Eating organic can feel like a harder option depending on your budget and where you live. You may also question whether it's even a necessary part of a healthy diet. There are several key points to consider that can help you to get the most benefit from organic foods while keeping costs down. This guide will help answer questions about how to eat organic on a budget, where it's most important and break down the benefits.
"Organic" is a certification granted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to foods that follow certain requirements for things like animal raising practices, pesticide use, soil quality and additives. Non-organic agriculture uses a variety of chemical fertilizers and pesticides with the aim of producing a high yield of crops. Some of these chemicals may have a negative effect on consumers' health as well as on the environment.
Organic food is grown with sustainability in mind, promoting natural and mechanical farming techniques and prohibiting most chemicals. Livestock raised on organic farms are fed a diet of organic grains and vegetation. Organic meat and dairy animals' diets do not contain hormones or antibiotics.
You may see a "grass-fed" label on some organic meats, but this is a separate category. Grass-fed animals are fed exclusively on foraged grasses and plants and non-grain animal feed, but it is important to mention that this is only the case if they are also "grass-finished".
Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without the use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs are organisms (plant, animal, fungi, etc.) that have been genetically engineered in a lab in order to produce a desired trait such as drought resistance or larger produce.
Non-organic foods use a wide range of chemical pesticides and herbicides, including products containing glyphosate. The safety of this common herbicide is hotly debated, and some consumers may choose to avoid it. Scientists have also found that it harms insects such as bumblebees.
Learning how to eat organic on a budget can be achieved by following a few simple steps. Even if organic food isn't available in your area, there are still ways to minimize or avoid pesticide and chemical contamination in your food while keeping costs down.
First, prioritize whole foods over processed foods. Processed foods, even organic ones, often carry a higher price tag than whole foods. They may also contain unnecessary additives. Increasing plant-based whole foods can help you stay on budget while still being creative about what you buy and eat.
If you eat fish, for example, canned salmon or sardines can be a cheaper way to choose wild-caught over farmed. If you choose canned products for convenience or cost savings, try to select cans with a BPA-free lining. Wild fish can't be certified as organic since they are not raised on a farm, but they are often a healthier option than farmed fish and contain fewer polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
If your produce budget only allows for a few organic picks, know that some non-organic choices are safer than others. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts together a list each year of produce with both the highest and lowest amounts of pesticides. EWG recommends staying away from "Dirty Dozen" higher-pesticide produce such as strawberries, spinach and grapes if organic isn't available. Produce like avocados, onions and asparagus, on the other hand, are a safer non-organic choices from any supplier.
Using a daily nutrition support shake powder and supplements that contain organic fruits and vegetables are another way to get the cleanest, wide variety and highest-quality nutrients into your daily intake.
Buying in bulk and cooking in batches is a tried and true way to reduce your grocery bills. Buy foods that have a longer shelf life, like grains, beans, and vegetables such as sweet potatoes and onions. Utilize your freezer and cook larger amounts of food from scratch — think soups and casseroles — that can be frozen and defrosted on demand. If you need some inspiration, join our EquiLife community for recipe ideas and shopping list options.
Shopping around can also help you find a hidden spot for organic food or lower prices. Research grocery store prices versus co-op prices (both online and brick-and-mortar stores), and you might be surprised at not only how much you can save but also the variety of bulk foods these alternative produce suppliers carry. Take advantage of grocery store coupons, too. Stores that carry their own brand often have an organic line of products at a cheaper price.
Finally, aim to reduce food waste. If you buy produce in bulk, try to eat the older fruit and vegetables first and use up everything you purchase to avoid wasting food and money. Label items with dates, or keep older produce in the front of the fridge drawer to remind you. Creating meal plans before shopping trips can also prevent wasted food. If fruit and vegetables are nearing their shelf life - freeze them -- perfect to add to your morning smoothie or make a nutritious vegetable soup that will give you a few more days to enjoy.
Visiting local farmers markets can introduce you to the smaller organic farms in your region and help you increase your daily intake of seasonal, local plant sources. Organic seasonal produce may even be cheaper than fruits and vegetables shipped internationally to your grocery store. It might also inspire you to make more plant-based meals. Reducing your intake of meat and other animal products can really make a difference in your grocery budget, your carbon footprint and the importance of considering the quality of the meat on offer.
Finally, a great way to eat organic on the cheap is to grow your own fresh produce. Whether you have space for a backyard veggie garden or a small balcony filled with individual potted vegetables, you can grow organic anywhere. You might also consider joining or starting a local community garden.