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There are those who believe that organic and budget do not belong in the same sentence. But considering the benefits of eating organic food, those folks may be surprised.

What do we mean by organic? Though standards vary worldwide, organic produce and other ingredients generally are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products are not given antibiotics or growth hormones.

Though this can mean higher prices, there's a way to choose organic without busting your budget. Simply identify the foods most likely to be grown with pesticides. Each year the Environmental Working Group puts out a list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.

The latest Dirty Dozen, in descending order, are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers. Hot peppers are an add-on this year. When you’re going to splurge on organic, these are the priority.

The Clean Fifteen produce items least likely to contain pesticide residues are avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbages, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydews, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower and broccoli. Since the level of pesticides on these is relatively low or not detectable, save your money and buy conventionally grown products.

The most nutritious produce is grown locally, because it doesn't have far to go to reach you. Many local growers use organic methods, making farmers markets a win-win situation, and you can choose local produce from the grocery store.

When it comes to animals, there’s organic, free-range, grass-fed, no antibiotics, no hormones, cage-free, and more. Organic livestock is raised without antibiotics and hormones and has access to pasture feeding (grass-fed). The benefits may include leaner meat, a higher level of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and a higher concentration of antioxidants and vitamins.

Organic milk and poultry are raised under similar guidelines.

Organic or not, junk food is junk food so skip it in favor of organic apples. Nutrient-rich foods may cost a bit more, but they stick with you longer and help keep you well.

Eating organic food reduces exposure to a variety of toxins. When quality and price are about the same, choose organic. When local produce is available, that is probably the most cost-effective and nutritious option. Keep an eye out for sales and choose organic for the Dirty Dozen. Rinse all your fruits and vegetables under cold running water for at least 30 seconds, because nothing is 100 percent clean.

The most important thing is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and not stress over whether they’re conventional or organic. Investing in your health today will save you money in the long run.

Carol Slager is a licensed pharmacist, author, blogger and life coach in Northwest Indiana. Follow her monthly in Get Healthy and at inkwellcoaching.com.

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