It’s a question many of us ask ourselves every time we walk into a grocery store: buy organic or go with the less expensive conventional option. It’s a tough call and the best answer might be to find some middle ground. Spend your organic dollars where it really counts and get educated about what organic means. That way you can make grocery store decisions that make sense for your wallet and most importantly, your family’s health.
So what do those labels mean and exactly what are you paying for?
- If a package says “100% Organic,” it must contain all organically produced ingredients and processing aids, salt and water excluded.
- Products labeled “Organic” must have at least 95% organic ingredients.
- “Made with Organic Ingredients” means at least 70% of ingredients are certified organic.
- “Natural” does not imply organic. While FDA policy says natural should mean the product doesn’t contain synthetic or artificial ingredients, it is virtually unregulated. Earning an organic label from the USDA is a much more stringent process.
If you’re new to organic food, there are three categories you should focus on: produce, meat and dairy.
Produce: If you only shop for one fruit or vegetable in the organic section, consider apples. They topped the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list last year, earning them the title of most pesticide-contaminated produce. The EWG also puts out a list of the Clean Fifteen–fruits and vegetables with the least pesticides. So put your organic dollars where they count. Shop organic for items from the Dirty Dozen list and go conventional on the Clean Fifteen.
Meat: Apply tried and true money-saving tips to your organic purchases like buying whole, organic chickens instead of boneless breasts, which are much more expensive per pound.
While the USDA certifies beef, pork and chicken as organic, there are no federal or state approval processes or regulations for organic seafood. So if you see organic fish at the butcher’s counter, know that it probably got its label from a private certification company and there’s no telling what that really means.
Don’t go organic to lose weight. While going organic has a variety of benefits for your body and the environment, it does not necessarily mean you’re eating healthy. Don’t fool yourself. Just because a bag of chips or a can of soda is labeled organic, it does not necessarily mean it is nutritionally better for you. So while yes, organic food may be better for you in some ways, a cookie is still a cookie, and it’s not doing any favors for your diet.