Getting Your Veggies Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank

Live lobsters… Sheep pelts… Artisan pickles… Old Bay goat cheese…

One of my favorite weekend stops is also one of the rare places you can find all of these unusual items in one place – the Baltimore Farmers Market, now in its 42nd season.

Here’s a photo from last year’s opening weekend, courtesy of my researcher:

Of course, the main attraction at the market is the farm-fresh produce.

Naturally, Baltimore isn’t the only town with a great farmers market. Communities of all sizes have fostered these outlets for local growers to sell directly to consumers.

For produce lovers, they’re the best place to get great deals. And with spring upon us, we wanted to focus on two things: When to pay for “organic” foods and where to get the best deals.

To earn the “organic” label, products must only contain (or be made using) organic ingredients, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture certifies. “Organic” suggests the products are free of synthetic or chemical pesticides or herbicides.

Overall, organic produce has far fewer harmful pesticides. Regular produce uses many more toxic pesticides, like Roundup. The main ingredient, glyphosate, interferes with hormones and certain chromosomes in animals and could harm humans as well. Worse, studies show that when it’s combined with the other chemicals in Roundup, glyphosate is toxic to humans. The few studies available show that it is a factor in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

A man named Edwin Hardeman was even awarded $80 million last month in a lawsuit claiming he developed cancer after his use of Roundup. A San Francisco jury found chemical company Bayer’s Monsanto unit, which produces the herbicide, liable because it didn’t warn Hardeman of Roundup’s alleged risk for causing cancer. (Bayer has said it will appeal the verdict.)

Thin-skinned produce (think berries, grapes, and peaches) absorb more of these toxins and increase your exposure to them. So we recommend folks always buy organic versions of these types of foods.

Longtime subscribers know I recommend following the Dirty Dozen list from the Environmental Working Group. Just a few weeks ago, it released the 2019 list.

Below is the list – I recommend you print this out and take it with you whenever you go grocery shopping. If it’s on the Dirty Dozen list, it’s worth getting an organic version…

Rank

Highest in Pesticides…

 

The Dirty Dozen

1

Strawberries

2

Spinach

3

Kale

4

Nectarines

5

Apples

6

Grapes

7

Peaches

8

Cherries

9

Pears

10

Tomatoes

11

Celery

12

Potatoes

But remember… “organic” farms still use pesticides. They just use ones labeled “organic” and certified by the National Organic Standards Board (“NOSB”). Two of the most common organic pesticides are rotenone and pyrethrin. Don’t let the labels and certifications fool you – these pesticides may still be dangerous. That’s why you still need to use caution and always wash your produce.

The rinse I use for produce is a mix of water and white vinegar (about three parts water to one part vinegar). I let everything soak for a few minutes and then rinse the fruits and vegetables off with just water. This method is effective because most of the pesticide residue sits on the skin. A study from the Journal of Food Protection also showed simply letting leafy greens soak in cold tap water for two minutes before rinsing had the same effect. That’s good for folks who don’t like the taste of vinegar in their salads.

One of my other favorite tips for buying fresh produce – buy local. The benefits of shopping local include less processing, fewer chemicals sprayed on produce during transit, and best of all, the ability to talk directly with the farmers. You can ask about their pesticide and fertilizer use.

That’s why I enjoy farmers markets. A few folks in our office have experience with farm deliveries…

Many areas offer something called community-supported agriculture (“CSA”). With CSAs, a farm (usually a small one) offers subscriptions to local folks. You can get a variety of things, including fresh produce, eggs, and cider. Subscriptions can last anywhere from a few weeks to a whole season or even half a year. Every area is a bit different, but around here, boxes run about $12 to $25, and you get them weekly.

According to our colleagues, the quality is better than what you’d get in a store and roughly the same price (if not a bit cheaper). The downside – time. You have to meet at the designated pickup site each week, usually a local store. That means if you’re traveling, you have to send someone to get your box for you. One of our editors even mentioned leaving the box for a day and finding a bottle of apple cider had exploded in the heat.

In addition, you don’t have control over what you get. In most cases, that means getting a variety of fruits and veggies to try. It also means you might get tired of a certain food. As one editor said, “You can only eat so much kale.”

And for the best deals, consider buying “ugly” produce (fruits and veggies that are aesthetically imperfect, including ones with scars or discoloration). Grocery stores often reject ugly produce, even though it’s otherwise perfectly fine to consume. You can buy it from companies like Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Produce, often for less than you’d pay at a regular grocery store.

As I’ve written before, the more fruits and veggies you eat a day, the healthier you will be. Ideally, you want to aim for 10 servings, but even just adding a few to each meal will improve your life. And to improve your wallet, find savings with delivery services or markets, and only buy organic if it’s on the Dirty Dozen list.

What We’re Reading…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health and Wealth Bulletin Research Team
April 25, 2019