Is Organic Food Better for You?

By Carole Bartolottto, MA, RD

A recent Stanford University Study found that organic foods are not more nutritious than those that are conventionally grown. This finding was the result of a review of about 200 studies looking at the health, nutritional, and safety characteristics of organic vs. conventionally grown meat and produce. The results were a surprise to many and created such a firestorm of media attention and headlines that I decided to take a closer look at the Stanford review and what benefits, if any, organic foods have to offer.

The Stanford Review

There were some major flaws in the review, including the following:

  • They did not consistently compare the same varieties of fruits and vegetables grown in similar locations.
  • They narrowly defined nutritious as having more nutrients and did not include the amount of bacteria or number of pesticides in their definition of nutritious.
  • They excluded evaluating a host of nutrients that are typically higher in organic produce.
  • The way they analyzed the data was more effective for a single medication and not the diverse array of nutrients found in food.

Additionally, the review was published at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford which receives major funding from Cargill. Cargill is a large multinational corporation that buys and distributes grain and other agricultural products; processes, refines, and distributes oil and glucose syrup; and slaughters cows for beef, to name a few of its businesses. Cargill also contributed nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the “No on Prop 37” campaign to label genetically engineered foods. Clearly, they are not supporters of organic foods! I recommend taking the results of the Stanford review with a very large grain of salt.

So what are the benefits of organic foods?

  1. They have fewer pesticides! Even low levels of pesticides can cause developmental problems in children, such as a lower IQ. Pesticides also harm farm workers and wildlife around farms. I can’t help but wonder what low levels over a long period of time are doing to us.
  2. Organic fruits and vegetables are generally 5 to 15 percent higher in nutrients, but they can be 30 to 100 percent higher in some cases. And they are much higher in the health-enhancing phytochemicals that plants create to fight off pests.
  3. Organic produce can have a longer shelf life since they have more antibacterial phenolic acids under their skin, which helps prevent mold, bacterial growth, and thus spoilage.
  4. Organic foods have more microbial diversity with plenty of healthy bacteria. So if unhealthy bacteria are introduced, they are not as likely to multiply and cause health problems for us.
  5. Organic meats and poultry do not contain antibiotics or added hormones. Conventionally grown meats and poultry usually do. And conventionally grown are also more likely to contain bacteria that are resistant to 3 or more types of antibiotics!
  6. Organic foods are free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
  7. Organic foods are better for the environment. They reduce the number of pesticides and other toxins found in the air, water, and soil.

As you can see, organics have a lot to offer. Since they are more expensive than conventionally grown produce and meats, you can save money by:

  • shopping at farmers markets or specialty store such as Trader Joe’s
  • growing your own veggies and planting a fruit tree if you have a yard
  • choosing organic versions of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. See the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list here.

So are you ready to switch to organic foods? I am.

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

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.

The Truth About Proposition 37—Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods

I knew the battle over prop 37 would be heated, tough, and ugly. But I was not expecting biotech companies and food manufacturers to stoop as low as they have and spend a million dollars a day doing so. We’ve all heard the saying, “money talks.” In the case against prop 37, money not only talks, it also lies. Here is the truth about the false claims and inaccuracies surrounding prop 37.

Claim: It will increase the cost of food by “$400 dollars per year for a typical family.”

The truth is we will probably see no change in the cost of food just as they saw no increase in the cost of food in the European Union (EU) when they labeled genetically engineered foods. David Byrne, the former commissioner for health and consumer protection for the EU, said that labeling genetically engineered foods in Europe “did not result in increased costs, despite the horrifying (double-digit) prediction of some interests.” Additionally, when food manufacturers in the U.S. were forced to label trans fats in 2008, we saw no increase in food costs. Thus, there is no reason why we would have an increase in food costs from labeling genetically engineered foods under this proposition. For more information, see here.

Claim: It is “full of special interest loopholes and exemptions.”

Prop. 37 is simple, it labels genetically engineered foods that are sold in the grocery stores. California law only allows one issue to be addressed by ballot propositions so the food in grocery stores was chosen since it is what people eat the most. Prop 37 only covers foods that are genetically engineered and not animals that eat genetically engineered foods. This explains why dog food would have a label, since it is made with genetically engineered corn, but beef would not since it is not genetically engineered. It is the same issue with soy milk, which would be labeled because soy is genetically engineered, but milk is not. For more information, see here.

Additionally, Dr. Henry I. Miller, who is featured in the commercial about exemptions, does not work at Stanford University. Rather, he is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, which sits on the Stanford campus, but is not a part of the university. Dr. Miller is a long-time front man for big tobacco and big oil, has called for the reintroduction of DDT, and even stated that the people around the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster “may have benefited from it.” The bottom line is he has zero credibility.

Claim: Prop 37 authorizes “shakedown lawsuits.”

Actually, it was written to provide no economic incentives for lawyers to sue. Prop 37 does not give any penalties from labeling violations to consumers or lawyers, unlike prop 65, which gives 25 percent of civil damages to the plaintiff. The person legally responsible for putting the label on a food item is the manufacturer, not the farmer and not the grocery store owner. For more information, see here.

Claim: Prop 37 “conflicts with science.”

In fact, there are a lot of unknowns about the safety of genetically engineered foods. There are some animal studies with negative findings. Both the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association state that GMOs should undergo mandatory safety testing. Even the 2012 American Cancer Societies Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity says, “…long-term health effects are unknown.” Until we know more, shouldn’t they be labeled? For more information, see here.

Remember who is behind the “no on 37” campaign. It is basically the companies that create genetically modified seeds, pesticides, and processed foods. This includes Monsanto, Pepsi, Dow, Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s to name a few. Monsanto, one of the largest creators of genetically engineered seeds, also told us that DDT and Agent Orange were safe. Can we really trust what these companies say about prop 37? If you follow the money, you will see that that the biggest contributor to the “no on 37” campaign is Monsanto. Remember that when you see the negative ads on TV, such as this one, with “major funding from Monsanto.”

In addition, most of the newspapers that say “no on 37” are owned by the same company called MediaNews. Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund firm, has a large stake in the company. Alden’s parent company is Smith Management LLC, a privately owned investment manager. It sounds like their interest is Monsanto and other traded companies and not our right to know what’s in our food! See here for more information.

Over 50 countries around the world label genetically engineered foods. Some have banned them. The only reason they aren’t labeled in the U.S. is that companies that make genetically modified seeds, chemicals, and junk food don’t want you to know what you are eating. Prop 37 would put an end to that, but we need your help. Please vote YES on prop 37! We can win against these big corporations. While we don’t have a lot of money, we do have the power of the people. That means you! Please do what you can to get the correct information out and share this article with everyone you know in California. Thank you!

For more information, go to http://www.CaRightToKnow.org

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

What You Need to Know About GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

An important proposition will be on the November 2012 ballot in California which requires the labeling of genetically modified foods. This proposition, if it passes, could change the face of American agriculture. Biotech companies and food manufacturers will be spending between 50 and 100 million dollars and saying just about anything to prevent this from passing. Read on for the most commonly asked questions about GMOs.

Are genetically modified organisms in the foods you eat?

What do canned chicken soup, fast food French fries, sodas, potato chips, corn flakes, canola oil, salad dressing, corn chips, apple pie, and tofu all have in common? They all most likely contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms) also know as genetically modified or engineered foods.

What are GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals created through the process of genetic engineering. GMOs have a piece of DNA from a totally different species, such as viruses or bacteria, forced into their DNA. Genetically engineered soybeans, for example, have DNA from bacteria and viruses sliced into their DNA to help them withstand the onslaught of weed killers such as Roundup. Genetically engineered corn has DNA added so that it has a pesticide built right into it. This process creates a whole new species of plant that would have never occurred in nature.

Hybrid foods are completely different. Hybrids are created when cross pollination occurs between plants. This process can be facilitated by man or it can occur spontaneously in nature.

Even though GMOs have been in our food supply since 1996, most people in the U.S. know little about them. Actually, the 2006 Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology poll found that only 26% of American consumers believe that they have ever eaten a food that was genetically engineered. The truth is most people, including babies and children, eat them every single day.

Which foods are genetically modified?

As of 2012, nearly all soy beans, corn, canola, cotton, and sugar beets are GMO. From these crops, products such as corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and many more are created and added to processed foods. This is why nearly 80% of processed and most fast foods contain GMOs.

Other crops that are genetically engineered include Hawaiian papaya, a small amount of zucchini and yellow squash, and alfalfa. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also considering approving a GMO salmon, which would grow much larger and faster than regular salmon.

Are genetically modified foods safe?

Despite what the food manufacturers and biotech companies might say, there is little research on the long-term effects of GMOs on human health and the environment. The FDA has allowed GMOs into our food supply with only the research and assurances of safety from the biotech companies that create them. Interestingly, the person at the FDA responsible for this decision was Michael Taylor, former attorney for Monsanto (the largest producer of GMO seeds).

Independent research has found that several varieties of GMO corn caused organ damage in rats. Other studies have found that animals were losing their ability to reproduce. There are also concerns that GMOs can increase allergies or cause immune system problems.

Environmental issues are also a cause for concern. GMOs allow farmers to use more weed killers, exposing both us and the environment to more toxins. Super weeds and super bugs that are resistant to the weed killers and the pesticides built into GMOs are now showing up. The monarch butterflies are on the decline due to GMO farming which kills the milkweed where they lay their eggs. In addition, GMO crops can cross pollinate with non-GMO crops, irreversibly changing the face of plant life with unknown consequences.

Are genetically modified foods labeled?

The U.S. is one of the only developed nations that does not require labeling of GMOs. Fifty countries including all of Europe and even China require labeling of genetically modified foods. Many European countries have banned GMOs.

Will labeling genetically modified foods increase the cost of food?

The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act will not increase the cost of food for you or food producers. It simply adds a label to genetically engineered food. Companies change their labels all the time. Remember, when companies where required by law to add trans fats to labels, the cost of food did not go up.

What can I do to eat fewer GMOs?

  • Vote “yes” on Proposition 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, which will require that genetically engineered foods are labeled. It will be on the November 2012 ballot. Once GMOs are labeled, we can make an informed choice. We have a right to know what’s in the food we are eating and feeding to our families. Visit carighttoknow.org for more information about the proposition and the truths vs. myths about it.
  • Buy Organic. All USDA certified organic foods are free of GMOs.
  • Avoid nonorganic products that contain GMO foods including soy, corn, canola, cottonseed, and sugar beets. Read labels. If the food contains high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, or sugar, it probably contains GMOs.
  • Look for the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label. Some companies have voluntarily labeled their foods.
  • Shop at Trader Joe’s. All of their produce and all Trader Joe’s brand foods are sourced to be free of GMOs. So look for “Trader Joe’s” on the label.
  • Try Whole Food Market. Their 365 Everyday Value labeled foods are sourced to be free of GMOs.
  • Try Follow Your Heart labeled foods. They are also sourced to be free of GMOs.
  • Use the free iPhone app Shop No GMO.
  • Go to nongmoshoppingguide.com and download their shopping guide.
  • Visit nongmoproject.org for help choosing products without GMOs including supplements and vitamins.

Videos:

  • The Future of Food is an important documentary about unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered foods. You can watch it here for free.
  • Here is a clip from the above documentary about the process of genetic engineering.
  • Even Dr. Oz supports the labeling of GMOs. See here.
  • Bill Maher supports GMO labeling too. See here.

Resources and References:

  • Why Genetically Modified Foods Should be Labeled, LA Progressive.com.
  • Go to earthopensource.org Then click on “GMO Myths and Truths” in the Featured Report section.
  • New analysis of a rat feeding study with a genetically modified maize reveals signs of hepatorenal toxicity. Séralini, G.-E. et al. Arch. Environ Contam Toxicol., 52: 596-602, 2007.
  • A three generation study with genetically modified Bt corn in rats: Biochemical and histopathological investigation. Kilic A and Akay MT. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 46: 1164-1170, 2008.
  • Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice. Velimirov A et al. Bundesministerium für Gesundheit, Familie und Jugend Report, Forschungsberichte der Sektion IV Band 3/2008.

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