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Healthy Living on a Budget: How to Eat Organic

June 10, 2022

Healthy Living on a Budget: How to Eat Organic

Buying organic foods has become increasingly popular. In 2020, US consumers spent $56 billion on organic produce alone. Reasons for buying organic foods (and avoiding conventionally grown foods) include environmental concerns, food safety, and a desire to eat fresh and less processed foods.

While the reasons for buying organic foods are very important to many people, organic foods and beverages are usually more expensive than conventionally grown foods, sometimes 50% to 100% more costly. In response to higher prices, people sometimes choose conventional foods to save money because they think that they can’t afford organic food.

However, eating on a budget and eating organic groceries do not need to be mutually exclusive. You’d be surprised to learns ways you can afford organic food. Read on if you’d like to learn more about organic foods, and how you can eat organic foods on a budget.

What are Organic Foods?

Organic refers to how agricultural products are grown/raised and processed. In the United States, organic foods are foods that are grown or raised without using synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, genetically modified genes (GMOs), sewage sludge, antibiotics, or ionizing radiation.

USDA Labels

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates and assesses products regarding whether or not they are organic. If the USDA approves a product as organic, that means they have assessed the product and testified that the product meets their standards for organic. When a product is certified organic (at least 95% organic), the product may have the USDA seal on it.

Therefore, look out for the USDA seal when you are shopping organic. Furthermore, any person or company that is knowingly selling agricultural products with an organic label that is not organic will receive a fine from the USDA.

USDA Versus Other Labels

Outside of organic certification in the world of health and wellness, especially when it comes to food, there are lots of red herrings and green washing. While shopping at grocery stores, you’ve probably seen many products labeled with terms like “natural”, “hormone-free”, “cruelty-free”, and “free-range”. As it turns out, these terms are not regulated by law like organic products. So, keep in mind that organic and natural products are not the same.

Types of USDA Organic Labels

When purchasing organic products, you will likely come upon the following three labels:

  • “Made with organic ingredients” means the product contains at least 70% organic ingredients. These foods do not come with the USDA seal.
  • “Organic” indicates that the food contains between 95% and 99% organic ingredients, and can come with the USDA seal.
  • “100% organic” means that every ingredient in the labeled product has been grown or raised using the USDA’s organic standards. Therefore, with 100% organic foods, none of the ingredients are synthetic. This label comes with the USDA’s seal.

Organic Farming

For a product to be organic, the way that it was grown, cultivated, raised, and processed must be organic. Therefore, only organic farming practices can produce organic foods. Organic farming practices aim to reach the following goals:

  • Improve soil and water quality
  • Provide healthy and safe places for livestock to reside
  • Support natural behavior in farm animals
  • Support a self-sustainable cycle on farms
  • Reduce pollution

Methods and Materials

Organic farms also cannot use certain methods and materials on their farm that are not deemed organic. These include the following:

  • Sewage sludge and artificial fertilizers
  • Synthetic pesticides and herbicides
  • Genetic technology and bioengineering like GMOs
  • Antibiotics and growth hormones for livestock
  • Radiation (to kill disease and preserve food)

Livestock

Organic farming practices for livestock include the following:

  • Access to outdoor space and healthy living conditions
  • Pasture feeding for 30% or more of farm animals’ nutritional needs during the grazing season
  • Vaccinations
  • Organic feed

Benefits of Eating Organic Foods

Considering the farming practices described above, the benefits of organic foods become more clear. Not only does organic farming produce healthier food, but it supports a healthier ecosystem and happier animals, too. Below, we will go into more detail about the many benefits of organic foods.

Health Benefits

An important reason that many people like to buy organic is that organic food is generally healthier compared to its conventionally-produced counterparts. The health benefits of eating organic food include the following:

Nutrition:

Studies show that organic foods may contain more nutrients than conventionally grown foods. Multiple studies have shown that organic ingredients contain more vitamin C, magnesium, iron, and phosphorous compared to conventionally-grown varieties. Furthermore, organic foods usually may contain more antioxidant phytochemicals like flavonoids, anthocyanins, and carotenoids. Therefore, eating organic may provide you with better nutritional value than if you eat conventional foods.

In addition, the feeding requirements for organic livestock usually produce livestock that contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Pesticides:

Pesticides used in organic farming practices must be organic-approved pesticides. This usually excludes most synthetic pesticides. Furthermore, organic foods, in general, contain lower levels of pesticide residue than conventionally grown foods. Therefore, eating organic means you are consuming fewer (and less harmful) pesticides.

Bacteria:

If you’ve ever driven by a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), then you probably smelled the conditions that the animals were living in. Unlike organic farming practices, CAFOs and other conventional farming practices provide conditions that have higher levels of dangerous bacteria. Organic foods are less likely to contain dangerous bacteria compared to conventional farming practices.

Cadmium:

Cadmium is a toxic metal that can be found naturally in soils, and is absorbed by plants growing in said soils. Studies have shown that organic grains contain lower levels of cadmium than conventionally grown grains. Unfortunately, this does not apply to all organic fruits and vegetables.

Environmental/Ecological Benefits

In addition to organic foods having additional health benefits, organic farming practices are generally better for the environment and ecosystems than conventional practices.

Organic farming methods limit and restrict the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, and pollution. This means that organic farming operations have a smaller impact on the environment than conventional agriculture operations.

Furthermore, organic farming also aims to improve soil and water quality, potentially having a positive effect on ecosystems.

Animal Health and Wellness

Animal health and wellness can be a controversial issue, especially when it comes to raising livestock. Whether or not you eat organic food or quality foods to foster healthy and better-living conditions for animals is probably based largely on your beliefs regarding animals.

However, if you would like to eat animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs that provide better and healthier living conditions for animals, including cleaner conditions, healthier feed, and more access to outdoor areas, then animal health and wellness are certainly benefits to eating organic meats and organic animal products.

In addition, healthier livestock usually means healthier animal products!

How to Eat Organic Foods on a Budget

Cutting Costs

Cutting costs is one of the best and most obvious ways to eat organic on a budget.

Organics on Sale

When you buy organic food at the store, look out for items that are on sale. There could be “buy one get one free” offers or products that are marked down. Looking out for what organic food is on sale, and purchasing it rather than full price organics, will save you a lot of money at the store. Your local health food store is stocked with organic food, many of which may be on sale.

In addition, some organic brands may be cheaper than others. Plus, some health food stores may offer generic organic brands to help you save.

Buy Organic in Bulk

Buying in bulk is a great way to save money regardless of what you’re buying. Visiting the bulk section of your local supermarket or shopping at a Costco where you can buy bulk quantities of food for a cheaper unit price will help you save.

Also, check out a farmers market to see if you can save by buying bulk there.

Buy Organic Online

There are plenty of online websites that sell bulk organic foods and organic foods at a discount. Popular websites include: Thrive Market, VitaCost, HerbsPro, and Amazon.

Use Coupons

Use coupons and discount codes any chance you get to save money on organic food. Coupons can be found in local newspapers, mail, and at grocery stores with your purchase. Make sure to save all of your coupons, and sift through them for organic products you want to buy.

In addition to coupons, if you are shopping online, look for discount codes. Try using websites like Retail Me Not and Honey to find the best discounts on products online.

Use a Rewards Card

If you frequent your local grocery stores to get most of your food, sign up for their rewards program. Using a rewards card can save you money, especially if it is a store you go to often.

Budget

This might sound obvious, but nonetheless is an important one. If you know you can’t spend all of your grocery money on organic foods, prioritize and budget your food spending, so you know how much you can spend.

Furthermore, if you are buying dairy and meat, you should prioritize buying organic meat and organic dairy products, instead of buying the conventional varieties. This is because animal products have the highest risk of containing pesticides, cancer-causing compounds, and antibiotics.

Buy Organic Foods Locally

Buying local food is a good way to save money on organic foods. Check out your local farmers markets, or look for locally grown food at your local health food store. Also, see if any local farms sell organic products directly to customers.

Bring Organic Food While You Travel

Whether you’re traveling locally, or taking a road trip, plan on bringing organic food with you. Regardless of how expensive your organic food is, you should be saving money compared to eating out on the road. Trying bringing a cooler with you, so you can store any perishables.

Do it Yourself

Buying or eating organic on a budget doesn’t just involve cutting costs online or at the store. There are tons of ways to DIY organic products.

Make it at Home

You may love your prepared foods, but they are most definitely eating into your budget. Rather than ordering takeout, or buying ready-to-eat foods, buy organic ingredients separately, and make them yourself at home. This can include everything from your favorite takeout meal to granola. You may be surprised at what you can make at home, and how much money it will save you.

Make Decisions

Make decisions about what food you’d rather buy organic, and what foods you are alright buying conventional varieties. As mentioned earlier, if you can’t afford to buy every product organic, prioritize your food, because you can probably afford organic food on some scale.

Animal products (like organic meat and dairy) should be first on the list, then high-risk GMO crops like corn, soybeans, zucchini, canola, yellow squash, sugar beets, cottonseed oil, papaya, “dirty dozen produce”, which is everything from apples to potatoes to berries and leafy greens, eggs, coffee and tea, dried herbs and spices, and chocolate.

Items higher on the list have higher risk of having pesticides, antibiotics, irradiation, and other negative health effects that organic practices avoid.

Grow Your Own!

Try growing your own organic produce. Or, if you are ready and able to, try raising your own chickens for organic eggs and organic chicken. Growing your own food in a garden, greenhouse, or even in potted plants can save significant amounts of money.

The upfront costs of buying a few pots, plants, seeds, fertilizer, and garden beds may be more expensive, but if you do it right, you should be saving money in the long run. Plus, when its time you’ll have the freshest, (uncertified) organic food you could ask for!

Reduce Food Waste

Buy Frozen

Buying frozen organic produce is usually much cheaper than buying fresh, unfrozen vegetables. Plus, you can stick your frozen organic produce right back in the freezer, so it will keep for much longer.

Freeze it Yourself

Keep a portion of your fresh organic food in the freezer. For example, if you get a bag of spinach, and worry about it spoiling before you can get to all of it, store half of it in the fridge, and the other half in the freezer. Then, once you’re finished with the refrigerated portion, take the frozen spinach out, and enjoy!

Keep it Fresh!

Place limp celery, carrots, and radishes in water with a slice of potato to make them crisp. You’d be amazed how much a little water in a jar can help certain vegetables like celery, carrots, and radishes. Adding a potato in the mix helps them to re-crisp even more.

Reuse and Regrow

Place scallions and lettuce in a cup of water to get extra organic food. This is a great trick that works especially well with organic produce like scallions and lettuce. After you’ve chopped up the top, “leafy” portion of your plant, place the bottom part (white, rooted part of the plant) in a glass of water. Then, over the course of about a week, the plant should start to regrow, increasing the life of your organic lettuce and scallions!

Compost

Composting is a great way to reduce food waste, especially if you have your own garden. Rather than tossing out your coffee grounds, egg shells, and left over meals, put them in your compost to turn into nutrient-rich soil. Then, you can either bring it to your local dump or compost facility, or use it in your garden at home to feed your flowers and vegetables!

Other Organic Products

Organic doesn’t just apply to foods and beverages you consume. If a product was produced or raised on a farm, then it can be labeled organic, as long as it follows the USDA's organic standards.

Therefore, organic products can include pretty much everything from clothes to cosmetics and skincare products to your mattress.

Organic Mattresses

When you think of organic products, you may think of organic produce, so something like organic mattresses may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But why is that? You spend more time laying on your mattress than you do on any other piece of furniture in your house, so why not invest in an environmentally-friendly and healthy mattress?

Eco Terra Mattresses

Eco Terra Beds are natural latex mattresses made without any synthetics. They are polyurethane-free, chemical-free, and made using certified organic wool and organic cotton. All of Eco Terra’s mattresses are certified 100% organic wool and cotton by the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS), surpassing the industry’s highest environmental criteria. This means that Eco Terra Beds aren’t just great for the environment, but they’re also great for your health, and your sleep over all.

Patrick Gunther

Patrick is an accomplished writer. He has been in the retail mattress space for the past 11 years, and more specifically in the natural mattress niche. He blogs on the subjects of natural mattresses, sleep, health, fitness, and green living.