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How to Eat Organic Foods on a Budget

Eating organic doesn't have to break the bank. Try these tips for trimming your organic food costs.

Organic Vegetables and Fruits

Organic foods generally cost more because the lack of pesticides means growing them is more labor-intensive, and the crop yield is not always as good. But, experts say a good place to spend your organic dollars is on fresh produce. Fruits and vegetables are conventionally treated with pesticides and fertilizers to enhance growth and prevent infestation, and are likely to contain pesticide residues.

"It really is a personal choice, but how can anyone think substances such as pesticides, capable of killing insects, can be good for you?" asks Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, a food studies and public health professor at New York University. "If you can afford them, buy them. Given the choice, go organic, and if you can't afford them, try to buy [at least] the ones on the 'dirty dozen' list."

The "dirty dozen" refers to 12 fruits and vegetables that the nonprofit Environmental Working Group says are among the most susceptible to pesticide residue, and thus most profitable to buy organic. They are:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (imported)
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes

The Environmental Working Group also has a list of 12 fruits and veggies likely to have the fewest pesticide residues, which may not be worth the added cost of buying organic. They are:

  • Papaya
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Bananas
  • Kiwi
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Asparagus
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet corn (frozen)
  • Avocado
  • Onions

More Ways to Save on Organic Foods

Aside from limiting your organic produce purchases to the items with the highest potential for pesticides, how else can you save money when buying organic foods?

Here are eight tips to help stretch your organic food budget:

  1. Buy in bulk if you can use the food or store it without spoilage.
  2. Clip coupons from the newspaper or online sites.
  3. Plan your menus using advertised specials from your grocery.
  4. Compare prices between fresh and frozen, dried and canned varieties of organic foods. They may be less expensive than fresh, yet equally delicious when prepared correctly.
  5. Shop grocery chains that feature their own organic brand.
  6. Buy the generic organic version in your favorite market.
  7. Join an organic food cooperative (you can often find listings online or in your local health food store).
  8. Plant a garden and grow your own organic produce, or join a community garden.

Alternatives to Organic Foods

Foods don't have to be organic to be safe and environmentally friendly. Buying produce in season, and foods that have been locally grown, are other ways to eat healthfully while looking out for the Earth.

Produce from local farmers markets may not be organic, but is often fresher than the same foods from a supermarket and may have less impact on the environment. An added bonus: Foods from local markets require little packaging other than a container to help you get them home.

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