tastes best to you.”
One caveat: When it comes to nutrition, fresh is best. Purchasing eggs through your local farmer’s market will help ensure you’re getting the freshest ones out there, rather than cartons that may have been sitting on the shelf for a while in a store.
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