Eggs by Design

Scientists, farmers, and food manufacturers have found ways to change the nutrient composition of eggs. But you may be wondering whether these eggs are really healthier than regular eggs.

A quick glance at the egg section of most large supermarkets gives consumers several choices. In addition to the standard white and brown eggs, you can buy eggs that are cage-free or organic. Plus, you can choose ones that have increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids. You can also choose from a variety of egg-substitute products, most of which are refrigerated or frozen and packaged for easy use.

Understanding Nature's Design

The standard egg is an economical source of nutrition. Eggs contain many essential vitamins and minerals needed by humans, including zinc, iron, folate, vitamins A, E, and B complex—all this for only 78 calories! Egg protein is of such high quality that it is the standard reference for comparing the protein content of other foods. Current nutrient analyses suggest that the cholesterol content of an average egg is about 187 mg, rather than the previously estimated 274 mg. All of this cholesterol is contained in the yolk part of the egg. The American Heart Association (AHA) continues to recommend that people limit their cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day

Nature delivers eggs in 2 colors—white and brown. Contrary to popular thinking, brown eggs are neither organic nor different in nutrition from white eggs. The breed of the hen determines the shell color. Breeds with white feathers and ear lobes lay white eggs. Hens with red feathers and ear lobes lay brown eggs.

Learning About Cage-free, Range-free, and Organic Eggs

Hens are typically caged in modern facilities with controlled temperatures, humidity, light, and air circulation. American birds are fed hormone-free, high-quality feed with automatic feeders. Fresh water is provided through self-cleaning cups and valves.

Because some consumers are opposed to this type of confinement, options such as cage-free and range-free eggs are available. These types of eggs have the same nutrient composition as the standard egg, however:

  • Cage-free eggs are from birds that are maintained on the floor of a poultry house or barn, but are not allowed to roam free outdoors. Due to poor weather and climate, they may not have any access at all to outside areas.
  • Free-range eggs are typically from birds allowed to go outdoors in the day and are housed inside at night for protection.
  • Organic eggs are from hens fed rations formulated from ingredients free of herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, and commercial fertilizers. Higher production costs and lower volume of eggs per farm drives the price of organic eggs higher than that of the standard egg.

Getting the Scoop on Designer Eggs

During the past several years, scientists and egg producers have joined together to produce specialty or so-called designer eggs. According to the Egg Nutrition Center, an industry research group, these specialty eggs account for a growing percentage of market sales.

More Omega-3

One such egg is the high omega-3 egg. Hens are fed a special oil that builds up in the egg yolk, increasing the omega 3-fatty acids, while decreasing the saturated fat. Retail omega-3 fatty acid eggs contain 3-4 times the content of the standard egg. As a bonus, these eggs also have higher amounts of vitamin E.

Some scientists and nutritionists see these designer eggs as a realistic way to help Americans eat more omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Less Cholesterol

Egg substitutes are another type of specialty egg. These liquid egg products are cholesterol-free, because they're made from only egg whites. The yolk is typically replaced with other ingredients, such as vegetable oil, emulsifiers, stabilizers, gums, and artificial colors, and then the product is fortified with vitamins and minerals. Egg substitutes have the added advantage of being pasteurized. This means you can use them safely in recipes that traditionally call for raw eggs, such as mayonnaise, salad dressings, eggnog, and pastry filling, without being concerned about bacteria, which can result from eating undercooked eggs. Another option for lower-cholesterol egg is to use 2 egg whites, or 1 egg white plus 2 teaspoons of unsaturated oil, to replace a whole egg in cooking.


American Egg Board
US Department of Agriculture


Egg Farmers of Alberta
Get Cracking


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Omega-3 extra large eggs. Organic Valley website. Available at: Accessed May 2, 2017.
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Last reviewed May 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 5/29/2015

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