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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 20 percent in the past five years, with 2006 sales expected to exceed $15 billion. 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 43,000 tests, 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 twelve 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. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet Bell Peppers
  8. Nectarines (Imported)
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry Tomatoes
  11. Snap peas (Imported)
  12. Potatoes
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. Sweet Potatoes
  2. Cauliflower
  3. Cantaloupe
  4. Grapefruit
  5. Eggplant
  6. Kiwi
  7. Papaya
  8. Mangoes
  9. Asparagus
  10. Onions
  11. Sweet Peas (Frozen)
  12. Cabbage
  13. Pineapple
  14. Sweet Corn
  15. Avocados
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 43 different produce items, visit their website, www.FoodNews.org.