By Caroltoo Latest Reply 2012-07-03 14:44:18 -0500
Started 2012-06-28 13:15:06 -0500

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.

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 for 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 (or else your pocketbook will suffer). 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 (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. Apples
2. Celery
3. Sweet bell peppers
4. Peaches
5. Strawberries
6. Nectarines (imported)
7. Grapes (imported)
8. Spinach
9. Lettuce
10. Cucumbers
11. Blueberries (domestic)
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. Onions
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapple
4. Avocado
5. Cabbage
6. Sweet peas
7. Asparagus
8. Mangoes
9. Eggplant
10. Kiwi
11. Cantaloupe (domestic)
12. Sweet potatoes
13. Grapefruit
14. Watermelon
15. Mushrooms

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,

10 replies

Young1s 2012-06-29 02:08:13 -0500 Report

okay…first of all…great article Carol…as usual
. Sometihing i was saying to the hubby the other day, you can't always go by whats on the container. how do we get around the false advertisement? Especially when people are just learning…

red flower lady
red flower lady 2012-07-02 20:06:46 -0500 Report

Grow some of your own. It's not hard and really doesn't take much space. Alot can be grown in containers:)

Caroltoo 2012-07-03 04:06:17 -0500 Report

That is exactly what I do. Have 5 tomatoes, several peppers, and one eggplant about to be picked. All are growing on my lanai in large pots … oh and a hanging planter of strawberries, too. Saving my money for the bigger ticket items like hormone free meat.

Caroltoo 2012-06-29 02:58:39 -0500 Report

I use 3 groceries - 1 national and 2 local - that I trust to select clean organic products. They all carry some non-organic items and label them as such. I've found all are willing to check when I'm unsure.

I've stopped buying corn at my favorite roadside stand because, despite assuring me that the corn was non-GMO, she got an odd expression on her face when I mentioned my allergies. When I got sick after eating it (belly ache) I decided the look and the allergy discussion may have been related and the product misrepresented.

Some of this comes as we learn through our mistakes. Other information requires reading and questioning the meat man or the produce manager. I recheck the lists of good and bad every few months to be sure I'm still on track. For example, I buy avocadoes at Costco by the mesh bag (NOT organic) cause I'm going to peel them anyway. I was surprised to find asparagus on the list that is ok to eat non-organic, cause usually it's the things that you peel that are ok.

Young1s 2012-06-29 03:07:12 -0500 Report

Wow. Thank goodness you had the presence of mind to ask.
Ok…not trying to make you the spokesperson Carol, but what can those of us tht feel funny or uncomfortable about asking those questions that need to be asked. Is there something they can look out for that isn't mentioned in the article?

Just so u know, I too use three grocers. Well, 2 grocers and a farmers market.

Caroltoo 2012-06-29 03:28:07 -0500 Report

I'm a bit leary of the local farmer's market after that experience with the corn, but I have a real sense of conscience about it because I would really like to support the local farmers. It's a tough call. I have done some exploration online of the local growers and find some that are certified organic. Many offer a veggie box for a set amount, but the freedom to choose what fits my menu plans appeals to me more. When I get the time, I'll find a Saturday Farmer's Market where the certified organic farms offer their wares. I like the idea of fresh and local organically raised foods. I love tomatoes fresh from my own plants which I'm raising in pots on my lanai until I can set up organic beds in my yard.

As far as reading the labels: I try to find products that sound like food I am familiar with as opposed to a list that reminds me of my HS chemistry class. For the most part, I don't read many labels because I cook from whole foods — vegetables, meats, cheese, olive oil, fruit, etc. rather than from packaged or processed foods.

Young1s 2012-06-29 03:39:22 -0500 Report

LOL HS Chenistry class. I hear rthat.
I hear you about farmer's markets. fortunately, the one I frequent was started by my daughters' school and is pretty reputable. Not the case for everyone though.

jayabee52 2012-06-28 23:40:39 -0500 Report

Thanks for sharing that Carol!

Caroltoo 2012-06-29 01:41:41 -0500 Report

I've followed a lot of those rules and found them helpful. That's also why I am starting my organic raised container garden … so I can grow my veggies for less and use the grocery money for the meats and other more contaminated items.

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