In the U.S., GMOs are everywhere in our supply chain. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, 75-80% of all conventional, processed foods contain some form of GMOs. In this post, I’ll tell you how to avoid them.
First, a bit of background
GMOs are plant or meat products with DNA artificially altered in a laboratory by genes from other plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria, resulting in foreign compounds found in these foods. This type of genetic alteration is not found in nature and hasn’t been studied extensively.
In this post, I’m not going to argue the merits of going GMO-free. Some believe that GMOs help to feed world hunger. Some people disagree with this theory. If you want to read up more on the GMO studies, here is a list of past studies and this appears to be the most recent study. Finally, here are some peer-reviewed studies that link GMOs to increased allergies, organ toxicity, hormonal disruption and other health problems.
Bottom line, if you chose to consume GMOs, that’s your prerogative. Our family still ingests them occasionally since we like to go out to eat once a week or so. Having said that, we make lifestyle accommodations so that we can consume mostly organic, GMO-free food. There’s enough evidence for me to avoid these guys as much as possible.
Going GMO-free ain’t easy
This post is a response to the concerned mamas who watched this video about GMOs in surprising places. And the truth is, it takes a lot of sleuthing to figure out what is truly GMO-free.
You know that USDA Certified Organic symbol? Sorry, it’s not fail-proof.
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that’s responsible for organic certification allows up to 5% by weight of remaining ingredients to be part of their USDA’s National List which gives some wiggle room for GMO contamination. They can make exceptions due to pressure from powerful pro-GMO lobbyist groups and companies who want that organic certification without adhering to the strict guidelines.
Organic is big business, and money corrupts the process.
But I digress… let’s get down to brass tacks.
How to avoid GMOs
- Buy food labeled “100% organic” or labeled by the 3rd party non-GMO project. These are the ONLY labels that legally guarantee food is 100% GMO free.
- Buy meat that say the animals were fed 100% organic fed or grass-fed/finished. Or better yet, find a local farmer here and buy your products closer to the source. Be sure to ask them if they’re committed to producing non-GMO products.
- Buy 100% organic eggs that state “from 100% organic feed.” Safe grocery store brands include Organic Valley, Eggland’s Best, and Land O’ Lakes Organic eggs.
- Buy 100% organic dairy products (grass-fed is even better) or European products from Switzerland and Greece (100% GMO-free) and France (mostly GMO-free.) You can see a global GMO-free map here. Kalona Farms, Organic Valley, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods’ 365 Brand are safe brands.
- Shop at farmer’s markets and remember that most produce is safe from GMOs, even conventional varieties, with the exception of corn, radicchio, beets, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and yellow summer squash.
- Organic whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds are safe. One caveat… conventional RICE which has been contaminated with GMOs. Buy organic rice only… safe brands include Lotus and Lundberg.
- Keep eating out to a minimum.
- Avoid processed and packaged foods/beverages.
On a budget?
- Buy lots of fruits and veggies… even conventional produce is pretty safe from GMOs with the exception of corn, beets, zucchini, summer squash, radicchio and Hawaiian papaya.
- Buy organic grains, legumes, nuts and seeds from bulk sections or online.
- Invest in good quality, 100% organic butter, eggs and whole chickens. These are less expensive and go the distance. For example, use the chicken carcass for broth. Also, buy cheaper cuts of organic meat like chuck roasts, shanks, etc. and use bones for broth.
- Eat more gelatin. Either from organic-fed animals or from this source. Soup bones such as oxtail, shanks, necks, backs and feet are cheaper than muscle meat and are just as nutrient dense.
- Buy cases of coconuts from local Asian grocery stores. Use the juice, pulp, and fat for a variety of recipes including this one and this one. You can also buy a gallon of coconut oil at bulk prices.
- Grow your own food! Here’s a resource for safe seeds since many are contaminated with GMO strains (thank you Monsanto!)
- Most conventional processed foods.
- Any conventional product that contains sugar… nearly all sugar in the U.S. is derived from GMO sugar beets. This means “no” to anything with ingredients labeled: sugar, fructose, dextrose, glucose, caramel color, mannitol, maltodextrin, etc. Fortunately, you’re safe if ingredients are listed as 100% sugar cane, evaporated cane juice or organic sugar. That’s because the sugar cane plant is more complicated to genetically modify. But, Monsanto expects to have a Roundup Ready/Bt variety on the market by 2015 Beware of inexpensive or highly processed honey because the bees could have feasted on GMO vegetation.
- Any conventional product containing soy or derivatives. This includes their oils and by products like soy lecithin, protein, isolate, and isoflavone, as well as, tofu, tempeh, and soybean oil. This would include most vitamin E supplements which are derived from soybean oil.
- Any conventional product containing corn. This includes conventional corn muffins, fresh corn, high fructose corn syrup, modified food starch and corn starch products like infant formula and Cheerios, foods commonly given to babies and toddlers. Vitamin C supplements in the form of corn-based ascorbic acid can contain GMOs.
- Any conventional dairy, eggs, chicken, beef, pork, or other animal products. These animals’ diet contain GMO corn/soy. Also be sure your dairy is free of rBGH, a Monsanto genetically-engineered growth hormone that forces cows to artificially increase milk production by 10 to 15 percent. Even dairy products that are listed “rBGH-free” can contain GMOs because, again, the animals feed on GMO grain. Organic Valley, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Brand dairy are both rBGH and GMO free. Keep in mind that some vitamin B12 supplements use GMO microorganisms.
- Farmed-raised fish/seafood because they most likely are fed GMO meal. This would include salmon, trout, carp, cod, turbot, halibut, shrimp and tilapia. Be sure to purchase only “wild caught.”
- Canola/rapeseed oils. Canola is a modified “food” derived from the rapeseed. Ever heard of mustard gas? Yeah, it’s part of the same family. Over 80% of the Canola/rapeseed in the US has been genetically modified and it’s better suited as an industrial product than food.
- Aspartame… not only is it a neurotoxin, it’s created using a genetically modified bacteria strain.
- Alfalfa. Even organic alfalfa is at risk of cross-contamination by the GMO crop. Unfortunately, the USDA didn’t think this was a big deal.
- Conventional cotton, particularly from India and China. This includes processed foods that contain cottonseed oil.
Surprising “safe” foods:
While Monsanto flirted with GMO tomatos and potatoes, they weren’t popular due to their bad taste and susceptibility to spoilage. For now, these foods are relatively safe. Of course, organic is better to be sure.
Wheat is often lumped into the GMO category, but the truth is there hasn’t been a successful attempt to make GMO wheat. While many are allergic to our highly tampered wheat crop today, it’s due to the high levels of gluten and starch, not GMOs.
What about eating out?
Not easy to avoid GMOs when eating out, unless you go to a place committed to serving local, organic foods.
The oils are the biggest problem since most restaurants use cheap corn, soy, or canola oils. Keep in mind that while these GMO oils contain harmful GMO-derived toxins, they don’t contain the more harmful DNA and proteins found in the actual pure corn or soy products.
Try to find restaurants that make food from scratch. Italian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants are safest due to their reliance on olive oil.
Some safe bets at most restaurants:
- Vegetable plate (sans zucchini/summer squash)
- Fruit and cheese plate (if dairy is imported)
- Baked potatoes. Use olive oil to top with versus dairy products since they’ll most likely contain GMOs.
- Most salads if you bring your own dressing or if the restaurant uses real olive oil.
- Nuts and seed dishes like hummus, nut butters, peanut sauces, etc.
- Wild seafood/fish
- New Zealand or Australian lamb since they are usually grass-fed
- Pasta dish with fresh vegetables and olive oil/herbs
Want to check out your favorite brands?
GMO-Free Shopping Lists
Here are some GMO-free shopping lists for everything from groceries to baby and beauty products.
I like this list best.
So, there you have it… the GMO breakdown. I hope this post was helpful (and not overwhelming .) While avoiding all GMOs could lead you to the brink of insanity, we can empower ourselves with knowledge and then make the best decisions for ourselves and family. Let’s hope and pray that Prop 37 passes in California as this will ensure transparent and truthful GMO labeling!
How about YOU? Do you avoid GMOs like the plague? Or is it not top of mind?