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As a dietitian, one of the things that makes me want to just punt a pigeon (don’t arrest me PETA) is the fact that healthier foods are so much more expensive than crappy foods. Oh, you want some salad greens from the store? That’ll cost you $7. An entire meal from Wendy’s? That’ll be about $4 after tax. AWESOME!

It’s no wonder that we have so much chronic disease in this country. Very few people can really afford real, fresh produce, much less organic produce. So this week, I want to address the importance of organic versus non-organic produce.

Should You Buy Organic?

You’ve probably heard it before, “Paying more for healthy foods now can save you thousands of hospital bills in the future,” and while that’s a nice sentiment and a valid point, it doesn’t increase your income or help you suddenly afford all the organic, fresh produce that you’d like to buy. Of course there are ways to eat “healthy” on a budget, but most “healthy” foods are not exactly budget-friendly.

My advice: If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. (And look for a local farmers market!)

Take organic foods for example. Most organic items in the produce section are double or triple the cost of the lowly non-organic counterpart. Organic foods are regarded as “healthier” choices because they aren’t drenched in pesticides or fertilizers. I don’t want to eat pesticides any more than the next person, but the Environmental Working Group reminds us that the risks of consuming these chemicals do not outweigh the nutritional benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables.

Simply put: Eat your fruits and vegetables, regardless of their price tag.

You can also usually find organic produce for a fraction of the grocery store costs by attending a local farmers market. If you’re trying to reduce your grocery bill for the month, farmers markets are definitely worth checking out. These local markets allow you to build lasting relationships with your local farmers and help support your local economy. So, this month, make it a goal to go check out your local farmers market and see what great produce you can find!

How to Wash Your Produce

If you can’t afford to buy organic, don’t sweat it. Just make a conscious effort to wash your fresh produce with cold water. You don’t need to use any soaps or detergents, as this will just add more chemical residue to your food. Instead, you can:

  1. Wash delicate fruits under cold water in your hand or a colander
  2. Scrub rough produce with a brush under cold water
  3. Soak leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, or other difficult-to-scrub surfaces in cold water for 2 or 3 minutes

Don’t bother buying any kind of vegetable rinse from the store. A study from the University of Maine found that washing or soaking produce in distilled water was just as effective and sometimes more effective than using store-bought solutions.

15 Dirtiest Foods (Buy Organic or Wash Really Well)

If you can afford to buy organic, then you might want to consider buying organic when shopping for the items listed below. According to the Environmental Working Group, these are the top 15 dirtiest produce items on the market. If you aren’t buying organic, remember to pay special attention to these foods when washing them. They contain more chemical residues than most, so be sure to give them extra love when scrubbing or let them soak a little longer.

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Snap Peas (imported)
  • White Potatoes
  • Hot Peppers
  • Kale
  • Collard Greens

Top 15 Cleanest Foods

The Environmental Working Group found that these foods housed the least amount of chemical residue, ranking them as the top 15 cleanest foods in the produce section. If you can’t afford to buy organic, don’t sweat it. These foods have little to no chemical residue

  • Avocados
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet Peas (frozen)
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower


Unfortunately, we do not all have the luxury of buying organic. Your local farmers markets are often more affordable than grocery stores, but farmers markets may not be available for everyone.┬áSo, if you can’t find a farmers market or afford the organic produce at the store, then opt for the non-organic foods and simply put more time into the washing and preparation of these foods. Find what works best for you and stick with it because you don’t have to be wealthy to eat healthy.

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