Nutrition Articles

Buying Organic Food on a Budget

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 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:
  • Make a gradual transition over the course of a year to familiarize yourself with prices and products.
     
  • 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 for which foods are cheaper at certain stores, or which location offers the most deals overall.
     
  • Create your meal plans around the most affordable produce, meat and grain products.
     
  • 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.
     
  • 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.
     
  • Find local organic growers and buy directly to save money. Farmers markets often offer organic items.
     
  • Select seasonal produce as much as possible. If you want strawberries in winter, for example, buy frozen (or else your pocketbook will suffer). Frozen organic produce is often available at big warehouse stores as well.
     
  • Prioritize your produce. Certain produce items tend to be highly contaminated with pesticides (try to buy these organic), while others tend to be relatively low in pesticide residue (save money and buy these conventional). Here's the scoop:
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.
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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.

Member Comments

  • I shop regularly at a known busy Organic market that is the only market walking distance from my home. I spend way too much for their fruits and veggies and basically everything else (milk, cheese, cereal, etc!). The look on my face is always a shocked one when I see the total. But I feel I HAVE to buy their organic food for better health. I'd love to grow my own but I seem to never be able to grow anything well. For me, I will probably just keep going there. Everything they sell is very good but expensive. - 7/19/2014 11:08:15 PM
  • MNICETOO
    Passion fruit is a power source of nutrients, according to studies, and most of it pointing to some medicinal benefits. If you are suffering from high cholesterol levels, cancer, constipation, or coronary heart disease, then this fruit could play a key factor in your recovery. While the fruit may not always be easily available, delifreshusa.com has an all natural passion fruit juice in Markizza Passion Fruit Juice available on Amazon. It’s all natural and refreshing, not from concentrate. Read about passion fruits to see for yourself. - 6/26/2014 4:09:02 AM
  • SIOL55
    Spring is here. Consider growing some of your own food. Then you know what's in it. If you have little or no space consider planting in pots. There are a lot of sights on line to give you ideas based on the amount of space you have. - 4/7/2014 2:08:04 PM
  • I am very careful with "organic" ... i did work a while at nights t for a stores delivery shopping service, they did - just as i always thought - just take a normal produce article and stick the organic-sticker on it when someone was asking for a organic item. Going organic is a good thing, but look behind the walls of the store 1st and make sure organic really does mean organic, this stuff is expensive and i was shocked that they handled it this way (not being truthful to their customers is a very big deal for me an never ever put a food in this store, for nothing, even if its the only one here around for us).
    I am happy that i stay for the most of my vegetables with products of my own little garden in the yard (fresh at the summer and frozen for the winter time), this way i do really know what is in it and where it's coming from. - 12/11/2013 9:32:54 AM
  • I have found organic and gluten free food on Amazon in their subscribe and save section. If you subscribe to five items on a regular delivery basis anywhere from monthly to six months out, you get a 15 percent discount off the price of each item in your order. If you are in the Chicago area, they just opened a new store called Mrs Green's in the Lincoln Park area of the city. I just went there yesterday...all of their produce is 100 percent organic. They have a coupon in their flier for four weeks in a row, if you spend 50.00, you get 15.00 off of your order and a free sturdy reusable shopping bag...so that takes the bite off the higher prices. My grocery store nearest me Strack and Van Til has started carrying more organic produce...now their entire top shelf of fruits and vegetables are organic. They have organic milk,cheese,eggs,
    canned corn,etc...they seem to be getting more and more organic and they often have sales and their regular prices are pretty good for organic. Even Aldis is getting some organic and have the cheapest prices I have found...grape tomatoes,baby carrots, gala apples, bananas, boxed salads of baby arugula,baby kale, spinach, spring mix....if you shop around you can find what you need pretty reasonable. There is a fruit market called Stanleys that has a nice selection of organic produce and dairy too...Shop around. You may be surprised just how affordable it can be and better for your health. - 11/26/2013 11:05:52 AM
  • This is a good list to refer to, but what about GMOs? Those food products are genetically altered and causing lots of auto immune diseases and many health problems. Corn is mostly GMOs so I would add that to the list to definitely buy organic to be safe...See what other foods on your safe list may contain GMOs and warn people of them.I am on my third auto immune idiopathic disorder from eating regular food. I have switched to mostly organic and trying to detoxify my system but I am 52 and that is a lot of accumulation of bad stuff in my system to try to get rid of and start replacing with truly healthy food. There are many videos on youtube that you can do your own research on GMOs. They are basically poisoning the world food supply and can contaminate organic farms. Very serious situation. Monsanto is behind the GMOs because of their roundup pesticides so not only is the GMO contaminated with pesticides but it is contaminated inside too and that cannot be washed away...Why do you think cancer is rising and auto immune disease and other serious health issues? Too many people eat GMOs and there are no labels for it so not even warned about it. Look at all the prescription drugs with all their side effects. You take a pill to get rid of one problem and you gain another problem or more than what you started out with. The FDA is infiltrated by former Monsanto people who lobby and basically bribe politicians to look the other way. The FDA that is supposed to be looking out for our interests are really looking out to poison us with their GMOs...they have their own agenda...Sign all the petitions you can. I find a lot on facebook and sign everyone about GMO labeling and warning. Personally I think GMOs should be banned all together. They are poisoning all of us. It is a horrible greedy world we live in. They are more concerned about profits than health. They don't want you to get well cuz then you won't buy their drugs that don't help you...they mask syndromes and add the dangers of possible side effects. Go organic...eat healthy fruits and veget... - 11/26/2013 10:53:32 AM
  • Is there any actual REAL science behind all the scare stuff I am reading.
    Until and unless there is, I am going to keep those precious pennies in 6ball's pocket. - 5/21/2013 9:07:47 AM
  • SIMONEFRAME
    There is also a great app called Makeena that is going to finally make it easier to afford natural, organic foods in stores like Whole Foods. they're not launched yet, but when they are, the app will be free. It's going to be such a relief to not have to break my bank every time I want good food. They have a video here: www.crowdfunder.c
    om/campaign/393. - 5/16/2013 12:42:18 PM
  • AZURE-SKY
    Read up on what it really means to be certified organic. In the US, a farm or orchard has to only stop using chemical pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides for 3 years to become certified organic. However, the trees in the orchards may be over 50 years old, accumulating the chemicals used for all those years. Since we don't know what pesticides or herbicides were used during that time, or how long they last in the trees & soil, even buying organic produce may mean you're getting the residue of those older pesticides.

    For example, DDT, formerly used as an insectide, but banned in the 1970s in the US, has a half life of around 30 years, but has still been found in human blood tests performed by the CDC in 2005. It causes thinning of bird egg shells, and has been cited as a cause for shrinking populations of wild birds in the US. Even in 2010, more than 40 years after the U.S. ban, California condors which feed on sea lions at Big Sur which in turn feed in the Palos Verdes Shelf area of the Montrose Chemical Superfund site seemed to be having continued thin-shell problems. So, it appears to work its way up through the food chain.

    In the US, federal legislation defines three levels of organic foods.

    Products made entirely with certified organic ingredients and methods can be labeled "100% organic," while only products with at least 95% organic ingredients may be labeled "organic." Both of these categories may also display the USDA Organic seal. A third category, containing a minimum of 70% organic ingredients, can be labeled "made with organic ingredients," but may not display the USDA Organic seal. In addition, products may also display the logo of the certification body that approved them.

    Also, small farmers, selling less than $5,000 a year, do not have to apply for organic certification, although they still have to keep records and may be subject to audits. - 4/9/2013 3:46:42 PM
  • You MUST buy organic corn as external pesticides aren't the issue, they are now internal thanks to GMO's. 98% of all corn is now GMO in which they engineered the pesticide in its dna. When it enters our gut and intestines, it perforates them and undigested foods enter the body thru the intestines, creating food allergies and other ailments. As far as organic on a budget, i've been shopping online lately at greenpolkadotbox , their prices are amazing and shipping is free with orders over a certain amount. - 4/8/2013 11:31:19 AM
  • Starting a juice cleanse and raw food diet in the next few days. I will have to be buying organic a lot--this article definitely helped! Thanks! - 4/8/2013 10:26:25 AM
  • I get all my organic veges fruits and meat dairy from door to door organics - it's online and I get a box for $23 and it's delivered right to my door - and NO, i don't work for them! It's affordable, and good for me, yay! - 4/4/2013 1:05:19 PM
  • Another person commented on this, but the ability to comparison shop is somewhat limited. I live in a moderately sized town, but we only have one place to buy organic produce when the farmers market is out of season. And boy is it expensive. The farmer's market is worse. There are stores about 30 miles away in a bigger city, but we rarely have enough gas to go up there more than every couple of months.

    Some of the other suggestions are great. I look for sales, and sometimes you can get a good deal. I've recently started growing my own veggies, which should be ready in a month or two. - 4/4/2013 10:25:18 AM
  • I guess I got lucky there that most of the stuff I buy is "don't worry, buy conventional." Having said that, locally grown stuff is so much more delicious that I'm trying to grow some of my own produce. I wish I had enough space to make myself sustainable, but whatever.

    I have started buying my meat from local farmers so I can eat grass-fed beef, pasture chickens and eggs, and humane pork. It is cheapest to get that meat directly from the farmer, but even then it's still kinda pricey, so I buy bulk meats, non-premium cuts, and some organs and just eat less of all of it.

    Yeah, I just made some chicken livers, and those are not only delicious, I broiled them with some seasonings, and they're going to make me lunches for less than $1 per meal. It's not an every day thing, but it does help cut down costs. - 6/27/2012 11:47:42 AM
  • If you want to be truly organic grow your own! Most of the produce mentioned with high pestacides are easily grown in small backyard gardens.
    - 6/27/2012 6:32:28 AM

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