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Buying Organic Food On A Budget -- Is There Such A Thing?

Posted Jan 15 2009 11:46pm

With all the information out there about the value of going organic, I think deep down we have all come to the realization that it would be better for the health of our kids to buy organic products, but quite frankly who can really afford to these days with the rising prices of virtually everything, especially food? Yes, organic can be more expensive, but I’ve come to learn that there are definitely ways to incorporate organic products into our diets without having to take out a second mortgage. Here are some of the convincing reasons why we should at least consider moving toward organic and how I’ve tried to squeeze them into my weekly food budget without going broke.

What Is “Organic?”
Quick review. When a label reads “organic” it means that the food (i.e. meat, milk, produce) was grown and produced in accordance with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) organic standards. Farms that claim to be “organic” must be certified by an accredited agency to prove they are compliant with the federal laws governing organic products.

While the laws and regulations run deep, the most important thing we consumers need to know is in order for a farm to be certified organic it must not:

  • Use synthetic pesticides
  • Use genetically modified ingredients
  • Use biosolids (sewage sludge) as fertilizer

  • Sounds yummy so far – huh?

    Furthermore, organic livestock (for dairy and meat) eat organic feed and are not given antibiotics or growth hormones and are free roaming versus forced to live in a closed-in pen or cage.

    However, with the growing interest among packaged food producers to ride the tails of the organic craze you do need to be a bit label-savvy to ensure you are getting exactly what you want when you purchase processed foods that claim to be organic. Here’s a rundown of the organic labeling being used today by many food manufacturers and exactly what it means.

  • "100 percent organic" — the product contains ONLY organically produced raw or processed material and may display the USDA Organic seal.

  • "Organic" — the product has 95 percent to 100 percent organic ingredients and may display the USDA Organic seal.

  • "Made with organic ingredients" — the product has 70 percent to 95 percent organic ingredients. The label may include the words "Made with (listing up to three organic ingredients)" on the front panel or main label. The label may not display the USDA Organic seal.

  • Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients may only list the organic ingredients on the ingredient label, not on the front panel, and may not display the USDA Organic seal.

  • To get the in-depth scoop you can visit to learn more.

    Are Organic Foods Really Better?
    There has been lots and lots of research on this subject, which I will not drone on about here. In quick summary, much of this research has shown that our children may be at greater risk than adults for pesticide exposure. The reason for this is quite simple –

    Children “ingest more food and water per pound of body weight than adults, so any exposure is greater in proportion to their size”

    Toxic chemicals may have a greater adverse effect on developing bodies, especially neurologically and reproductively, compared to mature, adult bodies.

    One of the distressing but revealing examples of the presence of pesticides in children came out of a 2005 study conducted by a team of environmental health scientists. This study followed 23 elementary school children for fifteen day. For the first three days the children ate conventional foods, followed by five days of strictly organic products (i.e. fruits, vegetables as well as organic grain-based products and milk). Through urine screenings the average levels of pesticides “decreased to the non-detect levels immediately after the introduction of organic diets and remained non-detectable until the conventional diets were reintroduced.”

    A scientist at the San Francisco based Pesticide Action Network North America stated “the children’s study is a pretty strong argument that (organic food) is a good way to go, if you have access to it and can afford it.” --which brings me to my next point…

    There has been a ranking system compiled for the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. “Eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables exposes you to 14 pesticides a day.” So if you need to limit organic produce purchases due to limited resources, it would probably be a good idea to concentrate your attention on buying the 12 greatest offenders, including:

    1. Peaches
    2. Apples
    3. Bell Pepper
    4. Celery
    5. Nectarines
    6. Strawberries
    7. Cherries
    8. Pears
    9. Grapes (imported)
    10. Spinach
    11. Lettuce
    12. Potatoes

    Tip: Other ways to save money here is only buying when these items are in season. You can also find frozen versions of the organic varieties on-sale at your local supermarket. Another money saving approach is to look for locally grown food at a nearby farmers market, which is less likely to be treated with post-harvest pesticides.

    If you absolutely can’t afford to buy the “condemned 12” organically, you should at least wash (well) and peel the outer skin off fruits like apples, pears and peaches. Unfortunately, while some pesticides penetrate the flesh of certain fruits and vegetables it is better than nothing.

    In addition to produce, we should all consider purchasing our milk organically, I know, I know – this was hard for me too. The cost of milk is already through the barn ceiling, but there is too much evidence to ignore the value of organic milk compared to conventional milk. Studies have indicated that organic milk contains:

  • 75% more beta-carotene -- good for the eyes and an immunity-booster

  • 50% more Vitamin E – a super powerful antioxidant that wards off cancer and heart disease as well as has immune-boosting power

  • More than double the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin

  • 70% more omega-3 fatty acids – good for the heart and to lower cholesterol

  • And as a reminder, organically raised cows eat organic feed and are not given antibiotics or growth hormones and are free roaming versus forced to live in a closed-in pen or cage.

    Tip: I’ve read that many organic dairy companies allow you to download money saving coupons right at their website. Here are the coupon links to the two most recognizable organic dairy producers I know.Stonyfield Farms andOrganic Valley

    Lastly, to save money try to buy generic versions of organic products. My local supermarket carries the Wild Harvest brand, frequently I can find Wild Harvest products on-sale cheaper than non-organic versions of the same products – such as pasta and cereal. Also, there are a lot of other organic products on the shelf that are pointless to purchase. Don’t get swayed by the organic candy or soda – these really won’t add anything beneficial to your kids or your pocketbook.

    I hope this helps. I'd love to hear your money-saving healthy food shopping ideas too.

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