Organic Foods on a Budget

It is no secret that organic foods are more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. For consumers on a budget this can be problematic. How can one balance his or her grocery budget with a need for healthy, pesticide and hormone-free foods?

The truth is that it is not necessary for optimal health to buy only organic foods. Some non-organic foods are just as safe the organic variety of the same foods. First one must understand what exactly organic means. A food labeled “100% Organic” must not contain any pesticides, hormones, antibiotics or artificial ingredients. If a food is labeled simply “Organic” must be at least 95 percent so. Some ingredients such as baking powder are allowable in “organic” foods. If the label reads “Made with Organic Ingredients” then the product must be at least 70 percent organic ingredients. When a product is labeled “All Natural” there is no exact definition and no real rules to follow although usually it means that there are no artificial preservatives or colors in the product.

In the world of non-organic produce there is a list of twelve fruits and vegetables that are known as the Dirty Dozen. This list includes (in order of most pesticide and fungicide residue): apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries. These produce items are best when bought organic. Some fruits and vegetables are safe as non-organic because of their thick skin and the fact that the skin isn’t usually consumed with the rest of the food. These items include bananas, kiwis, avocados, corn, mangoes, oranges, papaya, pineapples and sweet peas.

Buying produce from local farmers via farmer’s markets is another inexpensive way of purchasing fruits and vegetables. Many smaller farms do not use pesticides in the way that larger producers do so the exposure to residue is lessened. Sometimes small farms will not to go through the expensive process of being certified organic yet are still growing organic fruits and vegetables.

When it comes to cereal and bread, buying organic is still a good idea. However, food items made with refined grains are safe because the outer husk of the grain is removed during processing thereby reducing greatly the pesticide residue. Of course, overly processed food looses many nutrients during processing but many foods have been “enriched” to add nutrients back in where they were stripped during processing.

When it comes to meat, poultry and fish go organic on beef and lamb but not pork or poultry or seafood. Organic beef and lamb do not contain growth hormones or antibiotics and are worth the extra money. Pigs and chicken are not given hormones because of USDA guidelines so buying non-organic pork and poultry is safe. Because there are no set guidelines for organic seafood it is not necessary to buy those labeled organic. Larger species of fish like swordfish and tuna can still contain water contaminants like mercury even if they are fed organic feed. In fact, farmed fish has 10 times as many toxins as wild fish so opting for wild fish is a better health bet. Smaller species of fish have less contaminants. Look for tilapia, shrimp and whiting.

When purchasing milk, cheese and yogurt organic is best. Because of growth hormones and antibiotics buy organic milk products. When it comes to eggs, however, it is not necessary to buy organic or ‘free range’. There is no regulation on free range animals who are allowed to roam and feed freely instead of being caged. The amount of pesticides in conventional eggs is very minimal.

Healthy eating should be a priority for us all but the need for healthy food does not have to compete with the need for affordable groceries. With care and planning anyone can have the best foods with the least amount of pesticides and other contaminants while sticking to a budget.

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