Written by Bunny Wong
Buying organic sounds oh-so-marvelous-that is, if you can afford it. But what if you're on a tight grocery budget? Some argue that health and a happy planet justify the expense, while others find this thinking very unrealistic during a recession. Fortunately, there's a third option. WD spoke with three nutritionists and an organic-food expert about what grocery items are worth the splurge as well as some still-good-for-you alternatives. Turns out a grocery list can be green and inexpensive.
Choose Fruits with Care
Spend: Go ahead and splurge on organic peaches, strawberries, cherries, nectarines and bananas. Ysanne Spevack, founder of the online magazine Organic Foodee,explains that delicate-skinned fruits absorb pesticides and that washing is no help. Heavy spraying-since bugs love sweet fruits too-compounds the problem, as well as affects how the plants work, she adds. Take bananas. They're thick-skinned, but they drink lots of pesticide-laden water through their roots. The good news? The word splurge doesn't apply when it comes to often-cheap organic bananas.
Save: You can save on nonorganic pineapples, mangos, kiwis, papayas and watermelons. A combination of factors-skin hardiness, plant biology-keeps pesticides out of the parts we eat. But avoiding chemicals, linked to cancer and birth defects, isn't the only issue. "Yes, the actual fruit is pretty much pesticide-free," says Spevack, "but in terms of the environment, nonorganic pineapples aren't good. They get sprayed heavily." Which to prioritize: body, earth or bank account? It's food for thought.
Acquire Veggie Know-How
Spend: Pay a little extra for organic bell peppers, celery, kale, lettuce and carrots. As with fruits, heavy spraying and plant biology mean these vegetables have pesticides deep inside. "Carrots are the surprise one," says Spevack. "The way they feed means the pesticides get right into them. Peeling won't help."
Save: Find a deal on nonorganic onions, avocados, asparagus, frozen peas and cabbage. "If you're an aphid, an onion isn't as attractive as a strawberry," says Spevack, "plus, onions have natural defenses"-so pesticides aren't an issue. Nevertheless, she encourages purchasing organic if you can afford it: "You'll get more vitamins, minerals and enzymes."
Read Labels on Milk and Eggs
Spend: It's worth the money to buy organic milk and cage-free eggs. The USDA's green-and-white "organic" seal indicates "no pesticides, no hormones and no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)," says Honor Schauland, a campaign assistant at the nonprofit Organic Consumers Association. "Buy organic milk when kids are involved," she says. "Their defense system against toxins isn't as developed." Nutritional consultant Jared Koch, author of Clean Plates NYC , says the best eggs are those exposed to sunshine: "You have to read the carton to find out." Second-best and slightly cheaper? Organic but not cage-free.
Start a Conversation About Meat
Spend: Pay out some dough on organic chicken and beef. The nutritionists say there's not only a health issue to consider (hormones and other toxins), but also a moral one-i.e., animals crammed together indoors. "I recommend getting your meat from a local farmer," says nutritionist Meghan Telpner. "Some of them can't afford to get organic certification, but you can talk to the farmer about what he does." At a minimum, look for hormone- and antibiotic-free animals. A step up and slightly pricier: grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. Save by getting cheaper cuts, recommends Spevack.
Make Sure Nothing Fishy Is Going On
Spend: Break out the bankroll for wild fish…maybe. None of the experts were enthusiastic about recommending any type of seafood, what with overfishing and mercury concerns. Look for fish low on the food chain because they're less likely to be filled with toxins, as are wild fish.
Transform Your Grocery List
The nutritionists all had a bevy of clever routes to a healthier, cheaper grocery list:
1. Make your own meals. "I'm an advocate of eating whole, natural, real foods," says Koch. "If you must eat packaged or prepared foods, organic is probably better, but it's cheaper to make your own dinner out of real ingredients."
2. Eat less. "It's best to reduce your consumption of things," says Telpner. "Convenience foods leave you overfed and undernourished," she adds, pointing out that it's good for both budget and waistline to, say, make your own lunch and bring it to work.
3. Buy seasonally. It's cheaper and healthier; look for seasonal fruits and veggies at your local farmers' market.
4. Join a Community Supported Agriculture network. "With a CSA, you're going straight to the farmer, and it encourages you to make things from scratch," says Spevack.
5. Write your list ahead of time. "There's so much stimulation and marketing drawing your attention at the grocery store," says Koch. "Have your list and stick to it, so you don't end up spending more than you need to-and so you stick to the healthier stuff."
For more information on fruits and veggies, check out the Environmental Working Group's "dirty dozen," a list of the top 12 fruits and vegetables to buy organic.
For more information about eco-friendly seafood, experts recommend the Marine Stewardship Council's list of fish that are not endangered or high on the food chain.
Related Articles from WomansDay.com:
10-Budget Friendly Dinners
Top Tricks for Reducing Your Grocery Bill
10 Ways to Save Money at The Grocery Store
Eat Well for Less: 7 Days of Dinners
Dinner On The Cheap
Written by Bunny Wong