Yoga or CrossFit? Paleo or Vegan? Costco or Sams? When it comes to our health, we are inundated with choices, and often, it can be kind of confusing. Ask anyone what the best option is, and you’ll find very strong opinions on either side of the debate.

When it comes to our food the choices are endless. Walk through your typically grocery store and you’ll find shelves of foods – some healthy, some not – all vying for your dollar. Some of the choices, like whether to buy red or green leaf lettuce are simple and don’t really matter too much. But some, like whether or not to buy organic, can be a little trickier.

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You’ll find two very strong schools of thought on organic food:

  1. It’s far superior, more nutritious, and totally worth the extra money.
  2. It doesn’t matter, conventional methods are totally safe so why waste the money?

The organic issue has really exploded in the last several years, and as moms it can be really frustrating and confusing to wade through all the information. We want to feed our families the healthiest food possible, but we don’t want to break the bank. $7 for a pint of organic strawberries?!? There goes your college fund, kids.

So how can we find the healthy balance in this crazy, heated, overly complicated debate?

First, let’s talk about what organic is. The term “organic” is used to describe food grown or raised without pesticides, gmo’s (genetically modified organisms), or synthetic fertilizers. It also means that animal products are raised without growth hormones or antibiotics.

This can be a problem because over exposure to pesticides and other chemicals can lead to a host of health problems: headaches, nausea, hormone disruption, cancer, and behavioral disorders. (toxicsaction.org) Toxic chemicals taken into the body in any way leads to poor health, whether ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. Basically, our world is a toxic trap. Thanks a lot, sin.

When it comes to meat or dairy, the risk is even greater.  With all the negative effects of factory farming, we as consumers need to be a little more aware of where our food is coming from. These large industrial farms are a breeding ground for disease leading to a heavy use of antibiotics in the animals (which ends up in our food.) Growth hormones are injected into animals and can end our on our tables. Full fat dairy like milk and butter can contain high levels of these toxins. (Because toxins love fat.)

Now that you’re naturally freaking out, what are we supposed to do?  Organic costs so much more, and if you have even the average sized family on the averaged size income, the cost can become ridiculous. (Check out some of the articles below to find out why organic food costs more.)

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The good news is, the nutritional value of conventional produce is just the same as organic. (Although some make claims that organic is more nutritional,  it’s based on shaky evidence.) And the benefits of eating plenty of fruits and veggies greatly outweighs the risk of your exposure to pesticides. So if all you can afford is conventionally grown produce, it’s ok.

Opting for organic greatly reduces your exposure to hormones, antibiotics, disease, and pesticides. Plus, organic meat and dairy will naturally have a greater ratio of omega 3 fatty acids since the animals are grass fed (as God intended.)

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All that being said, just because something has the label “organic” doesn’t make it a healthy food. Organic cookies are still cookies. Food companies are discovering that people like to think they’re buying a healthy product. That means more money in their pocket. The organic label can trip people up, thinking that they are buy a healthy product when they buy their kids organic fruit snacks, but in reality, a bunch of conventionally grown bananas are far superior.(And cheaper too!)

To be honest, what you purchase and feed your families is completely up to you. But the following is my personal opinion on when to buy organic based on what I’ve read and researched. I’ve listed them in order of importance and shared how I try and save money. The best option for purchasing your food is to go directly to the farmers who grow it. By cutting out the middle man, you can save money and purchase food with far superior nutrition.

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  1. Dairy: The greatest way to save is simple cut your dairy consumption down. (Which lately, we have been doing.) If I buy it, I purchase full fat dairy. (And I would recommend you do too.) Our bigger dairy purchases are yogurt and butter, but occasionally we will buy whole milk. If you’re on a budget, I have found reasonably priced organic milk at stores like Aldi, and often there are coupons available at other stores like Woodmans. There’s no need to spend $6 on a half gallon of milk.
  2. Meat and Poultry: This can be a budget buster, so the trick is to try and shop locally if you can, otherwise try and balance. Some of my favorite tricks can save a little money. We can’t get all of our meat organic, simply because we can’t afford that, but I try the best I can. One of my favorite things to do it to buy whole chickens. The price per pound is almost always cheaper because you don’t have to pay for someone to do the work of de-boning or skinning a chicken. (Check here for more reasons and a great recipe for using a whole chicken.) Planning your meals to get the most out of you chicken or beef allows you to stretch out your budget. (And choosing organic means you can purchase fattier cuts of meat since they’re cheaper. Again see above.)
  3. Eggs: The nutritional value of organic versus conventional eggs is basically the same. My latest trick is buying them in bulk at Costco. We go through quite a few eggs so it makes sense for us. But stores like Walmart and Target do offer organic eggs under their store brands, which can make it a little more affordable.
  4. Produce on the Dirty Dozen list: To be honest, this is probably where I skimp the most. Some things like spinach, lettuce and carrots are easy to find organic and also super cheap! Others, like berries, are a little harder. My favorite stores for inexpensive organic produce are Woodmans and Aldi. Again, buy what you can afford. Another great trick is to purchase frozen fruit and veg; it’s cheaper and has the same (if not better) nutritional value.
  5. Whatever else you can afford: This is where the organic cookies can sneak up on you. I do buy products like organic Mac and Cheese for my kids, because at Aldi, it’s basically the same price. Other products that we go through a lot like applesauce and ketchup are also decently priced and since both tomatoes and apples are on the Dirty Dozen list, I try and keep those products organic. But remember, organic ketchup is not a health food. Organic animal crackers don’t offer your children any superior nutritional benefit.Mac and Cheese is still Mac and Cheese regardless of the organic sticker.

It’s so easy to get caught up in all the hoopla regarding organic foods, but the bottom line is do the best you can to feed your family. A conventionally grown apple is better than an organic, sugar-filled granola bar any day.

Recommended reading:

Prevention.com Reasons to go organic

Organic.org Top ten reasons to support Organic

Huffington Post Organic vs. Conventional

FoxNews Why organic costs so much

RealTruth A look at factory farming

WebMD A great summary of organics and further information on what to purchase

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