While there are many benefits to eating organic, the biggest downside is often cost.
According to Consumer Reports, organic foods are 47 percent more expensive than their conventional counterparts, usually because of costs associated with certification and farming practices. Not only does it take more time to raise food this way, but farmers also can’t cut corners by using pesticides to kill weeds or control infestations. Moreover, organic foods spoil faster because they aren’t treated with waxes or preservatives, so farmers have to absorb greater losses.
While some organic produce is safer than its non-organic counterparts, that isn’t the case for all your favorite fruits and veggies. Before you blow this month’s grocery budget, avoid these organic foods to save money on groceries.
Fruits With Inedible Peels
Buying only organic fruits with inedible peels is one of the costliest mistakes you can make when grocery shopping. When it comes to fruits with inedible peels — like avocados, oranges, melons, bananas, mangoes, pineapples and kiwis — you don’t have to buy organic to indulge.
While you should ideally eat organic versions of fruits with soft or edible peels, it’s generally safe to eat non-organic fruits with inedible peels, because pesticides rarely get transferred to the fruit inside.
In fact, the biggest difference between organic and non-organic avocados is the price: Organic avocados cost, on average, $2.99 each, while non-organic avocados cost $1 less. Additionally, organic pineapples cost $4.20 more than non-organic.
While it’s okay to buy the conventional versions of these fruits, you should still wash the peels before cutting into them to avoid transferring potentially harmful residues that can linger on the outside.
Vegetables With Thick Skins
You can save money at the farmers market if you keep this tip in mind: Thick-skinned vegetables like onions, cabbage, sweet corn, eggplant and sweet peas don’t necessarily have to be organic to be healthy.
Just like fruits with inedible peels, vegetables with thick skins don’t absorb as many pesticides. Additionally, people remove many of the “dirty” layers before consuming the produce. Layers of onion and cabbage have to be peeled away before the veggies are consumed; sweet corn needs to be husked; sweet peas must be shelled; and eggplant has a tough exterior that needs to be cooked down to consume. Carrots even make the list of safe veggies, if you take the time to peel the skin, where pesticide residue can linger.
On the other hand, experts advise eating organic versions of veggies without peels, as well as those with soft exteriors. Many of these foods are included on the Environmental Working Group’s 2017 “Dirty Dozen” list, which includes celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers and tomatoes.
Along with being safe to eat, non-organic vegetables with thick skins are significantly cheaper than their organic counterparts. For example, organic yellow onions cost around three times more per pound than non-organic onions.
Quinoa is one of the foods you don’t need to buy organic, so you can enjoy significant savings — and health benefits.
Once a niche ingredient, quinoa has become a popular source of protein. You don’t need to buy organic quinoa to partake, though. Because quinoa has a natural coating that tastes bitter to pests, farmers don’t spray this crop with pesticides. Most quinoa packagers remove the coating during production, but it’s wise to give the grain another rinse before you cook it.
Non-organic and organic quinoa have the same nutritional profiles — it’s actually the color that makes the difference. While red and white quinoa have similar calorie counts, vitamins and minerals, red quinoa is a better source of riboflavin — it has a whopping 15 percent of the daily value per serving, based off a 2,000 calorie diet.
The cost of quinoa, organic or not, has skyrocketed in recent years due to limited supply from importers, according to the Washington Post. Currently, Eden Organic red quinoa costs $8.15 a pound, while regular red quinoa from Amazon is only $3.13 a pound.
Organic and regular maple syrup are produced in basically the same way and usually don’t require pesticides or fertilizers. Both non-organic and organic maple syrup producers are required to have state licenses and be inspected by the USDA.
Currently, a 12-ounce container of organic Crown Maple Syrup costs nearly $22, while roughly the same amount of MacDonald’s Maple Syrup is about $8. That’s a $14 difference. Because there is little nutritional value in buying organic, maple syrup lovers should consider saving their money.
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If you see organic seafood for sale, be wary — there are no federal regulations that make seafood organic. And because organic seafood isn’t regulated, that means it might not have been tested for chemicals. Hence, you’re paying a pretty penny for a potentially false claim.
Labeling farm-raised seafood as wild-caught is an issue that dates back at least a decade. In 2005, the New York Times ran a story revealing that fish sold as wild salmon by several high-end New York City markets was actually farm-raised and selling for as much as $29 a pound, while real farmed salmon sold for $5 to $12 a pound. And last year, Time reported on an Oceana study claiming that almost half the “wild” salmon collected from restaurants and grocery stores was mislabeled.
The USDA is working to create guidelines that would allow for the sale of certified organic seafood, but that could be a few years away. For now, if you want to eat seafood that’s safe for you and your family, look for varieties that are low in mercury — such as salmon, trout and catfish — and focus on buying seafood that’s caught using sustainable practices.
Using eggs in your recipes can be a great and cheap way to spice up a boring meal. But contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to buy organic eggs to skip the hormones. Unlike other farm-raised animal products, like dairy, beef and lamb, it’s illegal to give hormones to chickens.
Experts disagree on whether factory eggs have a higher risk of salmonella contamination than the farm variety. Currently, hens that lay organic eggs must be free range, which means they are not housed in cages and have access to the outdoors. Additionally, they must be fed an organic diet and receive no antibiotics.
When it comes to nutritional value, it’s actually the hen’s diet that matters most — not its organic status. Instead of paying for organic eggs, look for eggs with high levels of omega-3s, a status that comes from improving a hen’s diet and increasing time spent outdoors.
Buying conventional eggs will also help you save money at the supermarket. Organic eggs run about $4 a dozen, while non-organic options are about $2 per dozen.
Think twice about paying double for those organic spices. One of the world’s most expensive spices, saffron is more expensive per ounce than gold. And when it goes organic, the price skyrockets. Compared to regular saffron, which runs about $12 per gram, organic saffron costs a budget-busting $17 per gram.
Other common spices are more affordable than saffron, but the organic label will still set you back. Simply Organic Grind to a Salt is about $2 per ounce. Morton salt, meanwhile, costs less than $1 for 26 ounces.
Moreover, NPR reported that organic spices can actually be unsafe. In 2012, a number of large grocery retailers recalled organic celery seed because a batch tested positive for salmonella. It’s not uncommon for organic spices to become contaminated with bacteria and insects because in order to comply with organic standards, they aren’t treated with radiation to kill pests.
Even if you buy regular spices instead of organic ones, you might spend a pretty penny for just a tiny jar. To save money stocking your spice cabinet, experts recommend grinding spices up yourself.
Even though it doesn’t have a thick skin, asparagus made the Environmental Working Group’s 2017 “Clean 15,” a list of produce that is safe to buy non-organic because it’s least likely to contain pesticide residues. In fact, more than 80 percent of asparagus tested by the USDA had no pesticide residues.
Opting for the non-organic asparagus at the grocery store can save you almost $4. A bunch of organic asparagus sells for about $8, while a bunch of regular asparagus sells for about $4.
Cauliflower is also on the EWG Clean 15 list, thanks to its low levels of pesticide residues. So, it’s safe to opt for the non-organic version. A pound of organic cauliflower will cost you about 30 percent less than a pound of non-organic cauliflower, so you might as well save money.
Organic Packaged Foods
Before spending more on an organic packaged food product, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting. According to USDA guidelines, only products that state they are 100 percent organic are made from all organic ingredients. Packages that simply say “organic” could have up to 5 percent non-organic ingredients, and packages that say “made with organic ingredients” could contain up to 30 percent non-organic ingredients.
Like produce, organic packaged foods tend to cost more. For example, YumEarth Gummy Bears, which state that they are made with organic cane sugar, sell for 73 cents per ounce. Meanwhile Albanese World’s Best gummies, which do not boast an organic label, sell for only 21 cents per ounce.
And just because a package has the word “organic” on it doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Pay attention to ingredients, and stick to whole foods over packaged whenever possible.
Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.