Your health is the most important thing you own, so investing in it through the right foods is one of the best decisions you can make. In recent years the awareness for organic and healthy living has been on the rise but unfortunately, not everyone has the budget to shop at an organic grocery store. To address the demand and to attract health-conscious customers, many conventional supermarkets have started their own organic line, such as Kroger’s Naturally Preferred, Safeway’s O Organics, and Albertson’s Wild Harvest.
However, how do you know when you should pay extra to buy organic? What do you do when you cannot afford grass-fed beef or organic chicken? Should you buy organic yogurt or the regular one that’s on sale for 55 cents? Is it better to buy frozen or canned? In the following, you will learn the smart and healthy way to shop, aisle by aisle, without breaking your wallet.
Shop the perimeter of your supermarket because that’s where the fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, and meats are. The packaged, processed foods are always in the middle aisles. If you ever bother to turn the boxes around and look at the long list of ingredients, you will be shocked by all the chemical names you cannot even pronounce. Processed foods are convenient but they are not “real” food. Try to eat only foods that are fresh and that will eventually rot, not the ones that have months of shelf life.
First of all, it is not essential to buy all fruits and vegetables organic, except the ones that are heavily contaminated with pesticide residues:
Peaches (most pesticides)
Sweet bell peppers
Always watch out for special deals, sometimes organics are not anymore expensive. On a recent visit to my neighborhood supermarket, both regular and organic celery are selling for $1.99 per stalk. Likewise, both regular and organic carrots are 99 cents per pound. If you are on a budget and looking for produce that is not on the above list, you can save money by buying conventional because their pesticide levels are not as significant.
Most of the toxins from hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides settle in the fats of animals. Therefore, when it comes to butter, it is important to buy organic. At Safeway, the O Organics butter costs $4.99 whereas the regular Challenge Butter costs $4.29 per pound, 70 cents more but a lot healthier.
The same applies to milk. If you cannot afford organic, it is better to choose fat-free to avoid the toxins. When buying cheese and yogurt, examine the packages carefully as processed cheese and sweetened yogurt often contain unsavory ingredients such as additives, preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, excess sugar, or artificial sweeteners.
Take yogurt as an example. Safeway’s own brand, Lucerne, has a low-fat strawberry banana yogurt that is on sale for 55 cents per 6-oz cup, but on closer look, it has a whopping 33 grams of sugar and more calories than the full-fat plain yogurt. Do you still want to buy it?
At the bottom of the fridge is the O Organics low-fat plain yogurt that is on sale for $3.39 per 27-oz tub, which rounds out to 75 cents per 6-oz serving. If you buy the organic plain yogurt, you can make it just as delicious by adding some berries, chopped walnuts, and a tiny bit of honey. This way, you avoid the toxins and excessive sugar.
Your best choice is always organic grass-fed beef. Of course, it will be very expensive if you are going for a piece of filet mignon, however, by choosing a cheaper cut or even ground beef, it can become a lot more affordable. At my supermarket, the Organic Prairie 100% grass-fed ground beef sells for $5.99 per pound versus regular ground beef at $3.49. Again, since the toxins tend to accumulate in the fat, if you cannot afford grass-fed, choose the leanest cut of commercially raised beef, such as round or flank steak.
Most chicken sold in conventional grocery stores is raised in factory farms. Each full-grown chicken in a factory farm has as little as six-tenths of a square foot of space. Such overcrowded condition paves the way for disease. Did you know that 70% of all the antibiotics produced are used in agriculture to promote weight gain in the livestock? The best choices are organic, followed by free-range, or cage-free chicken. At Safeway, the O Organics boneless, skinless thighs sell for $5.49 per pound, whereas the regular Foster Farm thighs are $4.49. If you can only afford regular chicken, make sure you remove the skin and fat before eating.
As for eggs, the best is also organic, followed by free-range or cage-free. This is where you want to spend extra and buy the quality eggs from chickens that have not been given any hormones and antibiotics.
Pork is generally not your ideal choice of meat. Pigs are scavenger animals that will eat just about anything, making them a breeding ground for potentially dangerous infections.
Therefore, if you decide to have the occasional pork for dinner, your best choice is organic pork. Those pigs have been raised in humane conditions without the use of antibiotics and hormones and have never been fed animal byproducts. However, you will notice that very few supermarkets carry organic pork, what they offer is usually “natural” pork.
Natural pork only means that the pork “contains no artificial ingredients and is no more than minimally processed”. In reality, this definition can be extremely deceiving, as the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) rule for “natural” meat does not require all antibiotics be eliminated. Consequently, every producer has its own interpretation for “natural”. Hence, if the label does not say it has no antibiotics, it probably does.
If you do choose to eat fish from your grocery store, don’t buy farm-raised fish (e.g. salmon, tilapia, catfish, and cod) as numerous studies have found they contain high levels of toxins. Also, avoid large fish (e.g. Chilean sea bass, monkfish, orange roughy, shark, sturgeon, swordfish, and tuna) as they have high levels of mercury.
Your cleanest choices are wild-caught Alaskan salmon and sardines but they can be on the expensive side. Though not the most desirable health-wise, a more economical option is to get the canned version of these fish. However, be aware that most canned foods contain a harmful industrial chemical called BPA (bisphenal A), therefore, do not consume on a regular basis.
Processed foods are usually found in the middle aisles and processed snacks at the end of the aisles and near the checkout counters. Processed foods tend to be expensive for the amount of food you get, especially when you get into all the packaged, name-brand junk foods. To save money, try buying less processed snack foods (e.g. chips, cookies, ice cream, and frozen pizzas) and use the money on organic produce and meats instead.
Soft Drinks And Fruit Juice
This is the aisle that you can skip completely. Soft drinks and fruit juices are merely sugar water; they are a complete waste of money and bad for your health. Drink water instead and eat your fruits.
Fresh is always preferable to frozen, and frozen is always better than canned (as almost all cans contain BPA). Eating some pre-frozen food is acceptable but don’t overload your diet with it. It is much more nutritious to eat fresh foods as processing destroys some of the enzymes and vitamins in the foods.
More Money-Saving Tips
Always buy the produce that is in season. Even organic produce is going to be cheaper when it is in season. Skip the pre-cut or prepared foods. They can cost up to double the amount of the unprepared versions. If your store offers a bulk bin option, you can buy only the amount you need. It usually works out cheaper as you don’t have to pay for packaging.
Make sure you compare organic prices across stores. In stores that carry less organic items, those items tend to be more expensive.
Instead of shopping at a conventional grocery store, an alternative is your reputable local farmers market. So is it better to buy local or organic? Organic tells you specific things about how the food was produced and that is what the USDA organic seal indicates. Local is great because you are not wasting energy on transportation, but you want to ask the farmers how the animal was raised or how the crop was produced. Many local farmers follow organic farming methods but don’t have the budget to get USDA certified.
Make your grocery list and stick to it. Try to cut down on impulsive purchases.