What Is the Best Egg Type To Buy?

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Medically reviewed by Karina Tolentino, RD

Eggs are amongst the most nutritious foods you can eat, providing protein and essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, B12, and selenium. Not only are eggs packed with nutrition, but they’re also versatile and easy to make, making them a staple food in many people’s diets.

While eggs can be a healthy choice, shopping for them can be confusing, due to the multiple labels found on egg cartons. Understanding what these labels mean is important, as they convey information about how animals are treated as well as the nutrition content of the eggs inside the carton.

Here’s what you need to know about egg types, including information on common egg carton labels and how to choose humanely raised, nutritious eggs.

Pasture-Raised Eggs

If you’re concerned about animal welfare and the environment, purchasing pasture-raised eggs is the best choice. Eggs with the “pasture-raised” seal come from hens who spend at least six hours outdoors on pasture per day, with each hen having at least 108 square feet of pasture to roam.

Studies show that eggs from pasture-raised eggs are generally more nutritious than conventional eggs, with pasture-raised eggs providing more omega-3s, vitamin A, vitamin E, carotenoid antioxidants, and beneficial fatty acids.

Pasture-raising hens is also better for the environment, as this practice supports soil quality and ecosystem health. Keep in mind that "pasture-raised" is not a U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA)-regulated term, so it's best to purchase pasture-raised eggs that also come with an animal welfare certification, such as Certified Humane Raised and Handled, which sets strict requirements for animal welfare.


This USDA-regulated term means that hens are raised without cages and can engage in natural behaviors, such as scratching and perching. However, this doesn't mean that hens have access to the outdoors. Eggs labeled as "cage-free" must come from hens that were able to roam both vertically and horizontally in indoor housing.

Cage-free systems vary, but many farms raise hens in crowded conditions in windowless indoor settings. Cage-free hens currently make up around 38% of the United States laying flock and their popularity is on the rise as more people demand better living conditions for laying hens.


Free-range is another USDA-regulated term that requires laying hens to have continuous access to outdoor space during their laying cycle. Each hen must have a minimum of 2 square feet of range area. However, the USDA doesn’t specify the amount of time or type of outdoor access. Free-range hens are required to have protection from predators and adequate housing that promotes animal welfare.

Certified Organic

This is a USDA-regulated label that requires laying hens to be fed 100% certified organic feed. Certified organic laying hens are also prohibited from being treated with antibiotics or growth hormones, and must be free-range.

Other Considerations

While many of these labels require laying hens to be raised in conditions that improve the quality of their lives, most laying hens in the U.S. are raised in dismal conditions. Though the number of cage-free laying hens grows every year, nearly 71% of all eggs produced in the U.S. come from hens raised in conventional cage systems.

Hens raised in these systems live their entire lives confined to cages so small that they're unable to turn around and engage in natural behaviors, such as spreading their wings and scratching.

Not only do these conditions affect the health and quality of life of laying hens, but studies show that eggs from hens raised in conventional cage systems produce the worst-quality eggs according to industry and consumer preferences, including eggs with weak shells and pale yolk color.

What Do Egg Grades Mean?

The USDA has mandatory requirements for egg safety and wholesomeness, but USDA egg grading, which is a system that checks for quality and egg size, is voluntary.

Eggs that carry an egg grade have been graded under the supervision of a USDA egg grader. During this process, eggs are evaluated using methods such as machine flash candling or mass electronic scanning to determine their grade, which ranges from AA to B.

Eggs are graded based on several factors, including shell cleanliness, yolk defects, blood spots, and irregular shells.

Here's what the USDA egg grades mean:

  • USDA Grade AA : This grading indicates the highest quality eggs, such as those with clean, unbroken shells and firm, round yolks.

  • USDA Grade A: This grading indicates very high-quality eggs, including those with clean shells and reasonably thick whites.

  • USDA Grade B: Grade B eggs indicate lower-quality eggs that have defects. These eggs are usually used for liquid egg products.

Additionally, eggs are weighed during processing and separated into weight classes. Here are the six weight classes of U.S. eggs based on the minimum net weight per dozen eggs:

  • Jumbo: 30 ounces (oz)

  • Extra large: 27 oz

  • Large: 24 oz

  • Medium: 21 oz

  • Small: 18 oz

  • Peewee: 15 oz

Large eggs are the most common type sold in grocery stores.

Other Terms to Know

In addition to the labels and grades listed above, there are a few more certifications and labels to be aware of when shopping for eggs.

  • Certified Humane®: Eggs that carry this certification must meet Certified Humane standards. These standards ban the use of all cages and require sufficient freedom of movement, perches, quality feed, and more. Keep in mind that this certification does not require that hens have access to the outdoors.

  • HFAC’s Certified Humane® “Pasture Raised:” Eggs carrying this label come from hens that are raised in an environment that allows at least 2.5 acres of pasture for every 1,000 birds, which equates to 108 square feet per bird. They also meet other animal welfare requirements.

  • Animal Welfare Certified: This certification, which is a program of the nonprofit Global Animal Partnership, has different certification levels that range from one to five. Level one doesn't require access to outdoor space, while level five requires continuous outdoor living on pasture.

These certifications are voluntary and are verified yearly by their respective organizations.

You'll also see labels that have to do with the feed that hens are given. For example, omega-3-enriched eggs come from hens given omega-3-enriched feed. These eggs are higher in omega-3s compared to hens fed conventional feed. Studies show that omega-3-enriched eggs can contain up to five times more omega‐3 fatty acids than conventional eggs. 

Eggs can also be enriched with vitamin D, a nutrient that's essential for immune function, bone health, and more. Eggs from hens fed vitamin D-enriched feed can contain as much as 78% more vitamin D compared to eggs from hens fed conventional feed.

Non-Chicken Eggs

Like chicken eggs, the USDA inspects eggs from other types of domesticated birds, such as ducks, turkeys, and geese.

The Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA), which was passed in 1970, was created to protect consumers by inspecting eggs sold in the U.S. The inspection process ensures that eggs aren't adulterated and that egg products are properly labeled and packaged so they're safe for consumers to eat.

Just like chicken eggs, producers of eggs from other domesticated birds can have their eggs graded, which is voluntary.

How To Choose the Healthiest Egg

While all eggs provide important nutrients, choosing certain egg products can support animal welfare and increase your chances of purchasing the healthiest eggs.

For example, studies show that eggs from pasture-raised hens are higher in some nutrients compared to conventional eggs. Pasture-raised eggs are generally more concentrated in vitamin A, vitamin D, omega-3 fats, and carotenoid antioxidants than conventional eggs, making them a healthier choice.

Not only that, but pasture-raised hens have much better living conditions and a significantly higher quality of life compared to hens raised in conventional cage systems.

Though most people purchase eggs from grocery stores, you can also buy your eggs from local farms that use humane practices and raise their hens on pasture, which produces more nutritious eggs.

If you don't want to spend the extra money to purchase pasture-raised eggs, consider choosing eggs from companies that use humane practices and those that carry labels such as Humane Certified or Animal Welfare Certified.

A Quick Review

Eggs are nutritious, easy to prepare, and versatile, which is why they're one of the most popular protein sources in the world. However, eggs carry a number of labels, which can be confusing when you're trying to narrow down the most nutritious product.

While all eggs provide important nutrients, some egg types, like those from pasture-raised hens, contain higher levels of certain vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. Plus, some certifications ensure that laying hens are treated humanely and raised in healthier environments.

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