Organic foods on a budget

Most supermarkets offer 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 grown foods.

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 become familiar 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.

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. Peaches

2. Apples

3. Sweet bell peppers

4. Celery

5. Nectarines

6. Strawberries

7. Cherries

8. Pears

9. Imported grapes

10. Spinach

11. Lettuce

12. Potatoes

The Cleanest 12: 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 pesticide contamination):

1. Onions

2. Avocados

3. Sweet corn (frozen)

4. Pineapple

5. Mangoes

6. Asparagus

7. Sweet peas (frozen)

8. Kiwis

9. Bananas

10. Cabbage

11. Broccoli

12. Papaya

When eating conventional foods, be certain to peel away edible skins and outer leaves (such as those on lettuce) since 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, http://www.foodnews.org/.

Why Should You Care About Pesticides?

There is growing consensus in the scientific community that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can adversely affect people, especially during vulnerable periods of fetal development and childhood when exposures can have long lasting effects. Because the toxic effects of pesticides are worrisome, not well understood, or in some cases completely unstudied, shoppers are wise to minimize exposure to pesticides whenever possible.

Will Washing and Peeling Help?

Nearly all of the data used to create these lists already considers how people typically wash and prepare produce (for example, apples are washed before testing, bananas are peeled). While washing and rinsing fresh produce may reduce levels of some pesticides, it does not eliminate them. Peeling also reduces exposures, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the peel. The best option is to eat a varied diet, wash all produce, and choose organic when possible to reduce exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

The Full List: 43 Fruits & Veggies

RANK FRUIT OR VEGGIE SCORE

1 (worst) Peaches 100 (highest pesticide load)

2 Apples 96

3 Sweet Bell Peppers 86

4 Celery 85

5 Nectarines 84

6 Strawberries 83

7 Cherries 75

8 Lettuce 69

9 Grapes – Imported 68

10 Pears 65

11 Spinach 60

12 Potatoes 58

13 Carrots 57

14 Green Beans 55

15 Hot Peppers 53

16 Cucumbers 52

17 Raspberries 47

18 Plums 46

19 Oranges 46

20 Grapes-Domestic 46

21 Cauliflower 39

22 Tangerine 38

23 Mushrooms 37

24 Cantaloupe 34

25 Lemon 31

26 Honeydew Melon 31

27 Grapefruit 31

28 Winter Squash 31

29 Tomatoes 30

30 Sweet Potatoes 30

31 Watermelon 25

32 Blueberries 24

33 Papaya 21

34 Eggplant 19

35 Broccoli 18

36 Cabbage 17

37 Bananas 16

38 Kiwi 14

39 Asparagus 11

40 Sweet Peas-Frozen 11

41 Mango 9

42 Pineapples 7

43 Sweet Corn-Frozen 2

44 Avocado 1

45 (best) Onions 1 (lowest pesticide load)

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