Organic foods is a growing business: In 2010, consumers spent nearly $27 billion on organic food and drinks, compared with a mere $1 billion a decade earlier. Many retailers have zoned in on the organic food market, like Whole Foods, which has seen huge revenue increases. And despite a lackluster economy — and a higher price tag that comes with the 'organic' label — consumers are demanding and buying more organic products.
What does 'organic' actually mean? Well, Organic, at least in supermarket parlance, indicates food products produced using renewable resources and sustainable farming practices that reduce pollution. Artificial fertilizers and pesticides are eschewed in favor of compost/manure and insects. Genetically modified seeds and plants are avoided. More nutritious livestock feed and preventive health practices replace the use of growth hormones and antibiotics.
Organic farming practices produce food that is more nutritious and delicious while avoiding potentially dangerous food additives and contaminants. However, organic food doesn't come cheap: on average, a basket of organic groceries costs 120% more than its non-organic counterpart. So how can you eat cleaner and still save money on organic foods? Here are 8 tips:
- Know your produce label: Not all the fruits and vegetables at your local organic foods store are actually organic. Produce bar codes with four digits and beginning with the numbers "3" or "4" are not organic. Five digit bar codes that begin "9" are organic. A "USDA Organic" or "Certified Organic" sticker is also good indication the produce is actually organic.
- Buy organic for the skin: It's worthwhile buying organic produce if you plan on eating the skin; apples and pear skins are notorious for pesticides. However, potatoes and turnips, which are not sprayed because they grow underground, offer few health benefits compared with their non-organic brethren.
- Buy organic for the fat: Growth hormones and antibiotics are typically harbored in the fat of the animal, so be sure to buy organic if you're looking for fatty cuts of meat like prime rib. You can probably get away with buying non-organic lean cuts of meat however, such as London Broil or flank steak.
- How organic is it: A food item labeled "100% Organic" is completely organic and/or consists entirely of organic ingredients. Food labeled "Organic" is technically 95% organic. Food labeled as "Made with Organic Ingredients" is no more than 70% organic. A "Natural" means only that the food contains no artificial ingredients, but the farming practices are not regulated.
- Buy grass-finished meat: Meat products are frequently labeled as grass-fed and/or finished. An animal that is grass-fed eats grass and hay instead of grains as its main source of nutrition. This method reduces the risk of the animal becoming sick from a grain-based diet and needing antibiotics; however, this is not a guarantee. An animal that is grass-finished is fed a high-quality, grass-based diet once it has stopped its primary growth and started putting on fat. When grass-finished, the animal's fat contains higher levels of Omega-3 fats and CLAs (conjugated linoleic acids). Both Omega-3 fats and CLAs have been shown to have anti-cancer effects and reduce inflammation. CLAs are also known to reduce abdominal fat in humans and improve glucose uptake.
- Buy organic food at non-organic food stores: Many supermarkets that do not cater exclusively to the "organic" crowd will carry organic items and sometimes discount them if sales are slow. That's the time to swoop in and buy.
- Grow organic food at home: If you have a backyard or outdoor patio, start your own organic food garden. Compost your organic produce leftovers and use that as fertilizer.
- Use Coupons: Krazy couponing doesn't stop at organic. You can still stack manufacturer and store coupons to obtain the best savings on your organic foods. In many cases, organic food manufacturers will offer coupons on their websites or Facebook pages instead of coupon circulars. Websites like Recyclebank offer high value coupons.
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