The best and worst organic grocery buys


Organic produce is more expensive -- but it is only worth the cost in some situations. Image: Flickr / TimPsych / CC-BY

Organic produce can be very expensive. With recent reports showing that groceries are getting even more expensive, many are wondering whether organic produce is worth the cost. U.S. Department of Agriculture tests show that some produce is worth it and some not so much.

Understanding the cost of organic

There are several different organic certifications available in the United States. The United States Department of Agriculture says labeled “Organic” products must come from farms that integrate “cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.” In general, this means not using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Getting organic certification costs anywhere from $500 to $33,000, depending on the size of the farm. Foods grown organically also have lower yields, which means farmers have to charge more per unit to make their investment back. These factors mean that organic produce is more expensive in the grocery store.

Foods worth buying organic

Some foods absorb pesticides and chemicals much more easily than others. According to USDA tests, there are 19 types of produce that absorb chemicals easily enough that scrubbing or peeling simply won’t remove the chemical. Despite their average higher cost, these fruits and vegetables contain, on average, more pesticides:

  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Nectarines
  • Peppers
  • Spinach
  • Cherries
  • Kale
  • Potatoes
  • Grapes
  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Summer squash
  • Cucumbers

Foods not worth the cost

The structure of some fruits and vegetables does not make it easy for pesticides and chemicals to absorb. If you are trying to pinch pennies, there is some produce that USDA tests indicate you can more safely buy non-organic.

  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Corn on the cob
  • Pineapple
  • Mangoes
  • Peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Honeydew
  • Grapefruit

Trying to balance saving money with staying healthy can often be difficult. When you’re eating healthy, the right fruits and vegetables can make all the difference — and knowing when to spend the money and when to save can make the strain on your wallet a little easier to take.


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