Why the egg is the best part about chickens
Chicken is a mainstay of many Americans’ diets, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, as recently as the 1920s, chickens were raised primarily for their eggs — not their meat. Chicken meat was expensive, not considered very tasty and only available seasonally, as chickens were typically slaughtered in the fall after they were no longer needed for laying eggs.
In her book, “Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats,” journalist Maryn McKenna uncovers how chickens became big business — and it all started with a mistake. In 1923, a farmer in Delaware accidentally placed an order for too many hatchling chickens (500 instead of 50), so she sold them for meat.
She was so successful that she did it again the next year, and the next. Her neighbors took notice, and the chicken meat industry took off.1 Then, in 1948, a national “Chicken of Tomorrow” contest, seeking to develop a meatier chicken, was sponsored by A&P supermarket and supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The major lines of chickens sold in the U.S. today can all be traced back to the contest’s winner.
As new farming methods made it easier for farmers to raise more chickens, new chicken products, from nuggets to sausages, were created, and Americans took to viewing chickens as a primary source of meat. “The deal was sealed with the introduction of the McNugget in 1980 and, today, Americans eat more than four times as much chicken as we did at the start of the 20th century,” Gastropod, an online agency that looks at the history of science and food, noted.
Eating Eggs May Be the Best Way to Get Choline
While the consumption of chicken meat became quite glorified, eggs became largely vilified, in part because of misconceptions regarding their cholesterol content. In reality, eggs, particularly the yolks, provide valuable vitamins (A, D, E and K), omega-3 fats and antioxidants.
They’re also one of the best sources of choline available. Choline helps keep your cell membranes functioning properly, plays a role in nerve communications, prevents the buildup of homocysteine in your blood (elevated levels are linked to heart disease) and reduces chronic inflammation.
Choline is also needed for your body to make the brain chemical acetylcholine, which is involved in storing memories. In pregnant women, choline plays an equally, if not more, important role, helping to prevent certain birth defects such as spina bifida, and playing a role in brain development. According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, only 8 percent of U.S. adults are getting enough choline (including only 8.5 percent of pregnant women).12
Among egg consumers, however, more than 57 percent met the adequate intake (AI) levels for choline, compared to just 2.4 percent of people who consumed no eggs. In fact, the researchers concluded that it’s “extremely difficult” to get enough choline unless you eat eggs or take a dietary supplement.
Some of the symptoms associated with low choline levels include memory problems, lethargy and persistent brain fog. Your body can only synthesize small amounts of this nutrient, so you need to get it from your diet regularly. One egg yolk contains nearly 215 mg of choline.
Why else are egg yolks good for you? They’re rich in the antioxidant carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are beneficial for vision health. Egg yolks are also an excellent source of healthy fat and protein, while providing you with vitamins that many Americans are lacking. Eating egg yolks may even be an ideal way to resolve other common nutrient deficiencies beyond choline, including vitamins A, E and B6, copper, calcium and folate.13
Free-range or “pastured” organic eggs are far superior when it comes to nutrient content, while conventionally raised eggs are far more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria such as Salmonella. You can usually tell your eggs are pastured by the color of the egg yolk. Foraged hens produce eggs with bright orange yolks, and this is what most people who raise backyard chickens are after. Dull, pale yellow yolks are a sure sign you’re getting eggs from caged hens that are not allowed to forage for their natural diet.
Choosing Safer, More Humane Chicken and Eggs
Choosing food that comes from small regenerative farms — not CAFOs — is crucial. While avoiding CAFO meats, look for antibiotic-free alternatives raised by organic and regenerative farmers. Unfortunately, loopholes abound, allowing CAFO-raised chickens and eggs to masquerade as “free-range” and “organic.”
The Cornucopia Institute address some of these issues in their egg report and scorecard, which ranks egg producers according to 28 organic criteria. It can help you to make a more educated choice if you’re buying your eggs at the supermarket.
Ultimately, as mentioned, the best choice is to get to know a local farmer and get your meat and eggs there directly. Alternatively, you might consider raising your own backyard chickens. Backyard chickens are growing in popularity, and many U.S. cities are adjusting zoning restrictions accordingly. Requirements vary widely depending on your locale, with many limiting the number of chickens you can raise or requiring quarterly inspections (at a cost) and permits, so check with your city before taking the plunge.
You might be surprised to find that your city already allows chickens, as even many large, urban cities have jumped on board (Chicago, for instance, allows residents to keep an unlimited number of chickens, as “pets” or for eggs, provided you keep a humane and adequately sized coop). However, even if you don’t want to raise your own chickens but still want farm-fresh eggs, you have many options. Finding high-quality organic, pastured eggs locally is getting easier, as virtually every rural area has individuals with chickens.
If you live in an urban area, visiting the local health food stores is typically the quickest route to finding high-quality local egg sources. Farmers markets and food co-ops are another great way to meet the people who produce your food. With face-to-face contact, you can get your questions answered and know exactly what you’re buying. Better yet, visit the farm — ask for a tour. If they have nothing to hide, they should be eager to show you their operation.