How to prioritize which items to buy organic to ensure you’re getting the healthiest options without breaking the bank
Generally speaking, the more organic foods you are able to buy (and still stay within your budget, of course) the better. Organic varieties are higher in nutritional value than their conventional counterparts, and organic farming uses sustainable practices that help regenerate our environment rather than destroy it. They are free of the pesticides that non-organic products contain (some more than others, as you’ll see), and by definition they may not contain any genetically modified ingredients.
I would love to be able to say that I buy organic varieties of everything, but alas, my budget will not allow for that. But if you learn to choose wisely, you can avoid at least some of the foods that are among the worst in terms of pesticide contamination or other unwanted ingredients.
There is an awesome website that I like to refer to for their great advice called the Environmental Working Group. The scope of their work goes way beyond just food, but for now I’d like to tell you about one aspect of it. Each year they produce a list of both the dirtiest and the cleanest conventionally-grown produce in terms of the amount of pesticides that are used for growing them. The Dirty Dozen list shows the crops that are the most heavily sprayed – these are the ones you want to try to make sure you always buy organic! On the flip side, they also publish a Clean 15 list that shows the produce that gets the least amount of pesticides. Both lists can be downloaded and printed so you can take them shopping with you. If you have to opt for some non-organic items, you’ll know which ones to choose.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Aside from avoiding toxic pesticides, buying organic also allows you to avoid eating any genetically-modified (GM or GMO) organisms. GMOs are created in a lab and have had their DNA altered; they are not something that occurs in nature. There are both plant and animal GMOs on the market. There is plenty of evidence to show that they are not good for our bodies or the environment (although those with a vested interest in the food industry try VERY hard to convince you otherwise). Currently the FDA doesn’t require any safety testing whatsoever on GMOs, nor do they require that product labels tell you if it contains any (insert yuck face here)!
The top seven GMO crops that are grown in the U.S. are corn, soy, cotton, alfalfa, canola, papaya and sugar beets. Some varieties of quash are also often genetically modified. This isn’t an all-inclusive list by any means, but these are the biggies. A large majority of processed, non-organic foods contain one (if not more) of these ingredients. Processed foods are generally something you’ll want to avoid on keto anyway, but if you do choose to use any, be sure to read your label before buying. In addition, conventionally-raised animals are often fed a diet that contains GM foods (not to mentioned that they are often raised under filthy, inhumane conditions), and that is passed on to you when you consume them. If you’d like to read more about GMOs, click here.
The best way I know to be able to buy the organic varieties you need and still stay within your budget is to plan ahead. Meal planning has several benefits (more on that in an upcoming article), but one of them is that it allows you to buy just what you need to make your meals for the week without having a lot left over. Minimizing waste is always a good thing, in terms of both money and food. Planning ahead allows you to keep track of exactly what you’re putting into your body each day, something you will definitely want to do with eating keto, at least for a while. If this isn’t something you’re used to doing, be prepared – it can be a real eye-opener!
Ready … Set … Shop!
So where can you find organic foods? Most grocery stores carry at least a small selection of organic meats and produce; places like Target, Walmart and Costco have them as well. As with anything, it pays to do some comparison shopping to find the lowest prices in your area. You can save a lot depending on what cut of meats and poultry you choose. For instance, I can buy organic bone-in, skin-on chicken drumsticks relatively cheaply. But if I buy the boneless, skinless organic chicken thighs (can you tell I’m a fan of dark meat?!), they are more than double the price. I actually use the skin and the bones for various things anyway, so for me it’s twice the bargain! When shopping for organic produce, look for 5-digit PLU codes that begin with a 9. Four-digit codes that begin with a 3 or 4 are conventionally grown, and those that begin with an 8 are genetically modified (though I have yet to ever see one actually labeled as such).
Farmer’s markets are an excellent place to find organic foods. Not only are you supporting a local farm and your community by buying from them, but their wares will be much fresher than those you find in the stores that may have been shipped from far away or that have been sitting around for a few days. You also have the added benefit of being able to talk directly to the grower. You can ask as many questions as you like about their farming practices – a lot of small farms use organic growing methods, but have just not been able to afford the rather expensive and difficult process of obtaining official certification.
Yet another way to get great deals on organic foods is to join a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group. Each season you can buy into a portion of a farm’s harvest, and they regularly deliver your portion each week (or whatever time period they decide on ahead of time). Although you may not be able to choose exactly what items you want (some probably won’t be keto-friendly), it still might be worth checking into. You may have family members who will eat those foods, or a friend or neighbor who is willing to buy them from you. Some CSAs include things like meats or milk or butter for an additional fee. You can find lists of both farmer’s markets and CSAs in your area here.
Buying organic doesn’t have to break the bank if you plan ahead and know how to shop. I hope you’ll feel inspired to check out some new options for obtaining healthy, delicious, keto-friendly foods!