The most cost-effective, important foods to buy organic

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesIf we all had a limitless budget to spend on groceries and food, we most likely would opt to buy all organic. There is little reason not to. There has been significant evidence that pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers are not good for us.

On the other hand, organic food and products can cost significantly more than their conventionally grown counterparts. These significant price differences often beg the question, are they worth it? In short, yes, and here's why:

The USDA has found that even after washing conventionally grown fruit and veggies, they still carry much higher levels of pesticide residue than those organically grown. These pesticides have been directly linked to cancer, liver, kidney and blood diseases, and put extra burden on the immune system. Further, conventionally raised meat and dairy products contain synthetic hormones and/or antibiotics, both of which have been linked to increased antibacterial resistance in humans, among other health issues.

If your budget is tight, you may feel conflicted about spending the extra money on organics. And, if you do splurge on organic foods, you may wonder which items are most cost effective to buy organic. Certain foods are more likely to have toxins "stick" or remain in them than others. As a result, regardless of added expense, you should spend the extra money on organics for those foods that represent the highest risk of retaining these chemicals.

When it comes to fruit and vegetables, The Environmental Working Group has come out with two lists: The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. These lists are good guides to know which fruit and vegetables contain the highest amounts of pesticides and which contain the lowest.

Also, for a full list of fruits and vegetables in order of most or least pesticide load, visit EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides. When deciding which foods to spend the money on, it is very difficult for me to recommend foods without factoring in the level of importance in buying organic for health reasons. As a result, I've looked at both: Based on prices at peapod.com, here are the items that are both cost-effective and health beneficial:

  1. Celery: Celery lacks a protective outer layer and needs a lot of chemicals to help it grow conventionally. The price difference, however, between conventionally grown celery and organic is non-existent. A 16-ounce package of celery hearts, whether conventionally grown or organically grown, is $2.99 (0% increase).
  2. Thin-Skinned Fruits: These include those fruits that come from orchards and trees, such as peaches, apples, nectarines, pears, cherries and grapes. Peaches, specifically, require large amounts of pesticides to grow conventionally and have very delicate skins. And, imported grapes are often higher in pesticides than domestic. However, all of the fruit mentioned are of concern. For a price comparison, Red Delicious Apples cost 79 cents each versus 89 cents each for organic. (13% increase)
  3. Meat, Milk and Eggs: Organic meat, milk and eggs are free of antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticides. Further, animals that are raised organic are fed an organic diet that doesn't contain pesticides or fertilizers. That said, there is no guarantee that organic means grass-fed or free-range. Here are the price differences:
    • Perdue Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts cost $4.99 per pound, while Nature's Promise Chicken Breasts cost $5.99 per pound (20% increase)
    • Beef Filet Mignon costs $15.99 per pound versus Nature's Promise Filet Mignon's $18.99 per pound (19% increase)
    • Roast Eye of Round costs $4.99 per pound versus Nature's Promise Roast Eye of Round's $6.99 per pound (40% increase)
    • One gallon of 1% Hood Milk costs $4.69, while one gallon of Organic will cost $6.49 (38% increase)
    • One Dozen Stop and Shop Large Grade A eggs costs $1.79 versus one dozen of Nature's Promise Large Eggs at $2.99 (67% increase)

      And, when looking at peapod.com, here are the items that I think are not cost-effective, but are a must when considering your health:
  4. All Berries: Because of their extremely thin and delicate skins, berries are especially prone to having large amounts of pesticides, including fungicides. Further, because of their delicacy, they require more pesticides than other types of fruit. Lastly, we eat the skins of berries, without exception. Per unit price, conventional fresh berries cost approximately 19 cents per ounce versus 40 cents to 50 cents per ounce for organic frozen berries (200% increase).
  5. Bell Peppers: Bell peppers are thin skinned and are heavily sprayed with pesticides. However, conventionally grown green peppers cost 99 cents each while organic peppers cost $1.99 each. (200% increase)
  6. Leafy Greens: Lettuce, Spinach and Kale, especially, are best purchased organic. Non-organic spinach costs 28 cents per ounce, while organic spinach costs 57 cents per ounce. (200% increase). Now, although I'd prefer you to buy organic whenever possible, if your budget is restricting your ability to do so, these fruits and vegetables are the safest to buy non-organic.

Remember, however, that even if they are safer, you should still wash them thoroughly before eating or cooking with them:

  1. Thick-skinned Fruit: Thick-skinned fruit is usually safe, especially if you are not eating the skin. These include: avocado, bananas, pineapple, kiwi, mango, and papaya.
  2. Vegetables: Some vegetables have fewer threats when it comes to pesticides, and as a result, don't require them in as large as doses. These include asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, and onions.

Do you spend on organic fruits and vegetables? What do you always buy organic and on which do you pass?