“You are what you eat eats too”

I recently gave my 5-year-old a little pop quiz about eggs, and I am proud to say she passed with flying colors. Why don’t you give it a shot too? Okay, see the picture of the raw eggs on the right. Which one is different?

I hope you picked the same one that she did…the one that is obviously more yellow and less orange in color than the rest (on the right-hand side of the bowl). Believe it or not, all of these eggs are organic. The yellow one that is different (and coincidentally not as nutritious) just happens to be an organic egg from the grocery store instead of one from the farmer’s market like the other three.

According to Michael Pollan, “you are what you eat eats too” meaning that:

The diet of the animals we eat has a bearing on the nutritional quality, and healthfulness, of the food itself, whether it is meat or milk or eggs…some of our food animals, such as cows and sheep, are ruminants that evolved to eat grass; if they eat too many seeds they become sick, which is why grain-fed cattle have to be given antibiotics. Even animals that do well on grain, such as chickens and pigs, are much healthier when they have access to green plants, and so, it turns out, are their meat and eggs. For most of our food animals, a diet of grass means much healthier fats (more omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA; fewer omega-6s and saturated fat) in their meat, milk and eggs, as well as appreciably higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants.

So that sheds a little more light on the bright orange eggs in the picture versus the yellow one. The orange colored eggs from the farmers’ market come from chickens that are fed green plants in addition to a diet of grains. The color that you see is the beta-carotene (the same thing that makes carrots look orange) from green grass and “it’s worth paying the premium they typically command.” For all those moms (and dads) out there just think about how certain measures are taken to control the diet of a breastfeeding mother since it can directly affect their baby…in the case of the animals’ food products that we eat, it is basically the same concept. So to ensure you are buying healthier eggs from the chickens that eat right they should be labeled as “pastured” meaning from chickens that spent time hanging out in a nice green pasture (not to be confused with “pasteurized”). And beware, because if a carton says the eggs are from “free range” chickens that doesn’t necessarily mean they were roaming free in a green pasture…it could have just been a big dirt field.

So once I was armed with this new information I went to 3 different grocery stores and could not find any cartons that said “pastured” eggs. To be honest, when I was asking the people who worked at these stores if they had “pastured” eggs I got the feeling they didn’t even understand what I was talking about. So I started to think I must have read that part in the book wrong, but when I went back to look sure enough it said to buy “pastured” eggs. And as it turns out these eggs do exist because I finally found them at our local farmers’ market – where coincidentally they fully understood what I was talking about! Since I go to a growers’ only market I could ask the farmer who actually raised the chickens themselves what they were being fed. I would have thought you were crazy if you told me I would one day be in a farmers’ market asking what they feed their chickens! But, this is what it has come to if you desire to fully understand what you are putting into your (and your family’s) body – because just as Michael Pollan said “you are what you eat eats too!”

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23 thoughts on ““You are what you eat eats too””

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  1. I have a friend that raises chickens (among other animals) that lay all different color eggs & the yokes vary in all eggs. I’ve heard the color depends more on the type of chicken. They feed them all the same, I could crack you a bowl of white to brown eggs, slightly varied dark to ight yellow yokes. I always request an even mix because my kids & I can’t handle the strong dark yoke by themselves.

  2. My children have major food allergies and sensitivities, one of which is eggs. I have found that home grown eggs do not cause a reaction for my children when organic eggs from the store do cause a reaction. I am in search of an answer to this mystery. Do you have any thoughts or reading material suggestions? Thank you!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hmmm. Sorry, we don’t have resources on that. Maybe it has to do with how the birds are fead?

  3. So, we raise out our own beef (no antibiotics or growth hormones) and hunt deer. 1) Are wild animals ok to eat? 2) For the cows, I would say they are 90% grass fed. However, when my husband is ready to slaughter, he gets the bull up to “clean it out” with grain for 2 weeks. He has been doing it his whole life and says it helps to get rid of the bitter weed taste and to fatten him up. What can you tell me about this and what sources do you have for this? He doesn’t understand nutrition lingo so anything you have that is easy to read would be helpful. Thanks!!

  4. I like to eat catfish. They are bottom dwellers. With the logic above, I guess I’m eating poop. The reality is that animals are NOT the food they eat. It’s sustenance. It doesn’t matter what you feed them as long as it is not toxic. My brother raises chickens. They are not pastured. The eggs look great, taste great, taste fresh, and are bright orange not yellow. The difference … home grown. But if it makes you happy to see grass fed … I think there’s more to it than just the diet.

  5. I raise chickens, the color of the yolk is directly related to what they eat. A high corn diet will make the yolk a darker orange and tomatoes will make them even darker. I am not sure you can say they would be more nutritious. A truly free range chicken will lay lighter color yolks than a corn fed one. The best way to tell how fresh your eggs are is to look at the yolk when just cracking them, a fresh eggs yolk will be rounder and firmer. It will sit up higher. An older egg yolk will be softer and flatter.

  6. You may want to check out eggs a bit more re: the color. I have a reaction to certain dyes and discovered that dyes and eggs unfortunately go together quite frequently. A darker color doesn’t mean much of anything these days because yellow Dye #5, when added to chicken feed, will make it through into the egg yolk and color it. The more dye, the darker the yolk, so a healthy color is very easy to fake. :-(

    (re: changing egg yolk color http://communitychickens.blogspot.com/2011/02/readers-question-keeping-egg-yolks.html )

  7. I have a question about eggs. I was going to try to make my own mayo since I use it a LOT. I am unsure about pasteurized eggs. Are they okay? Is it even possible to find pasteurized, free ranging, cage free, organic, non vegetarian eggs? I saw some recipes on how to make your own pasteurized eggs, but I am still kind of iffy about it. I don’t want to make our family sick. So I was wondering if you had any suggestions? Thanks.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      The only place I like to buy my eggs are the farmer’s market. That’s because their eggs come from chickens that are “pastured,” which means that have a chance to roam in green fields. “Free range” could mean 10 minutes in a dirt field. While chickens are fine eating just grains they are healthier if they get some greens too and you can see the difference in the yolks (which are a bright orange as opposed to pale yellow). I hope that helps!

  8. I hate to quibble, and I’m sure your information about EGGS is good, but you’re wrong about breastfeeding. The diet of a nursing mother does not affect the nutritional quality of her milk. That’s a myth, one perpetuated by formula companies to convince women with limited access to nutritious foods themselves that they should give their babies formula because it’s “better” than their “deficient” milk. The empirical research says that quality of mother’s diet affects the QUANTITY of human milk, but not the quality. The only things a BFing mom needs to worry about are chemicals that pass from the gut to the blood (i.e. medications, caffeine, and alcohol), and even those are often OK in low quantities.

  9. I watched Food INC, and have been buying free range organic eggs ever since. Another thing I learned was that you want to look for “organically fed” on the label, because that means they are also eating bugs. Chickens are not naturally vegetarians. I was able to find jumbo organic/organically fed eggs at costco, $2.50/dozen.

  10. The only eggs I have been able to find at the store say “cage-free” also and that the chickens are fed a vegetarian diet (meaning grains). But true free range chickens get to eat insects and worms that provide protein in their diet in addition to the grains they are fed. Farmers market definitely has the best eggs.

    Side note on the chickens that are so weak they aren’t able to stand. I recently saw a video on turkeys and the farmer said we have to raise the birds so fast (using growth hormones)that their bones and organs aren’t able to develop in that short of a period of time which is why they aren’t strong enough to hold themselves up. He also said that he does not feed the birds he raises commercially to his family.

    1. Kelly- I agree totally. The supermarkets try to market their eggs to sound more humane by saying they are ‘cage free’ but to be honest, all chicken house eggs are cage free and are still treated unfairly-not allowed outside and only eat grain. Because they only eat grain (aka vegetarian diet) they get sick and need antibiotics.

      The chickens that grow too fast are a special breed (my mom and dad raised them for a few years) and their legs break under their own weight. They were always sick, too, because they could not walk around outside and eat normally. My parents refused to give them antibiotics because they were being raised for food. My parents soon stopped raising them because of this. Its the genetically altered chickens that the hen houses are raising now that create a terrible new normal.

  11. As a chicken/egg raiser, I can tell you that the other difference, is that your store bought eggs, regardless of how they are fed, are usually 3 or more weeks old when they are delivered to the store. That is why they are so much easier to “peel” when hard boiled. Don’t believe me, get eggs from your local farmer (usually less than 3 days old), hard boil it, at the same time hard boil a store bought egg.. Now peel them. That membrane that sticks to the white of the egg when you peel it, breaks down over time. The fresher the egg, the more the membrane sticks. I always tell all my egg customers to let the eggs sit for a few weeks in the fridge before hard boiling them if they want “pretty” eggs.. ;) Just a little FYI way to check the freshness of your eggs.. :D

    1. You can also tell them to add a little vinegar to the water when boiling them (just like Easter eggs) and no matter how fresh they are they should peel easier.

  12. The egg situation has been a challenge for me too! I have not seen pastured eggs, but have seen “cage free”, organic, and cage free + organic in the local stores. The farmer’s markets are open during times that I work or have school, but I’m gonna HAVE to find a way to get there. I read the last few blogs out loud to my boyfriend, & we were both saddened by the chickens that are falling down because their bones aren’t strong enough. Awful! I’ll find a way!Thanks Lisa

    1. Jamie some farmers offer a CSA for eggs…where you pick them up or get them delivered every week so you don’t have to be at the farmers’ market to get them. Have you tried this option yet? Also, I agree it is so sad what our food system has come to, but the good news is the more we spread the word the more we can change things!!