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TODAY contributor
updated 11/7/2007 5:32:46 PM ET 2007-11-07T22:32:46

Wondering which eggs you should buy at the supermarket — organic or free-range vs. commercially produced? Well, here's some news that might help you decide. One of the biggest factors impacting the purchase of organic or free-range is that they cost more, and if you're on a budget, this can be daunting. However, a new study that shows the superior nutritional value of truly free-range eggs, in comparison to conventionally produced supermarket eggs, may make it worth the extra money.

The report is the result of tests conducted for Mother Earth News magazine's October/November issue. They found that true free-range eggs are shown to contain significantly less cholesterol — one third less — and one fourth less saturated fat than commercially produced eggs!

According to Mother Earth News (motherearthnews.com), their tests were carried out on 14 flocks around the country that range freely on pasture or are housed in moveable pens, rotated frequently to maximize access to fresh pasture and protect the birds from predators. They found that, compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial, "conventional" (i.e., from confined hens) eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene.

In addition to the health benefits for humans, the chickens benefit, too. Many times commercially raised chickens are crowded into small spaces and never see the light of day and are fed a diet that consists of corn, soy or cottonseed with additives. When you buy certified free-range eggs you can support more humane conditions for the chickens, comforted by the knowledge that they have foraged on real pasture, under real sunlight or rain and be assured that their natural diet, which includes green plants, insects and worms, has ensured their nutritional superiority for you the consumer.

So spending that little bit extra may be well worth it in the long run — for those watching their cholesterol and fat intake and for the overall health and nutrition of everyone else, not to mention the fact that the animals are more humanely treated. All great reasons for making the switch!

Phil Lempert is food editor of the TODAY show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to phil.lempert@nbc.com or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at SuperMarketGuru.com.

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