Eating “Green” Fruits and Vegetables on a Budget

What Should be on your “Green” Grocery List?

Does organic produce really offer benefits over conventional produce? And, if so, is it possible to buy it without breaking the bank?

With each passing day, the word “organic” seems to appear ever more frequently – from grocers’ and drugstore shelves to apparel and gift outlets. Products ranging from cereal to bedding boast labels describing the eco-friendly nature of their growth or manufacture and often come with an added cost. Price premiums on organic goods can be especially evident at the supermarket and may deter budget-conscious shoppers from adopting a so-called “green” grocery list. It is possible, however, to shop smart with a focus on seasonality and science.

Deciphering Labels – What Does it All Mean?

Before addressing budgetary concerns, it is important to understand the promises connoted by the organic label. Any fruit or vegetable that claims to be organic must comply with a strict set of U.S. governmental standards that prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and antibiotics in its growth or handling.

While on the surface, the idea of consuming chemicals is not particularly appealing, the notion becomes even less attractive in consideration of recent findings; alarming levels of toxicity in Americans’ bloodstreams, offices, and homes are attributed repeatedly to dietary and environmental causes. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization that aims to promote health and sustainability, points out the scientific community’s growing consensus on the adverse affect of chemicals, even in small quantities. The minimization of exposure to harmful substances does, in fact, seem to be worth some effort – even through small steps.

Getting Started – What Should be on your List?

Where should you begin? There are a few simple rules of thumb that can be kept in mind on any food-gathering trip: shop seasonally, check for sales, and consider alternatives to the traditional grocery store. Each of these practices can help stretch dollars while allowing for the purchase of healthy fruits and vegetables. When produce is in season, it tends to be less expensive and more locally grown; farmers’ markets, co-ops, and community-supported agriculture (CSA) groups also offer cost-effective ways to incorporate organic farm-fresh goods into a family’s diet.

In order to avoid wasting money, it is important to consider the findings of two organizations – Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports and EWG – that have conducted tests to determine the residual pesticide levels and subsequent danger associated with an array of everyday produce. The following ten fruits and vegetables are among those that grant the biggest bang for the buck in the organic department: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, spinach, grapes, and pears.

Items appear on this list for a variety of reasons both inherent to their compositions and because of external conditions. Peaches, for example, tend to contain high residues of several contaminants that cannot be removed by rinsing with water. On the contrary, some fruits and vegetables do not tend to harbor pesticide traces; EWG suggests that spending extra money on organically-grown broccoli, avocadoes, and bananas – among other items – may not be worth it.

An Action Plan

While it is important to stay informed on the issues of labeling standards and new research, keeping in mind the aforementioned recommendations will allow for educated, budget-conscious produce decisions. The EWG even offers a print-out pocket guide on their website, which is a great reference while you are at the store. It is never too late to incorporate a moderate amount of organic produce into one’s diet within the overall context of healthy living.

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