There’s no doubt that the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is questionable at best. Although the health of GMOs is still up for debate, I’ve seen all the evidence I need to see to avoid them.
Some of this evidence is shocking, like the study that showed that a toxin only present in Monsanto genetically modified Bt corn was present in pregnant women who consumed the corn as well as the umbilical blood of their unborn fetuses (1.Source). Another study found that rats fed GMO corn over 2 years developed tumors, had disabled pituitaries and developed kidney deficiencies. This same study found that the rats fed GMO corn died 2-3 times more than the control group (2.Source). An in-depth report examining the claims made by Monsanto and the FDA in favor of the safety, health and benefits of GMOs showed that almost all of of these claims are false (3.Source). In fact, this report found that GMO seeds do not increase yield, GMOs are not a safe or effective solution for world hunger, they harm soil quality, they are poorly regulated, and they can exacerbate allergies (4.Source).
Even the Former Director of Corporate Communications for Monsanto, the biggest producer of GMOs, said “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food…. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” And the FDA apparently isn’t doing it’s job either, because they DO NOT require safety testing for genetically modified foods before it is approved for the market.
While it is clear to me that at the very least GMOs should be labeled, for now the best thing we can do is find out which foods contain GMOs and do our best to avoid them.
The eight most common GMO foods are corn, soy, sugar beets, canola, cottonseed, Hawaiian papaya, some zucchini and yellow squash.
Many of these GMO foods like soy and corn seem easy enough to avoid; Just don’t buy tofu and don’t get non-organic corn right? But it’s harder than it seems. A lot of these foods find their way into packaged foods and restaurants mostly in the form of corn and soy derivatives.
So you can stay informed about what you’re eating, I’ve created a list of 7 common food additives that are genetically modified. I’ve included what to watch out for when looking at ingredient labels and some alternative options for these foods.
1. GMOs in Vitamins
Yes, the bottles of vitamins you are taking to stay healthy may be doing just the opposite, but don’t worry there are ways around it! Not only do oral vitamins contain GMOs, but many foods with added vitamins like cereal, bread and enriched soy and nut milks contain added synthetic vitamins that are derived from genetically modified ingredients.
“To produce a food additive such as a vitamin, genetic engineers will identify a microorganism that can produce the additive, such as a bacteria or fungi, and genetically alter it. The GM microorganism is then placed in fermenters, closed stainless steel tanks that are used to create conditions where the microorganism can thrive and produce the desired product in large quantities. When the growth and production is complete, the vitamin is isolated and purified. Proponents say that no traces of microorganisms are present in the final product, and no GM DNA is detectable….While proponents say production of GM microorganisms is safe, there has been one major catastrophe. In 1989, an L-tryptophan food supplement, produced using a genetically engineered microorganism, was responsible for the deaths of 37 people and disabling of several thousand more in the United States.” (5.Source)
What to avoid on ingredients labels: Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin B12 (cobalamin, cyanocobalamin), vitamin E (tocopherols).
Alternatives: You can find trusted non-gmo vitamins here. You can also look for foods and supplements that are listed as non-gmo.
2. GMOs in Non-Organic Dairy and Meat
GMOs make it into animal products in a variety of ways. Because corn and soy are so heavily produced in the US and are so inexpensive because of government subsidies, it’s cheaper for factory farms to just feed animals GMO corn and soy even though they’re not meant to eat it. This results in a variety of illnesses in feedlot animals which is why they also inject them with a steady diet of antibiotics. Rennet, an enzyme used to make cheese, is often genetically modified as well. Apart from that, animals are also given genetically modified growth hormones like rBST to make them produce more.
Not only do factory farms (also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs) use an exorbitant amount of GMOs in their day-to-day operations, they are also one of the worst offenders when it comes to health, environmental safety, humane treatment of animals and fair treatment of workers.
If you do nothing else on this list, I urge you to stop consuming products from CAFOs!
This doesn’t even mean you have to give up any foods that you currently enjoy. You can find better alternatives for the basic supermarket cheese, milk, eggs and meat. Organic, grass-fed and pastured is what you want to look for. Yes, it costs more, but if you care about your health and the health of your family it’s worth it!
Consider making changes in other parts of your budget to make room for better quality animal products. For example, if you eat out a lot, cut it down to once a month and start cooking at home more. If you’re buying cereal at the store, switch to homemade oatmeal. Consider saving by buying foods in bulk and storing them in the freezer.
What to avoid: Any non-organic dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, etc.), non-organic eggs or non-organic meat products.
Alternatives: When it comes to animal products organic grass-fed and pastured is the best option for things like cheese, yogurt, eggs and milk. Even better if it’s raw! If you do eat meat, organic grass-fed is best. Getting these products at your local farmer’s market is a great option because that way you can talk directly to the farmer and ask what kind of feed they give to the animals. The animals may be partially grass-fed and supplemented with gmo corn and soy, so it’s always best to ask! You can buy trusted non-GMO grassfed cheese here.
3. GMOs in Sugar
As if you need another reason to avoid sugar right? Well, in the US and Canada unless the ingredient label says “pure cane sugar” it is probably made from GMO sugar beets or a combination of that and cane sugar. I can’t stress how important it is to read ingredient labels. Sugar may be an ingredient in things that you might not even think of as sweet like bread or crackers.
What to avoid on ingredients labels: Sugar
Alternatives: It’s always best to make your own dessert foods with natural sweeteners like honey or coconut sugar. If you do find yourself buying foods with sugar in them, make sure they are organic or that it is cane sugar or evaporated cane juice.
4. GMOs in Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are in sodas, frozen yogurt, diet foods, “sugar-free” foods, gum, chewable vitamins, yogurt, vitamin drink tablets (like airborne) and “no sugar added” foods.
If you aren’t already avoiding artificial sweeteners for other reasons, maybe this will change your mind. This is how one artificial sweetener, aspartame, reacts in your body:
“The two primary components of aspartame, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, are amino acids that are combined in an ester bond. You normally consume these two amino acids in the foods you eat. These amino acids are harmless when consumed as part of natural unprocessed foods. However when they are chemically manipulated and consumed out of the normal ratios to other amino acids, they can cause problems.
Your body initially breaks down the ester link between the two amino acids to turn them into free amino acids. The neurotoxic effects of these chemicals in their “free form” can result in immediate health consequences such as headaches, mental confusion, dizziness and seizures.” (6.Source)
What to avoid on ingredients labels: Aspartame, dextrose, maltitol, maltose, nutrasweet, equal, sorbitol.
5. GMOs in Corn Additives
Considering that 88% of corn is genetically modified, it is safe to assume that almost all corn derived additives have GMOs in them (7.Source). If you don’t usually read ingredients labels you’d be surprised at how much corn is actually present in packaged foods. Even foods that seemingly have nothing to do with corn like cookies, potato chips, yogurt, baking powder, enriched flour, bread and cereal usually have some corn derived additive in them like high fructose corn syrup or corn oil.
According to Michael Pollan’s research, “There are some 45,000 items in the average American supermarket, and more than a quarter of them contain corn. At the same time, the food industry has done a good job of persuading us that the 45,000 different items or SKUs (stock keeping units) represent genuine variety rather than the clever rearrangements of molecules extracted from the same plant.” (8.Source)
What to avoid on ingredients labels: Always Corn Derived– Vegetable oil, distilled white vinegar, modified corn starch, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, corn oil, high-fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated corn oil, corn starch. Sometimes Corn Derived– ascorbic acid, caramel color, lecithin, xanthan gum, lactic acid, dextrose, xylitol, citric acid.
Alternatives: When it comes to avoiding corn derived additives, the best thing you can do is work toward removing packaged processed foods from your life. Make sure that when you do buy products with corn in them, that they are either organic or contain a label indicating that they are participating in the non-gmo project.
6. GMOs in Soy Additives
Soy is similar to corn in that it is one of the largest genetically modified crops grown in the US. A whopping 93% of soy is genetically modified and, like corn, seems to be in everything in one form or another (7.Source).
You’ll find some kind of soy derived ingredient in everything from baby food and infant formula to salad dressing, condiments and protein powder (even if its not soy protein).
What to avoid on ingredients labels: Vegetable oil, textured vegetable protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, glycine, monosodium glutamate (MSG), natural flavors, tocopherols, Anything with “soy” in it- Soy lecithin, soybean oil, soy flour, soy isolates, soy milk, soy sauce etc.
Alternatives: I try to avoid soy altogether for reasons other than GMOs (you can read more about that in my article 5 ‘Vegetarian Foods’ I Never Eat). Again, cutting out processed and packaged foods is good for all-around better health and it saves money too! If you do prefer to continue eating soy, make sure it is organic and try to stick to fermented soy like tempeh and natto.
7. GMOs in Industrially Processed Oils
Although many of the oils listed here as industrially processed are commonly considered healthy oils, I avoid them for a few reasons. Not only are most of them derived from GMOs, but the process used to extract these oils results in rancid and unstable polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).
“So, in the process of being extracted from the seed, these oils oxidize, and many of them plasticize (turn into trans fats). The end result is stinky and unappetizing, so the oil is further ‘cleaned’ using bleach or alternative chemicals to deodorize it.” (9.Source)
Because these oils are so cheap they are some of the most commonly used oils in packaged foods and in restaurants. You’ll find them in most fried foods, chips, nuts, breads, margarine and butter substitutes.
What to avoid on ingredients labels: Canola oil (rapeseed oil), vegetable oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil.
Alternatives: The best, healthiest and most stable oils for high temperature cooking are coconut oil, ghee and palm oil (There has been some unfavorable news lately about palm oil’s destruction of the rainforest and harming of wildlife. So, make sure you choose a sustainable brand like this one). For lower temperature cooking, grass-fed butter and good quality olive oil are great.
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