Our guide will help you decide when you should to go organic—and when it's fine to buy conventional.
We all want to eat a healthy diet free of additives and chemicals, and it's particularly true for moms-to-be. After all, preliminary research suggests that exposure to pesticides may pass through the placenta and affect birth weight according to Enviromental Health Perspectives.
But the reality is that organic food can cost up to twice as much as conventional. So how can you load up on healthy foods without draining your bank account? Knowing which staples contain the highest concentration of chemicals can help you decide what to splurge on—and when you can save, says Kate Geagen, R.D., author of Go Green, Get Lean (Rodale Books). And shopping smart can help you save big. With the following expert advice, you'll protect both your health and your bottom line.
1. Prioritize your produce
When produce is sprayed with pesticides, the majority of the residue lingers on the outside. That's why produce with peels that you discard, such as corn, avocado, and onions, rank among the safest, according to research from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). So if you're looking to trim your grocery bill, choose the conventional varieties of these fruits and veggies.
On the other hand, it's worth it to spend on produce with edible peels. Apples, celery and cherry tomatoes top the list of the 12 fruits and vegetables that contain the most pesticides. Researchers from the EWG say that switching to organic versions of this "Dirty Dozen" can reduce your pesticide exposure by up to 80 percent. For a full list of cleanest and most contaminated picks, visit ewg.org/foodnews.
2. Shop big-box stores
"It's amazing how widespread organic foods have become," says Geagen. She suggests checking out the selection at large stores, like Target, Costco and Wal-Mart. Many offer organic baby food, canned goods, and snacks, as well as dairy products and produce. But remember that "organic" isn't synonymous with "healthy," says Geagen. "Organic cookies and chips are still high in calories and fat."
3. Splurge on organic meat and dairy
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, animal-based products, like meat and dairy, have higher levels of pesticides than plant-based ones. "Animals are exposed through their feed, and the pesticides can accumulate in their bodies," explains Geagen. Many are also given growth hormones and antibiotics, which can be found in conventional meat, milk, cheese and yogurt.
Play it safe by going the organic route—and consider buying in bulk. "Family-sized packs are more economical, and you can freeze the extra," advises Geagen.
4. Visit your farmer's market
"Speak with your local farmer about his or her growing practices," suggests Geagen. Some small farmers can't afford the fees for a U.S. Department of Agriculture organic certification.
Meanwhile, others might be undergoing the process: Farmers have to prove that they haven't applied pesticides to their crops for the past three years. Although their fruits and vegetables may not have an official label yet, they can still be chemical-free—and a little cheaper to boot.
5. Clip coupons
Check out your favorite brands' Web sites and Facebook pages for coupons. For instance, Horizon Organic offers a $1 coupon if you sign in to their site. You can also search for other discounts at organicdeals.com and organicfoodcoupons.com.
6. Doctor up conventional fare
Can't afford organic? There are smart ways you can reduce your exposure to chemicals and pesticides:
Trim non-organic meats. Certain pesticides collect in fat, so remove the skin and fat before serving that protein.
Wash conventional fruits and vegetables beneath running tap water for at least 30 seconds. According to a study from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, scrubbing is effective at removing pesticide residue.
Related: Eat Better for Less