If you are aware of current food trends then I am sure you have heard the phrase “free range” when talking about chickens and their eggs. But what does it mean? Unfortunately in the case of eggs you buy from the grocery store, not much. For a little background, let’s talk about where the “regular” eggs come from and how those chickens were raised.
When most people think of chickens and eggs, they think of cute hens wandering around a farm yard pecking at the ground and periodically going into a nice coop to lay an egg in a bed of straw. Well, that isn’t how it works when it comes to the eggs you buy from the grocery store. Hens are bred specifically for their egg laying capabilities. They are kept in very tiny cages stacked on top of each other in a warehouse of sorts. The cages are so small they can hardly turn around.
Chickens that are raised this way get no sunshine and never go outside. They are never let out of their cages. They are fed a specifically mixed diet that the food companies say contains everything a chicken needs to survive (not thrive) – including a constant stream of antibiotics. They need the antibiotics to avoid getting sick in such a horrible environment. The worst part of all is that when the hen’s egg production starts to diminish, the chicken is then starved to produce one last spurt of egg laying before her death.
So now that we know how “regular” eggs are produced, let’s talk about your typical free range chickens and their eggs. Usually when you see the words “free range” on the label, it just means that those chickens had access to the outdoors. It does not mean that they went outside. You have to be very careful when buying chickens and eggs to make sure you are getting what the label says.
Free range chickens and their eggs are much better nutritionally than the comparative regular chicken and eggs. Chickens that are truly free range will actually get to wander around outside and get to forage for some of their own food. Chickens need more than just a cornmeal mash with antibiotics. They need to eat bugs and vegetable scraps and dig in the dirt to be able to provide us with the best eggs and meat.
There is a misconception that eggs are bad for you because they are high in cholesterol. From what I can tell, eggs and chicken raised in factories are not very good for you. In fact, those types of eggs can be bad for you. Free range eggs however have incredible nutritional benefits. From what I have read, much of the cholesterol in eggs is the good kind (HDL). You can also get many benefits from the egg whites without the added cholesterol because most of the cholesterol is found in the yolk of an egg.
Eggs contain all essential amino acids and lots of protein that our bodies need. But free range eggs provide more of these things, as well as plenty of Omega-3 that they get from the insects and green stuff they eat. Chickens and eggs raised in factories don’t have the opportunity to eat insects and scraps that make the chicken and eggs so nutritious for us.
Chickens that are allowed plenty of open space and clean air to roam free and forage are much less likely to carry food borne illnesses, such as Campylobacter. To me, there are many benefits to eating free range chickens and their eggs. It is better for the environment, it is healthier for the bird and in turn, the bird provides humans with a healthier product. This seems like a win-win situation all around.