Despite years of wrongful demonization, eggs are a nutritious food that provides several key nutrients.
When you are shopping and come to the egg section, you may have noticed the wealth of options at your disposal.
Look closely, and you will see a few with ‘omega-3’ on the label.
Everyone knows that omega-3 is good for our health, but are omega-3 enriched eggs really a healthier choice?
And how do they compare to other types of eggs?
Let’s take a look.
What Are Omega-3 Eggs?
We all know how nutritious eggs are, but where do omega-3 eggs stand?
First of all, there are two different ways for eggs to be ‘fortified’ with omega-3.
The first is by feeding the hens a source of ALA (alpha linoleic acid); flaxseeds are an excellent example and a standard choice.
An alternate way that really boosts the omega-3 content is by supplementing additional fish oil in the chicken’s diets, which contains DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
Note: DHA and ALA are both types of omega-3 fatty acids with some slight differences, which we will come to shortly.
A typical omega-3 egg provides a much higher amount of omega-3 than regular eggs, but the total can vary wildly between brands.
Here are some examples of different egg brands from various countries;
|Omega-3 Content per Large Egg
|Fresh & Easy
|Gold Circle Farms
As you can see in the above table, there is no real consistency of omega-3.
The reason for this is that it depends on how much DHA and ALA are in the chicken feed.
DHA is More Important Than ALA
The main difference between these two omega-3 fatty acids is that our body can directly use DHA.
However, ALA is only a precursor to the omega-3 acids DHA and EPA.
What this means is that our body needs to convert ALA into DHA and EPA to be able to use it.
Given this, it’s important to note that the successful conversion of ALA into DHA is very unreliable (1);
- ALA to DHA conversion rate: 0-9%
- ALA to EPA conversion rate: 8-21%
In other words, we cannot use most of the ALA we consume, so it is a poor source of omega-3.
If you’re planning on buying omega-3 eggs, look for eggs with a high DHA content rather than ALA.
You should be able to see these values listed on the packaging.
How Do Omega-3 Eggs Compare to Regular Eggs?
Firstly, there isn’t really such a thing as ‘regular’ eggs given there are so many different methods of producing them.
Some different types of eggs you can find in stores are;
- Pastured eggs
- Free range eggs
- Caged eggs
- Cage-free eggs
- Omega-3 eggs
- Organic eggs
Pastured eggs are the best choice when it comes to eggs, for both health and the welfare of the chicken.
Chickens raised on pasture are free to walk around in the wild and scavenge for their food in woods and fields.
In other words, the chickens get to live a natural life and eat a species-appropriate diet; grass, plants, bugs, small animals and whatever else they can find.
The net result is a more nutritious diet, and this clearly shows in pastured eggs; the yolks are often dark orange in color, and they have a deeper flavor.
Free Range Eggs
Depending on the country where you live, the definition of ‘free range’ can wildly differ. As a result, it is best to check your own nation’s egg labeling requirements
In the UK for example, the ‘free-range’ term is interchangeable with the US ‘pastured.’ Free range eggs in the UK are therefore raised outdoors in their natural environment.
However, the requirements for labeling eggs as free range in the United States are completely different.
US free range hens live in a barn with access to the outdoors, but this might only be a door to a fenced off muddy yard with no sign of pasture.
In fact, these chickens may never even step outside and, similar to caged chickens, their diet revolves around commercial feed.
These eggs are otherwise known as ‘battery’ or ‘conventional’ eggs and come from chickens that live in confinement.
Sadly, the chickens barely have any room to move. They spend their lives in small cages eating grains and seeds.
While cage-free sounds better than the last option, in reality, these eggs are not always so different.
For instance, thousands of chickens often live cramped together in an overcrowded barn.
There are some operations which focus on humane conditions and animal welfare, but there are others where the animals live in terrible conditions.
But either way, the animals do not have access to the outdoors, and they cannot eat their natural diet.
Depending on the operation, chickens producing omega-3 eggs will either be caged or cage-free.
The only difference is that they have their diet supplemented with a source of omega-3.
Upon hearing the word organic, many people automatically assume it is the best version of the food available.
However, this isn’t always the truth, and the welfare of chickens laying organic eggs can differ from place to place.
The only thing which the ‘organic’ label denotes is that the chickens eat organic feed free of pesticides and fertilizers.
Also, that the farmers use no antibiotics or hormones in the chickens.
That said, it does not mean that the chickens are raised on their natural diet or have access to pasture. Some chickens laying organic eggs have access to the outdoors, but some do not.
Studies on Omega-3 Eggs
There have been numerous studies on omega-3 eggs, regarding both their composition and their health benefits in humans.
Here is an overview of what the research shows, covering both the health benefits and the impact on nutritional values.
- Compared to a control group eating four regular eggs per day, a group eating four omega-3 eggs daily experienced a decrease in triglycerides. Additionally, the omega-3 group had decreases in blood pressure, which the regular egg group did not (2).
- Nineteen healthy volunteers included either an extra omega-3 egg or a standard egg in their daily diet for one month. After one month, the health markers of those eating the regular eggs showed no change. However, the omega-3 eggs resulted in a lowering of markers associated with cardiovascular disease, and lower blood glucose (3).
- A study compared twenty healthy men with an average age of 20. Ten participants ate three omega-3 eggs per day, and the other ten ate three regular eggs. The results of the study showed the omega-3 group as having a “statistically significant decrease in lipid peroxidation” and oxidative stress. In other words, there was a reduction in markers of cardiovascular risk (4).
Egg Nutritional Composition
- Compared to fish oil and flaxseed, including chia seeds in the chicken’s diet produced the highest concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in the eggs. However, out of the three, only a diet supplemented with fish oil produced detectable levels of DHA and EPA in the eggs (5).
- By feeding chickens with fish extracts or fish oil, the level of DHA in their eggs increases by between 3 to 6-fold (6).
- A study investigating the differences between conventional, organic and omega-3 eggs analyzed the nutritional value of the yolks. Notably, omega-3 composed 6.57% of the yolk in the enriched eggs. However, conventional eggs and organic eggs only contained 1.36% and 1.34% respectively (7).
How Do Omega-3 Eggs Compare to Other Foods?
If we are specifically looking to increase the amount of omega-3 in our diet, are enriched eggs the best option?
Earlier on, we saw the omega-3 values per egg. Below is a table which compares these values to other foods rich in omega-3.
All data comes from the Nutrition Data database;
|Food and Amount
|4oz Ground Grass-fed Beef
|5oz Herring Fillet
|5oz Mackerel Fillet
|Omega-3 Enriched Eggs
|115 – 660 mg (per egg)
|5oz Wild Salmon Fillet
|Sardines (92g can)
|5oz Trout Fillet
As shown above, oily fish provides a more significant source of omega-3 than fortified eggs.
For this reason, we should ideally emphasize oily fish if we’re striving to increase dietary omega-3.
Furthermore, all omega-3 fatty acids in fish are DHA and EPA and need no conversion.
Which Are the Best Eggs to Buy?
Overall, it depends on what you are looking for.
If eggs from healthy animals living in their natural environment are important to you, then there is only one choice; pastured.
On the other hand, if you can’t quite afford pastured eggs (after all, they are pretty expensive) then omega-3 eggs might be worth a look.
However, if you do opt for these eggs then remember to look for a high DHA content primarily.
Caged eggs is a very controversial topic. Despite the lack of freedom caged and cage-free chickens enjoy, the nutrient profile of the eggs is still excellent.
Personally, I try to buy pastured eggs, but it very much depends on individual priorities and circumstances.
It is a choice for each person to make.
No matter what type of eggs you eat, they are all going to offer a broad range of nutrients.
However, if you want an easy way to increase dietary omega-3 intake, then omega-3 enriched eggs are a decent choice.