Once upon a time, you often could only find organic food in health food stores. Now, you can buy organic everywhere from Walmart to the corner gas station. And while there are many benefits to eating organic foods, the biggest downside is often the cost. According to Consumer Reports, organic foods are 47 percent more expensive than their conventional counterparts.
Organic foods are usually pricier because of costs that go into getting certified and maintaining organic farming practices. Not only does it take more time to raise food in this way, but farmers can't cut corners by using pesticides to kill overgrown weeds or control infestations. Moreover, organic foods spoil faster because they aren't treated with waxes or preservatives, so farmers have to absorb greater losses.
1. Fruits With Inedible Peels
When it comes to fruits with inedible peels — like avocados, oranges, melons, bananas, mangoes, pineapples and kiwis — you don't have to buy organic to indulge. While fruits with soft or edible peels should always be organic, it's generally safe to eat non-organic fruits with inedible peels, because pesticides usually don't get transferred to the fruit inside.
The biggest difference between organic and non-organic avocadoes are the prices: Organic avocados cost about 30 cents more per pound. Additionally, organic cantaloupe is about 50 cents more per pound, and bananas are about 10 cents more.
While it's okay to buy the conventional versions of these fruits, you should still wash the peels before cutting into them to avoid transferring potentially harmful residues that can linger on the outside.
2. Vegetables With Thick Skins
Thick-skinned vegetables like onion, cabbage, sweet corn, eggplant and sweet peas don't necessarily have to be organic to be healthy.
Just like fruits with inedible peels, vegetables with thick skins don't absorb as many pesticides. Additionally, people remove many of the "dirty" layers before consuming the produce. Layers of onion and cabbage have to be peeled away before the veggies are cooked and consumed; sweet corn needs to be husked; sweet peas must be shelled; and eggplant has a tough exterior that needs to be cooked down to consume. Carrots even make the list of safe veggies, if you take the time to peel the skins, where pesticide residue can linger.
On the other hand, experts advise eating organic versions of vegetables without peels, as well as those with soft exteriors. Many of these foods are listed on the Environmental Working Group's 2016 "Dirty Dozen" list, which includes celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.
Along with being safe to eat, non-organic vegetables with thick skins are significantly cheaper than their organic counterparts. For example, organic sweet corn costs anywhere from 10 percent to 200 percent more than the conventional variety.
Once a niche ingredient, quinoa has become a popular source of protein. However, you don't need to buy organic quinoa to partake. Because quinoa has a natural coating that tastes bitter to pests, farmers don't need to spray this crop with pesticides. Most quinoa packagers remove the coating during production, but it's wise to give the grain another rinse before you cook it.
Non-organic and organic quinoa have the same nutritional profiles; it's actually the color that makes the difference. While red and white quinoa have similar calorie counts, vitamins and minerals, red quinoa is a better source of riboflavin — it has a whopping 15 percent of the daily value per serving, based off a 2,000 calorie diet.
The cost of quinoa, organic or not, has skyrocketed in recent years due to limited supply from importers, according to the Washington Post. Currently, Eden Organic red quinoa costs $12.59 a pound, while regular red quinoa from Roland is about $9 a pound. Since this is one of the foods you don't need to buy organic, you can enjoy significant savings — and health benefits.
4. Maple Syrup
Organic and regular maple syrup are produced in basically the same way and usually don't require pesticides or fertilizers. Both non-organic and organic maple syrup producers are required to have state licenses and be inspected by the USDA.
Currently, a 25-ounce container of organic Crown Maple Syrup costs nearly $38, while the same amount of MacDonald's Maple Syrup is about $16. That's a $22 difference. Because there is little nutritional value in buying organic, maple syrup lovers should consider saving their money.
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If you see organic seafood for sale, be wary — there are no federal regulations that make seafood organic. And since organic seafood isn't regulated, that means it might not have been tested for toxicity. Hence, you're paying a pretty penny for a potentially false claim.
Labeling farm-raised seafood as wild-caught is an issue that dates back at least a decade. In 2005, the New York Times ran a story revealing that fish sold as wild salmon by several high-end New York City markets was actually farm-raised and selling for as much as $29 a pound, while actual farmed salmon sold for $5 to $12 a pound.
The USDA is working to create guidelines that would allow for the sale of certified organic seafood, but that could be a few years away. For now, if you want to eat seafood that's safe for you and your family, look for varieties that are low in mercury, such as salmon, trout and catfish, and focus on buying seafood that's caught using sustainable practices.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to buy organic eggs to enjoy food that's free of hormones. Unlike other farm-raised animal products, like dairy, beef and lamb, it's illegal to give hormones to chickens.
Experts disagree on whether factory eggs have a higher risk of salmonella contamination than the farm variety. Currently, hens that lay organic eggs must be free range, which means they are not housed in cages and have access to the outdoors. Additionally, they must be fed an organic diet and receive no antibiotics.
When it comes to nutritional value, it's actually the hen's diet that matters most — not its organic status. Instead of paying for organic eggs, look for eggs that have high levels of omega-3s, a status that comes from improving a hen's diet and increasing time spent outdoors. Buying conventional eggs will also help you save at the grocery store. Organic eggs run about $6 a dozen, while non-organic options are about $3 a dozen.
Think twice about paying double for those organic spices. One of the world's most expensive spices, saffron is more expensive per ounce than gold. And when it goes organic, the price skyrockets. Compared to regular saffron, which runs about $1,000 per pound, organic saffron costs a budget-busting $3,100 a pound.
Since you're not liable to eat a lot of saffron, the risks in eating the non-organic version is minimal.
Other common spices are more affordable than saffron, but the organic label will still set you back. Simply Organic Grind to a Salt is about $10 for 5 ounces. Morton salt, meanwhile, costs less than a dollar for 26 ounces. And Simply Organic garlic powder is about $4.75 for just over 3.6 ounces, while McCormick garlic powder is only $3 for just over 3 ounces.
Moreover, NPR reported that organic spices can actually be unsafe for consumers. In 2012, a number of large grocery retailers recalled organic celery seed because a batch tested positive for salmonella. It's not uncommon for organic spices to become contaminated with bacteria and insects because, in order to comply with organic standards, they aren't treated with radiation to kill pests.
Even if you buy regular spices instead of organic ones, you might spend a pretty penny for just a tiny jar. To save money stocking your spice cabinet, experts recommend grinding spices up yourself.
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