6 Foods You Should Always Buy Organic (and Save Money Doing It)

Learn which foods to buy organic and which it's OK to skip. Plus, get a bunch of money-saving tips along the way.

Young woman buying vegetable on stall at the marketShutterstock / Lucky Business
Photo: Shutterstock / Lucky Business

We all want to eat well, nourish our bodies and hey, if it’s easy—help the planet at the same time. That’s why it’s great to shop organic. The reason? Any food item with a USDA label is at least 95 percent free from pesticides, dyes and all sorts of synthetic chemicals. But not all organic produce is created equal. Plus, organic food can be expensive—costing nearly twice as much (or more) as conventional. So how do you avoid a health-food blunder? Here’s the lowdown on the foods that you should definitely be buying organic—plus how to save money while doing it!

1. Berries

Definitely choose organic when purchasing these juicy gem-colored fruits. They can carry a surprising amount of pesticides. Strawberries, the biggest offender, top the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen—a list of fruits and vegetables ranked by pesticide content after a vigorous wash. Blueberries and raspberries fare better, but you should still go organic with those when you can.

Money-saving tip: Berries are super healthy, but they’re fragile and expensive, too. Consider choosing frozen organic fruit (frozen raspberries cost about 35 percent less than fresh). And freeze your own if you have too many fresh so every wholesome bit gets used.

2. Spinach & Leafy Greens

Where would we be without those glistening clamshells of ready-to-go salad greens? Because of their large leaf surfaces, spinach and other leafy greens often retain pesticides. Spring the extra buck or so to upgrade to organic. And check out our lettuce guide while you’re at it.

Money-saving tip: Go up to the larger 10-ounce container and you’ll pay about the same, ounce for ounce, for organic as you would for a small container of conventional greens.

3. Apples & Pears

Many tree fruits rank high on the Dirty Dozen list. Why? Their long hang time (needed to develop into ready-to-pick fruit) can mean multiple exposures to pesticides in the growing season. Yuck!

Money-saving tip: Buy organic apples in a bag rather than individual apples. The smaller fruits are a more appropriate serving size than the big, fancy ones—and they cost far less per pound.

4. Stone Fruits

Nectarines, peaches and cherries all are offenders for high pesticide content. Plums are on the list, too.

Money-saving tip: Purchase canned or frozen peaches when they’re on sale. Since these fruits have had their peels removed, much of the pesticide residue (if it’s conventionally grown) is removed along with the peel. So in this case, it’s a money-saving way to skip organic. Use them to microwave up this healthy dessert.

5. Grapes

These dirty devils are highly susceptible to pesticides, too. This means it’s smart to go green when choosing raisins and wine as well.

Money-saving tip: Stock up on organic raisins when they’re deeply discounted for holiday baking season. Keep ’em fresh longer by freezing the container in a freezer bag.

6. Celery

Blame celery’s cup-shaped, nesting stalks and its lack of a peel for making it one of the grimiest vegetables. Go organic here whenever you can.

Money-saving tip: Since celery is typically a minor player that adds flavor and crunch to healthy soups and other recipes, why not buy just what you need? Whole Foods Market lets you buy organic celery by the individual stalk. Check out individual stalk options (or chopped celery on the salad bar) at your favorite store.

Organic Foods You Can Skip

That’s easy: If you want to save money, skip anything organic that you’re going to peel. That means bananas, oranges (unless you plan to zest ’em), winter squash, and even potatoes and sweet potatoes if you plan to peel them.

And Don’t Forget…

Eating produce is always a good choice. Always! A diet that’s loaded with veggies and fruits (organic or not) is the smart way to go. Shoot for around 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of veggies each day if you’re on a typical 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. (The average American eats only about 60% of that). So whether you go the organic route or not, be sure you’re eating your fruits and veggies.

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Christine Rukavena
Christine loves to read, curate, sample and develop new recipes as a book editor at Taste of Home. A CIA alumna with honors, she creates cookbooks and food-related content. A favorite part of the job is taste-testing dishes. Previous positions include pastry chef at a AAA Five Diamond property. Christine moonlights at a boutique wine shop, where she edits marketing pieces and samples wine far higher than her pay grade.