A plateful of pesticides is a lot more than most of us want to stomach. But shopping for healthy, natural food without blowing your budget can sometimes feel like a serious balancing act. If you haven’t got the wallet for a fridge stuffed with organic food, there’s good news: you can still reduce the amount of chemicals you take in by being selective about what you buy.
When it comes to toxic substances, not all dishes are created equal. Because fruits and vegetables have different characteristics and growing conditions, the resulting levels of toxic residues are extremely varied. Soft fleshy fruit, for instance, is going to be a lot more dangerous than say, a mango or avocado, because peels and rinds can act as a protective barrier from chemical spray. And then, some items are risky just because of the way they’re packaged, as with canned tomatoes and microwave popcorn.
Here’s where you should splurge for organic, what you want to avoid, and where you can skate by with the cheaper stuff:
Prioritize Organic Produce Purchases
Sometimes buying on a budget means making tough choices. If you’re struggling to find room amid your pinched pennies for that head of locally-grown organic Romaine, should you opt instead for a cheaper alternative? Are some nonorganic items safer than others?
Each year the Environmental Working Group releases their Dirty Dozen list, which hashes out the worst of the toxic offenders—the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide counts. It’s a great place to start when funds force you to be finicky about what you buy.
In 2015, the EWG’s most-wanted included the following:
But just because a fruit or veggie appears on the list doesn’t mean you should ban it from your dinner table. In fact, limiting your diet this way may cause you to miss out on vital nutrients and minerals, which might be a bigger danger to your health than any pesticide. Still, if you have to go with conventional produce sometimes, you’ll rest easy knowing that asparagus, avocados, onions, sweetcorn, pineapples, mangoes and grapefruits are all low-pesticide alternatives.
Shop Savvy for Other Products
It doesn’t stop at vegetables, of course. Prepared foods and other products often contain harmful chemicals as well, and their organic replacements don’t exactly make for savings central. Be extra careful when buying these items:
Or, Labor for Your Lunch
CSA baskets and farmers markets can be pricey, but there is one way to score fresh food without spending your whole paycheck. Urban farms are often eager for an extra pair of hands, and if you don’t mind logging a few hours pulling weeds, they’re usually happy to reward your efforts with a bag of produce straight from the garden. Visit localharvest.org to find a farm in your area and check out volunteer opportunities.
You can also boost your health for free just by thoroughly washing your fruits and vegetables, and buying locally and in season. This, along with some food shopping smarts, should be just what you need to keep your body fit and your bottom line healthy.