Want to live a healthier life? Start by trading conventionally grown and processed foods for healthy, whole organic foods to reduce the amount of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides you ingest. The sheer volume of organics available these days compared to just a decade ago has made access considerably less of a challenge. Admittedly, prices can be a hurdle for some, as typically organic foods cost more than conventional. So how to keep an eye on both your toxic load and the bottom line? Here are a few techniques to help you get more of the good stuff—and support your health without breaking the bank:
If it’s organic, it will say so
Fresh or frozen produce marked with the USDA certified organic seal will contain few, if any, of the chemical pesticides that are heavily used on most conventionally grown produce. According to a 2016 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, organics also offer more nutrients than conventionally grown, making them literally more valuable to your body. More nutrients, fewer chemicals? We like the sound of that!
There’s also “almost organic”
Between certified organic and conventional lies another option—you could call it “almost organic,” or the next best thing. While it’s not an official designation per se, noncertified organic produce from farmers’ markets, farm stands, co-ops, and/or community-supported agriculture groups (CSAs) falls into this category as its production methods tend to be similar to certified organic. Though it may not carry the costly-to-obtain USDA certified organic seal, typically, produce from these sources is grown with fewer synthetic chemicals and more environmentally friendly methods of pest and weed control. Depending on where you live, these alternative sources may be comparable in price, or more cost-effective than conventionally grown supermarket produce, but do shop around to get the best deals.
Mix it up a little
The good news is that you don’t have to eat exclusively organic produce to keep chemicals at bay. Some conventionally grown produce, like the ones that are low in pesticide residues, poses less of a health risk. How to know which items make the cut? Check out the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which lists the conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that test high for pesticide residues and those that test low—then buy accordingly. For example, if you love and frequently eat spinach, strawberries, and apples, always choose organic as the conventionally grown versions rank very high on the list for pesticide residues.
If you forgot to download the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide and you happen to find yourself in the produce aisle, remember this tip: If it’s got a tough outer skin or leaves that aren’t usually eaten—for example, avocados, pineapples, honeydew melons, onions—then conventional is a decent option. For items where the entire fruit or vegetable is eaten, skin and all—as in apples, spinach, strawberries, peaches, etc.—organic is the way to go. Baking a pie or need large quantities of a particular fruit or veg? To contain costs, consider going halfsies, using a 50-50 blend of organic and conventional produce to cut the chemical load.
Grab a spatula
Put down the organic restaurant takeout menu—and pick up a spatula. The more you cook for yourself, the more control you’ll have over the ingredients (be they organic or conventional), not to mention how much you spend per meal and portion size. While the occasional organic dinner out is a nice treat, dialing up organic delivery lunches every day will take a big bite out of your wallet. Another bonus of home cooking? Making enough for lunchtime leftovers.
Eat really, really healthy, top-quality meat
If you’re an animal-protein lover, know the source of it and eat the healthiest stuff possible. It almost goes without saying that organic,pasture-raised, grass-fed and finished animals will be considerably more expensive than factory-farmed animals. Here are three simple ways to better manage the costs: 1) Eat smaller portions of meat and poultry, along with more filling vegetables, especially the leafy greens; 2) Eat fewer animals overall by going meatless one day a week; and 3) Swap out processed breakfast meats and lunch meats for belly-filling portions of things like organic avocado slices, green leafy veggies, organic free range eggs and nut butters. Skip the organic veggie sausage and bacon substitutes as well—they’re processed faux foods your body (and your wallet) will be a lot better off without.
Beware organic junk food
Skip processed foods. Even if they are certified organic, non GMO, and gluten free, sodas, cookies, ice cream, cereals, chips, etc. are anything-but-healthy, processed crap loaded with sugar, bad fats, fillers, and preservatives. Worse, organic junk foods are also a lot more expensive than conventional ones, so the smart money is on not buying them at all! Gotta have a snack? Then go with organic nuts, nut butters, veggie sticks, low-sugar fruits, or bake-your-own kale chips.
Grow (some of) your own food
If you have even just a small patch of land, try growing some easy-to-raise veggies like tomatoes, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, etc., using organic, non-GMO-certified seeds and soil. Pressed for space? Then try a window box or vertical wall garden of edible plants and organic herbs that can grow year round. Basil, chives, lemon balm, parsley, mint, rosemary, and thyme grow well and easily, indoors and out, no green thumb required.
You found a great deal on fresh organic veggies, but how to make ’em last? Freeze them ASAP. Though some veggies will need to be blanched first, many veggies won’t—all you need to do is wash, dry, and freeze in an airtight container to preserve them for two to three months. No more wilted veggie waste in the bottom of the crisper and organic veggies always at hand? Now, that’s a good deal.
A few more organic-eating tips:
- Fermenting veggies is an easy, tasty way to preserve them, minimize waste, and add healthy bacteria to your gut.
- When your favorite fresh organic produce is out of season or getting a little too pricey, choose frozen organics. The nutrient content is comparable to fresh, you’ll use only what you need, and you’ll save on prep time.
- Unwashed, unchopped bulk produce will always be less expensive than boxed triple washed or prepped-to-cook versions. If you’ve got time to wash and prep, then buying raw and in bulk will save a chunk of change.
- Don’t fear the coupon. Check out discount on Groupon to make shopping more affordable. Even Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s accept them these days, so before going out for a big buying expedition, check out organic-focused coupon sites like Berry Cart, Organic Deals, and Retail Me Not to unearth deals.
- Try membership-only ThriveMarket.com, an online store that specializes in selling organic brands at deeply discounted prices with an annual membership.
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