Nutrition Articles

When to Buy Organic & When to Save Your Money

How to Go Organic without Going Broke

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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 them in natural foods stores. The demand for organic foods continues to soar: According to the Organic Trade Association, organic food sales saw their biggest dollar gain ever in 2015 with more than 10 percent growth. 

8 Tips for Making Organic More Affordable


Certified organic foods have been linked to many heath benefits, but they can sometimes be more expensive than conventionally farmed produce. Try these tips to make an organic diet more affordable.
  1. Make a gradual transition over the course of a year to familiarize yourself with prices and products.
     
  2. Comparison shop to find the most economical organic items. Within the same city, organic produce prices vary greatly. Sometimes the large supermarket chains will win out, while other times natural food stores (chains or privately owned) can be more affordable. By shopping around, you'll get a general idea of which foods are cheaper at certain stores, or which location offers the most deals overall.
     
  3. Create your meal plans around the most affordable produce, meat and grain products.
     
  4. Improvise recipes if an organic ingredient isn't available or affordable. You might find something else that works just as well, or even better than, the original ingredient.
     
  5. Invest in organic meat, cheese and milk (over produce and grains) if your grocery budget is tight. Conventional meat and dairy products often contain hormones and show the highest concentration of pesticides.
     
  6. Find local organic growers and buy directly to save money. Farmers markets often offer organic items.
     
  7. Select seasonal produce as much as possible. If you want strawberries in winter, for example, buy frozen for a budget-friendly value. Frozen organic produce is often available at big warehouse stores as well.
     
  8. Prioritize your produce. Certain produce items tend to be highly contaminated with pesticides, so try to buy the these organic. For others that tend to be relatively low in pesticide residue, save money and buy these conventional.

The Dirty Dozen: Top 12 Foods to Buy Organic 


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 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. By avoiding these most contaminated foods, consumers could reduce their pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent.

If you have budget constraints, get more health for your money by choosing organic varieties of the following fruits and vegetables (listed in descending order, starting with greatest levels of pesticide contamination). Download a pocket guide to the Dirty Dozen here.
  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Peaches
  6. Pears
  7. Cherries
  8. Grapes
  9. Celery
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Sweet bell peppers
  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 lowest levels of contamination):
  1. Sweet corn
  2. Avocados
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Onions
  6. Frozen sweet peas
  7. Papayas
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangoes
  10. Eggplant
  11. Honeydew melon
  12. Kiwi
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Grapefruit
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 can also cause the loss of valuable vitamins and nutrients, such as fiber.

When you have the choice between an organic item and one that’s conventionally grown, choose organic as often as possible. To see EWG's complete study results and the rankings of different produce items, visit their website.

Last updated April 2017

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About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.