What to know about GMOs

Genetically modified foods. Sounds a little bit creepy, right? Like something out of a sci-fi movie or the secret laboratory of a mad scientist. In reality, genetically modified food is everywhere, and our food has been being genetically modified for years. Up until recently, many people had no idea that the food we eat didn’t just come from a farm, but from the imaginations and labs of scientists aiming to “improve” farming practices and consumer experiences.

Plant crops are considered genetically modified, or GMO, if the DNA of the plant has been altered. Crops are made to be resistant to bacteria, insects and viruses because they have been spliced with DNA from certain other bacteria and viruses. In the United States, 11 different types of GMO crops are approved, including corn, soybeans, alfalfa, zucchini and  yellow squash, canola, sugar beets, and papaya. When you look at this list, you can see that many of these crops are used in processed foods that contain high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, and sugar.

Genetically modified foods are not good for us, and they aren’t good for the environment. GM foods have been shown in studies to have negative impacts on health in a variety of aspects. Growing GM crops also increases herbicide and pesticide use, has created herbicide resistant weeds that can overtake fields, and causes hardships for farmers. For all of these reasons, I’d say that it’s a good idea to avoid genetically modified food at all costs!

The difference between organic food and non-GMO food is important to note. If a food item is labeled just “Non-GMO” you should know that that is not a regulated food labeling practice. Nobody did any investigation to ensure that that product is free from GMO’s. Alternatively, you will see food labeled “Non-GMO Project Verified”. In this case the food has been inspected and verified by a third party and you can be confident that it doesn’t contain GMO’s.

Non-GMO food is not necessarily organic. On the contrary, non-GMO crops are often grown with the use of pesticides and herbicides.  Certified Organic food, on the other hand, must also be non-GMO to receive that label. If you need to choose between Organic and non-GMO labeling, choosing Organic would be your safest bet. The easiest way to avoid GMO’s is to eat only whole foods that are certified organic. Most processed foods are likely to have corn, soy, canola or sugar beet products in them, and as mentioned earlier, those food crops are likely to be genetically modified. When shopping at the grocery store, buy whole foods – the type of food that doesn’t have a label to read because it only has one ingredient. Learn to make from scratch some of the convenience foods that you typically purchase. Swap a jar of salsa for some fresh tomatoes and peppers, or make your own almond milk rather than buying a carton. The more you can avoid processed foods, the better.