As a nutrition student, I was taught very little about GMOs. When I began my career, I'd get questions more and more often about the nature and safety of GMOs. The inability to express a solid answer led me to do my own research on this topic--here's what I've found.
What they are.
GMOs are Genetically Modified Organisms. They are organisms (plant, animal, and bacteria), that contain extracted DNA from other organisms so that they grow faster, larger, and can withstand the effects of herbicides. GOOD news for the biotech industry--BAD news for the rest of us.
The top 10 GMO's in the US are:
Corn 96% of corn in the US is GMO! This includes corn and corn products like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), corn meal, and our beloved tortilla chips. Corn is a staple food for cattle, chickens, and other animals we typically consume--so when you eat non-organic meats, chances are you're eating GMOs.
Soy 94% of soy in the US is GMO! Soybean oil and soy lecithin are found in tons of packaged and processed foods. Tofu, tempeh, MSG (mono-sodium glutamate), and TVP (textured vegetable protein) are all soy.
Sugar (sugar beets) 100% of US sugar beets are GMO! Granulated sugar, powdered sugar, syrups, etc. are all made from sugar beets. Choose raw cane sugar instead.
Aspartame (aka Equal, NutraSweet) Aspartame in itself is bad for our health, let alone GMO aspartame- a double whammy. Diet products including sodas, light yogurts, and chewing gum all contain aspartame. If your palate craves something sweet, go for a locally sourced honey instead.
Papaya Most of the crop in the US is from Hawaii. Choose organic and/or papaya from other countries like Mexico or Brazil.
Canola Have you ever seen a Canola plant? No--that's because it doesn't exist. It's actually engineered from rapeseed. You're much better off using coconut and palms oils, butter, and cold pressed olive oil.
Cottonseed When you see "vegetable oil" in an ingredient list (like in lots of packaged foods) it most likely contains cottonseed. It's also used to make margarine, which I don't recommend consuming.
Dairy (milk, cheese)- by way of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). rBGH is genetically engineered to make cows produce more milk. When cows are given rBGH injections, they get sick. Sick animals receive antibiotics just like humans. So when we drink milk from cows treated with rBGH, we get an unwanted dose of antibiotics. No wonder why people are becoming resistant to antibiotics! As if rBGH isn't bad enough, cows treated with this hormone have high levels of Insulin Growth Factor- 1 (IGF-1) which has been linked to increased risk of various types of cancer. Yikes. Look for milk not treated with hormones & antibiotics or avoid it altogether.
Zucchini & Yellow Squash Green zucchini, Crookneck and Straightneck yellow squash are GMO. You can usually tell when a zucchini or yellow squash is GMO simply by the size. Organic, non-GMO varieties are much smaller.
Why they are a threat to our health.
GMOs are a far cry from nature and there is growing evidence to support that they are a threat to our health. The chemical giant, Monsanto, produces 90% of GMO seeds in the US. They are first and foremost the company that developed the well known herbicide, Round-Up. The active ingredient in Round-Up is glyphosate. Glyphosate is great at killing weeds, insects, and anything else that stands in its path--the only thing it won't kill are plants genetically engineered to be immune to it. This is where Monsanto's Round-Up ready seeds come in.
Let me give you an example: A farmer plants corn from Round-Up ready seeds. The corn stalks grow tall and fast. A little hungry bug comes along and consumes a kernel. Bam! It's insides explode and he's a goner. The corn stalk lives- the bug dies. So if GMO seeds can destroy the intestines of bugs, think what it can do to humans? Not only do the seeds act as a herbicide and pesticide, they are also sterile. Monsanto has made it so GMO farmers have to purchase a new seed crop every year because the GMO seeds are incapable of reproducing. That's scary. As if all of this wasn't bad enough, GMO crops lack the nutrient composition of their organically farmed counterparts. Round-up herbicide damages the soil's ability to pr0vide essential nutrients to the plant. So basically much of what we eat could be destroying our gut integrity while devoiding us of important nutrients!
A HUGE problem is that no long term human studies to date have been done on the effect of GMOs on our health. Of the few studies that have been done on animals, scientists uncovered that the GMO fed animals had a higher incidence of gut dysfunction, reproductive problems, and insulin dysregulation. As a dietitian, I firmly believe that the increase in chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes have a lot to do with our food supply. The foods we eat are literally changing our hormones and our genes.
How you can help to avoid them.
Unfortunately, US companies are not required to denote GMO on their labels. Currently, there are 64 countries around the world who require GMO labeling. The US is NOT one of them! Until the US requires food manufacturers to label GMO foods, you'll need to take a closer look at what you're buying.
1. Buy certified organic & products that contain the Non-GMO Project Verified seal.
2. Shop at farmers markets where you can tell where the food is coming from.
3. When you're in the produce section, look at the tiny oval sticker placed on the item. If there is a "9" before the number, you know it's organic. Organic foods cannot be genetically modified. Of course there is a risk of cross contamination but you're still better off. If there is a "4" in front of the number, it's conventionally grown and may be genetically modified.
4. If able, grow your own food!
For more info about GMO's, watch this eye opening documentary.