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Buying Organic Food on a Budget

How to Go Organic without Going Broke
  -- By Leanne Beattie, Health & Fitness Writer
Step into any supermarket these days and you’re sure to find a wide variety of organic foods on the shelves. From produce, milk and meat to breakfast cereals and snack foods, consumers have their pick of certified organic products—a far cry from the time when you could only find organic items in natural foods stores. The demand for organic foods continues to grow. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic food sales have grown about 11 percent from 2013-2014, with organic sales now taking up a 5 percent share of the total food market. More than half of Americans have tried organic products, and this number is expected to increase as more people become aware of the long-term effects of pesticides and chemicals.

People buy certified organic foods because they believe organics are healthier than conventionally farmed foods. (Read "Why Go Organic" to learn more.) But adding organic foods into your diet can be expensive! Does your whole diet have to be organic or are some conventionally grown foods just as healthy?

Prices for organic foods have dropped in the past five years, but organic items are still generally more expensive than conventionally grown foods. If you would like to buy organic anyway, here are some tips to make an organic diet more affordable: The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently completed an analysis of conventionally-grown (non-organic) produce to measure pesticide residue levels. Based on the results of almost 34,000 samples taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and federal Food and Drug Administration, EWG estimates that consumers could reduce their pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent if they avoid the most contaminated foods and ate the least contaminated foods instead. Eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables, referred to as “The Dirty Dozen,” exposes the average person to about 15 different pesticides each day, while someone eating the least contaminated will be exposed to fewer than two pesticides each day. (Download a pocket guide to the Dirty Dozen here.)

The Dirty Dozen: Top 12 Foods to Buy Organic
 
If you have budget constraints, your money is doing more for your health when you put it towards organic varieties of the following fruits and vegetables (listed in descending order, starting with greatest levels pesticide contamination):
  1. Strawberries
  2. Apples
  3. Nectarines
  4. Peaches
  5. Celery
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Spinach
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Sweet bell peppers
  11. Cherry tomatoes
  12. Cucumbers
The Clean 15: Save Your Money & Buy Conventional
  
If going totally organic is too difficult or pricey, play it safe and eat the following conventional produce items to minimize your exposure. These are known to have the least amount of pesticide residue (listed in ascending order, starting with of lowest levels of pesticide contamination):
  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Frozen sweet peas
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangoes
  9. Papayas 
  10. Kiwis
  11. Eggplant
  12. Honeydew melon
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Cantaloupe
  15. Cauliflower
When eating conventional foods, be certain to peel away edible skins and outer leaves (such as those on lettuce) as pesticides are often concentrated there. Remember to wash all produce (conventional and organic) thoroughly with a natural fruit and vegetable cleanser. Peeling and washing can help reduce (not eliminate) pesticide exposure, but also results in the loss of valuable vitamins and nutrients (like fiber). When you have the choice between an organic item and one that’s conventionally grown, choose organic as much as possible. To see EWG's complete study results, and the rankings of different produce items, visit their website, www.ewg.org.

Last updated in September 2015