Answer: Compared to eggs from conventionally raised caged hens, eggs produced by free-roaming and pasture-pecking chickens have more omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins E, A, B-12 and folic acid. The direct sunlight also acts as a nutrient, which the chickens just don’t get when kept enclosed.
Chickens are omnivores, not vegetarians, as many people assume, meaning they are designed to consume foods from both animal and plant sources. When left to their own scavenger instincts, they eat bugs, worms, grasses and herbs. In fact, the dark yellow color of the yolk comes from the carotenes from fresh greens, which is why pastured hens’ eggs have a richer yellow color and enhanced flavor. While chickens will eat grain and pellets, that isn’t their traditional food. Also, subjecting chickens to a strictly vegetarian diet prevents them from achieving their ideal health by denying them the nutrients found through scavenging around the farm, barnyard and pasture, and therefore leads to a less nutritious egg.
There’s another consideration, too, regarding eggs labeled “free-range.” Some eggs labeled “free-range” have hen houses with very small openings, and the US Department of Agriculture allows the labeling of eggs as “free range eggs” with no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access. Furthermore, there are no stipulations about what the laying hens are fed, nor are there restrictions as to beak cutting or the use of hormones and antibiotics. People often mistake “free range” as meaning the eggs come from a healthier chicken, or that the eggs are “organic,” with the free-range label, and that is not the case.
Q: At what age can you start feeding eggs to children?
A: I often refer to nutrition researcher Sally Fallon’s work to take advantage of the knowledge of the wisdom of traditional foods. In her book, Nourishing Traditions, she writes, “A wise supplement for all babies is an egg yolk per day, beginning at four months. Egg yolks supply the cholesterol needed for mental development, as well as sulphur containing amino acids. Egg yolks from pasture-fed hens, or hens raised on flax meal, fish meal or insects, are also rich in the omega-3 long chain fatty acids found in mother’s milk but may be missing in cow’s milk. The white, which contains difficult to digest proteins, should not be given before the age of one year.” Fallon talks about the importance of the egg yolk being raw, as well, because it is when we cook the egg yolk that the proteins are denatured, and therefore less bioavailable to the body and harder to digest. I encourage all my clients when eating their eggs to eat the yolks as runny as they can.
Q: Should parents test young children for possible egg allergies?
A: I would say parents should test their children if and when they notice there is a potential problem. I use saliva testing, and of course kinesiology, or muscle testing, for food allergies, and that is non-invasive at any age. Although there are always exceptions, and I do occasionally see a child who is truly sensitive, I usually find that a well-nourished child who has all their digestive enzymes and intestinal flora intact as well as a strong immune system usually does not have an egg problem. Correcting digestive deficiencies can often help a return to eggs.
Q: How many eggs can or should a child eat every week?
A: Eggs are a wonderful nutrient source. I personally never put a number on an intake of eggs, but rather encourage people to make them part of a varied diet, recommending that all my clients take a break from eggs a couple of days out of the week.
Q: Do you include eggs in baked goods and sauces in that limit?
A: Not in my book. Eggs are a wonderful nutrient source, especially when the eggs have come from properly raised hens.
Q: What is your position on the potential danger, with the consumption of eggs, of contracting salmonella?
A: The risk of salmonella is virtually non-existent with the right eggs. Data suggest as few as three eggs per thousand – referring to the commercial variety – are infected with salmonella. So not only is the risk exceedingly low, but this figure is for those fed GMO corn, soy and other unmentionables and without the natural foraging under the sun they were meant to thrive on. Salmonella infections are usually present only in commercial hen houses, with sick chickens and under unsanitary conditions. If you are purchasing your eggs from pastured, healthy chickens, this infection risk reduces dramatically. Donna Gates, author of The Body Ecology Diet, explains that avoiding the dangers of salmonella and other pathogens boils down to the inner ecosystem of the egg-laying chicken and the egg consumer – meaning you. An inner intestinal ecosystem brimming with beneficial microflora combats any harmful pathogens. The same goes for chickens foraging on pasture and feasting on worms, bugs and microflora found in the soil.
We are blessed to have local sources of organic, pastured hens’ eggs from Indian Ridge Farms, in Norwood, available at the Telluride Farmer’s Market, and Al’s eggs available at the Sawpit Mercantile and The Butcher and The Baker.
Lynn Mayer, a Certified Nutrition Consultant and Health Coach in Telluride, is available for consultation in person, by phone 970/369-4790 or through her website www.thejoyofhealth.com.