How to Avoid Genetically Modified Foods

Depending on who you talk to, genetically engineered foods, also know as genetically modified foods (GMOs) are either Frankenfoods or the solution to world hunger; untested and unsafe or substantially equivalent to non-GMO crops. The truth lies buried under all the dogma but here are some sobering facts.

  1. We eat on average 193 pounds of genetically modified foods in a year, at minimum. Yes you read that right—193 pounds!
  2. There are no long-term safety studies in humans and none are in the works.
  3. Genetically modified crops use more pesticides. Their use has increased by 404 million pounds from 1996 to 2011. And stronger herbicides are needed to counter resistance, including 2,4-D, which is one of the chemicals found in Agent Orange! This is bad for the environment and can’t be good for us.
  4. Chemical companies that create GMO seeds, patent them so farmers have to buy new seeds each year. I just don’t think it is right to patent seeds, GMO or otherwise.
  5. Some of these companies, such as Monsanto, participate in unethical business practices including suing farmers for patent infringement when their non-GMO crops become contaminated with GMOs. See here for more infoDo we really want chemical companies to control our food supply?

It is for these reasons that I avoid genetically modified foods. I hope you consider removing them from your diet as well.

The current crops that are GMO are soy, corn, canola, sugar beets, cotton, zucchini, yellow crook neck squash, and alfalfa (which is fed to cattle and not us). Here are some tips to help you cut out the bulk of GMOs from your diet.

  • Buy USDA Organic, which is grown from seeds that are not genetically modified. 
  • Look for the Non GMO Project Verified label. Foods with this label are free of GMOs.
  • Buy brands that do not contain GMOs. All Trader Joe’s labeled foods, Whole Foods 365 Daily Value, and Follow Your Heart labeled foods are sourced to be free of GMOs.
  • Since most corn and soy are GMO, choose organic when you eat these foods. This includes sweet corn, corn tortillas, corn oil, corn chips, tofu, edamame, soy milk, and baby formula. You can also buy these foods if they have the Trader Joe’s or 365 Daily Value labels.
  • Oil is a major source of GMOs. Choose extra virgin olive oil or organic canola oil (cold pressed), or Trader Joe’s brand canola oil instead of corn, soy, cottonseed, or other oils.
  • Sugar and high fructose corn syrup are another source of GMOs. Cane sugar is not genetically engineered so when you do have sugar, choose cane. However, sugar is not good for us anyway, so it would be best to cut it out as much as you can.
  • Yellow crook neck squash, zucchini, and Hawaiian papaya are all genetically modified. Buy these foods organic. All Trader Joe’s produce is sourced to be free of GMOs so you can also buy these veggies there. You will notice that Trader Joe’s sells Caribbean papaya and not Hawaiian, which is one of the ways they avoid GMOs.
  • If you love processed foods, such as canned and packaged products, either buy organic or purchase Trader Joe’s labeled foods, 365 Daily Value, or Follow Your Heart brands.
  • There are a lot of invisible GMO ingredients in processed food. To learn more about them, see here.
  • Do you eat out a lot?
    • Ask your favorite restaurants if their menu items contain GMO ingredients. This will help increase their awareness and perhaps move them in the direction of removing GMOs from their menu.
    • If they don’t know, ask if they use organic foods. If they don’t use organic products, avoid tofu, corn, corn tortillas, corn chips, edamame and other foods from corn and soy. Also avoid sugar and desserts.
    • Ask what kind of oil they use. If it is soy, canola, or cottonseed, they are most likely GMO.
    • Avoid fried foods or ask them to use olive oil when grilling or frying.
    • Safe options are salad but ask for the cruets with olive oil (not an olive oil blend) and vinegar instead of other salad dressings.
    • Also ask what the chef prepares fresh and then request it to be made with olive oil or no oil.
    • The great news is that some restaurants have made the effort to avoid GMOs in the Los Angeles area such as Real Food Daily and Hugo’s. Some are in the process of removing them, such as Follow Your Heart Restaurant. The more you ask, the more likely restaurants in your area will remove them as well.
  • What else can you do? Request that restaurants and fast food establishments you go to use non-GMO ingredients. Sharkey’s says their corn chips are made with non-GMO corn and that is a good thing. But they are fried in genetically modified canola oil. Tell Sharkey’s, restaurants, fast food chains, and grocery stores, you want products without GMOs. They will respond to customer demand, as they have done in the past. Remember what happened when we found out there was “pink slime” in our hamburgers?

For more information, check out the non-GMO shopping guide here.

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

10 thoughts on “How to Avoid Genetically Modified Foods

  1. Great stuff friend! I’ll shoot you a direct email later. On Nov 9, 2012 11:34 PM, “Healthy Eating Rocks!” wrote:

    > ** > Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD posted: “Depending on who you talk to, > genetically engineered foods, also know as genetically modified foods > (GMOs) are either Frankenfoods or the solution to world hunger; untested > and unsafe or substantially equivalent to non-GMO crops. The truth lies > buried und”

    • Great question. It depends on the product. Trader Joe’s soy milk, for example, is not totally organic but the soy beans are. So that product would have less pesticides. Not so for other products. Optimally, I recommend organic foods. My next post will be about the benefits organics have to offer, which are many.

  2. Your information on how to avoid GMOs is very insightful and helpful! I now know what foods to avoid, and where to shop. I feel empowered to make well informed choices about the food I eat. And that I can request that food markets, venders and restaurants get on board by offering non GMO menus or alternative options to their customers. Eating healthy is important to me and for the people I love, this article will educate, inform people how to be more food savvy. America cares more about coporations profits than it’s own people’s health and well-being. It’s disappointing Prop 37 did not pass!!! However, we the consumer shall continue to persever and demand foods be labed or banned containing GMOs! It’s our fundelmental right to know what’s in our food and to protect the safety of our children and citizens….Thank You, Sandra McMullen

  3. I recently discovered that “USDA organic” certification does NOT require products to be GMO-free, unfortunately. USDA is corrupt, so their organic standards mean very little (ie: lots of loopholes).

    • My understanding is that organic food must follow the National Organic Program (NOP) based on the Organic Foods Production Act Regulation, which classifies genetic modification as an “excuded method” i.e. they cannot use it. However, USDA Organic does not necessarily mean “GMO Free” due to drift of the genetic material from other close by farms that may grow GMOs. I am guessing the amount would be pretty small but to be safe you can choose the Non-GMO Project verified products when eating anything made with corn or soy.

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