Brown eggs vs. white eggs: is there really a difference? Are brown eggs healthier, or is that just a myth? The answer is surprisingly simple.
The American Heart Association put everyone’s egg intake on a leash in 1961 when they had announced that high cholesterol intake was linked to heart disease. They recommended that daily consumption shouldn’t exceed 300 milligrams per day (egg yolks are estimated to have about 200 milligrams of cholesterol).
Since then, nationwide egg consumption has been on the decline—you may have even been one to order egg whites for an extra fee in attempt to limit the “unhealthy” yolk.
In 1984, Time put everyone’s eggs in one unhealthy basket with an article that got the ball rolling on the public’s negative ideologies surrounding dietary cholesterol and saturated fats.
As it turns out, the whole egg white craze is actually depriving you of the most nutritious part of the egg, the yolk!
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And yes, egg yolks are full of cholesterol (6), which is NOT bad for you. We now know that there isn’t enough evidence showing cholesterol consumption increases your risk for heart disease (7). So unless the egg white-only order is a personal preference, the healthier choice is to just order the whole egg.
What is Cholesterol?
Your body makes cholesterol itself in your liver, but production is internally regulated. When you eat more cholesterol, the body will make less, and when your intake is low, your body will produce what it needs.
Dietary cholesterol doesn’t just dissolve in the body; it must be carried. There are 2 types of cholesterol, and they’re identified by the lipoproteins that carry them around your blood—low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL cholesterol is typically not your best friend and has long been portrayed as the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque formation in your arteries.
HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, plays a more heroic role and is known as the “good” cholesterol because it has the ability to sweep LDL cholesterol away from your arteries and back to your liver to be removed from your body.
What is Coronary Artery Disease?
Sometimes called coronary heart disease, coronary artery disease is characterized by a buildup of plaque in a person’s coronary (heart) arteries—blood vessels carrying oxygen-rich blood throughout your body.
Arterial plaque, not to be confused with dental plaque, is composed of calcium, fat, cellular waste, fibrin (a protein involved with blood clotting), and you guessed it—cholesterol.
When plaque builds up, your arteries become susceptible to narrowing and hardening, better known as atherosclerosis. If blood is being blocked from going to your brain, this results in a stroke. If blood is being blocked from going to your heart, this results in a heart attack.
If blood is being blocked from going to your limbs, organs, or head, this results in peripheral artery disease, which may include symptoms like pain and numbness.
It may feel a little counterintuitive for you to accept a whole egg as healthy if you’ve been told the opposite all your life, but get used to accepting it and pass along the egg-cellent knowledge. Anyone who is still pushing the idea that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat are the main culprits of heart disease is operating on research conducted about 40-50 years ago (8).
Why are Eggs Good for You?
Eggs can be thought of like a Mary Poppins bag—so much is packed into such a seemingly small package. You will find the following nutrients packed in an egg (9):
- Choline: Choline is the precursor to acetylcholine, an extremely important brain chemical (neurotransmitter) for nerve and muscle function.
- Selenium: Nutritionally speaking, selenium is essential to humans. It plays vital roles in DNA synthesis, thyroid hormone metabolism, reproduction, and protection against oxidative damage and infection.
- Biotin (Vitamin B7): Biotin is most commonly known to benefit your hair and nails, but it also supports your digestive tract, skin, nerves, and metabolism.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A has many important functions for health, including cell growth, vision support, and immune system support.
- Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): Vitamin B12 is the only vitamin containing a metal element (cobalt). Among other functions, vitamin B12 is necessary to help facilitate the successful transport of oxygen through your blood, which supports your cardiovascular, brain, and nervous system health. It also aids in DNA production and regulates energy metabolism.
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid): This nutrient is vital for your energy metabolism. Pantothenic acid is a component of a molecule that goes by the name of Coenzyme A (CoA), an essential chemical for sustaining life. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are broken down and burned into fuel thanks to CoA’s assistance. Besides breaking down fats, CoA is also needed for fat storage and building cholesterol.
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): When you get a ton of vitamin B2 in your diet, you will notice your urine turn into a bright yellow color. Besides giving a darker shade of pee, vitamin B2 gives vital support to iron metabolism, antioxidant protection, and energy production.
- Vitamin D: If there were two nutrients you may have been familiar with before reading this article, vitamin D was probably the runner up. Vitamin D keeps your bones healthy, your blood sugar under control, and your immune system in great shape.
- Molybdenum: Dietary intake of molybdenum helps keep your body’s sulfur levels in check. Sulfur is an essential element involved in protecting antioxidants and helping your body eliminate toxic waste. On top of that, it plays a role in the structure of connective tissue. A balanced level of sulfur is especially crucial for your brain and liver.
- Iodine: If you’ve ever done the simple science test for starch in a potato, then perhaps you are familiar with iodine. In a dietary sense, iodine supports your thyroid gland and is a fundamental component of hormone production.
- Protein: If there’s only one thing on this list that you knew about before reading this article, it has to be protein. Protein is basically found everywhere in your body—your blood, bones, digestive system, hair, heart, muscles, skin, tissue, and much more. There are over 10,000 different proteins, and they’re needed for maintaining the integrity of your body’s structure. See also: How much protein do you need?
- Phosphorus: Phosphorus is a key component in making sure your bones stay healthy and strong, balancing vitamins in your body, managing, making, and storing energy, producing your genetic building blocks (DNA and RNA), muscle contraction, and many other crucial bodily functions.
What Types of Eggs Can We Eat?
Eggs that come from many different types of animals are edible, but we usually stick to eating eggs laid by hens (chickens). Some other animals that lay tasty shelled cuisine are ducks, quail, geese, turkeys, emus, and several other birds and fish.
Different Labels Seen on Eggs
Going to the grocery store can be an overwhelming experience if you just learned some new health tips. Always remember to read the labels. In the case of eggs, here are common labels you will see:
Cage-free (or Free-run)
This literally means the eggs came from hens that do not live in a cage. They are able to roam freely, able to strut their stuff and spread their wings, and able to lay their eggs in nests.
These are three vital natural behaviors that hens raised in cages are withheld from. However, often times cage-free hens are kept in huge flocks of thousands of hens, and they are not free to roam outside (i.e. inside warehouses, or barns, etc).
This label has more to do with the humanity of your hen. Battery cages are wire cages the size of a microwave (too small to allow them their natural wingspan), and they are overcrowded, housing about 10 hens per cage. Hens can live there for their entire lives, which is about 2 years. Because of the tight quarters, this creates a higher risk for disease outbreak (i.e. salmonella).
Luckily, in California, this became illegal in 2015. Battery cages are also illegal in Michigan as of 2009, and in 2010, Ohio passed a ban on any permits to build new battery cages. Though only a few U.S. states have gotten on board with the ban on this practice, many European countries have banned battery cages altogether.
Not all organic labels are created equal. If you have ever noticed, there are actually several labels accepted by the USDA to describe how organic a product actually is. The different levels of organic are: 100 percent organic, “Organic” (made of at least 95 percent organic ingredients), and “Made with organic____” (containing at least 70 percent organic ingredients).
Eggs labeled “organic” are trusted to have come from hens fed a diet that was for the most part free from pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and/or commercial fertilizers. This means that organic eggs are exposed to fewer chemicals, making them ideal for consumption. Unfortunately, “organic” doesn’t tell us anything about the hen’s living conditions or treatment.
Free-range / Free-roaming
You will see this label on eggs originating from hens that were allowed outdoors at least for part of their days. Typically, this means the hen was granted access to sunlight. The term “Free-range” is used differently from country to country.
A pasture is a patch of land covered with grass and plants, the ideal habitat for grazing livestock. Pasture-raised chickens must be free to roam outside year-round, but also have a house for protection from weather and/or predators. They are also likely the only type of hens that are getting a natural diet which may contain plants, insects, and worms.
Pasteurization is a process that has long been used in food processing to kill off bad bacteria. While it is true that pasteurization does reduce the risk of foodborne illness, it is also true that the process does not discriminate, and it also kills off good bacteria.
The only difference in eggs labeled as “Omega-3-enriched” is that those hens were fed omega-3 rich sources, i.e. flax seeds. Though these eggs are higher in omega-3 fatty acid content, the amount doesn’t have that dramatic of an effect on your health, and the may even be unhealthy if the hen was fed a poor-quality omega-3 diet.
When you see this label, you can be certain that the eggs came from hens that were not fed any animal protein. While this may sound healthy, a hen’s natural diet is not actually vegetarian and may include things like insects and worms. A vegetarian-fed label also tells you nothing about the treatment or living conditions of the hen.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will also issue a grade or an inspection marking if the eggs were officially checked for quality (freshness) and sanitation. Grade AA eggs are usually the highest in quality and the freshest.
Are Brown Eggs Healthier for You Than White Eggs?
If you’ve ever compared the price of brown eggs to the price of white eggs, you’re likely to have noticed that brown eggs tend to be more expensive than white eggs.
Believe it or not, price isn’t actually an indicator of how healthy the eggs are. The main difference is in the type of chicken that lays the egg. In general chickens with white earlobes lay white eggs, and chickens with brown (red) earlobes lay brown eggs. Earlobe color is not necessarily the same color as the rest of a chicken’s feathers and not all chickens follow this rule.
There are even green and blue chicken eggs out there! A pigment called oocyanin results in blue eggs, while porphyrins result in brown eggs. (10) Color isn’t linked to nutrition.
What Do Chickens Eat?
Different chickens have different nutritional requirements based on whether they are bred to make eggs, or bred for their meat. A main difference is that egg-laying hens need less protein and more calcium than hens that are to be eaten.
In nature, chickens eat greens, worms, and insects. Mass egg production demands make it challenging to feed chickens their natural diet, since it’s expensive.
Though a vegetarian-fed label on an egg carton may draw your attention, definitely think twice about it. To stay healthy on a vegetarian diet, chickens need to be supplemented with methionine (11), a crucial building block of life that chickens would normally get from eating animal protein (i.e. bugs and worms). It’s cheaper to feed hens on a veggie diet (usually consisting of soy and corn) with supplementation than to feed them on their natural diet.
Soy actually depletes a chicken of important nutrients like zinc and calcium (12). When a chicken is fed soy, it is likely to end up in its eggs, as well, so if you’re allergic to soy, always pay extra attention to the labels of the eggs that you eat (13, 14).
So Why Do Brown Eggs Cost More?
There are many different types of chickens bred for egg-laying. The most common are the Rhode Island Red, the New Hampshire, and the White Leghorn.
Brown eggs typically come from larger sized hens, and because it is more expensive to feed the bigger hens they tend to be more expensive. This usually makes white-eggs the more cost-efficient choice. (15)
Depending on who you ask about taste, or what’s better for baking, you’ll get a variety of answers. The truth is that white and brown eggs are pretty split down the middle with regard to nutrition, taste, and baking benefits. These factors will also be determined by the diet of the hen that laid the egg (16). So don’t hesitate towards one or the other. Both white and brown eggs are good for you.