Are Diet Drinks a Healthy Choice?

Almost every time I go out and speak on diet and health someone asks about diet drinks and artificial sweeteners. Considering that we are hard wired to go for sugar, it’s easy to understand why we would want something with a sugary taste and no calories. But are artificial sweeteners safe? And can they help us lose weight and keep it off?

The upside of artificial sweeteners—including aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), saccharin (Sweet’N Low, Necta Sweet), and sucralose (Splenda)—is they have no calories, and that is a good thing. However, the downside is there are a lot of unknowns about the long-term safety and effectiveness of consuming them.

Saccharin was linked with bladder cancer in animals, but now the Food and Drug Administration says they are safe. Some animal studies also link aspartame to a slight increased risk of cancer. Splenda has a cleaner bill of health so far. However, it’s made by adding chlorine molecules to sugar. Somehow I just can’t imagine ingesting sugar with chlorine!

It would make sense that if you cut out sugary drinks and replace them with a zero calorie artificially sweetened beverage you would lose weight. However, the research on the effectiveness of diet drinks for weight management is mixed. Strangely, some studies have found an increase in weight with the use of artificial sweeteners. Researchers think this may occur because drinking something that is super sweet with no calories may increase your desire for sweet foods and cause you to eat more sweets and calories later.

Artificial sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. Splenda, for example, is 600 times sweeter than sugar. I have read that the continual use of these sweeteners actually changes your palate and prevents you from tasting the subtle flavors of other foods.

In terms of health risks, the Framingham Heart Study found a higher risk of metabolic syndrome in people that drank both regular and diet sodas. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood fats, high blood sugar, and belly fat that increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes.  Yet another study found a 30-percent decline in kidney function from drinking just two diet sodas a day!

With so many uncertainties, I have never felt comfortable using artificial sweeteners myself, not to mention I don’t like the taste. Although artificially sweetened drinks seem like a better option than sugary drinks in the short term, I don’t recommend them till we know more about their effectiveness and safety. And there are so many tasty and healthy options out there to try now instead. My current favorite is Hint Fizz. Why not try it instead of a diet soda or other artificially sweetened drink? Your taste buds will adapt and soon the super-sweet taste of artificial sweeteners will taste sickeningly sweet and the subtle taste of other drinks will taste just right.

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

What is a Wheat Belly?

Everyone is talking about the new book, Wheat Belly, written by Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He says that wheat grown today is not like the wheat your grandmother ate since it is genetically modified to produce a higher yield and is higher in protein and gliadin. He claims that gliadin binds to opiate receptors in our brain, stimulates appetite, and causes us to eat 440 more calories per day.

Gliadin is a protein found in wheat and the component in gluten responsible for celiac disease and wheat sensitivity. Wheat has been changed over time using classical plant breeding (it is not genetically modified using bacteria or viruses) and is now higher in protein than it was years ago. This may explain the increase in celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

This research also says gliadin can act like an opiate, but does that translate into eating 440 more calories each day? I have seen way too much evidence for other things such as sugary drinks, foods high in sugar, fat, and salt (which makes us eat more), and the super sizing of portions, to think that our over-consumption of calories is due primarily to wheat.

Having said that, a lot of people seem to be sensitive to wheat nowadays. It makes sense to try cutting it out for 4 weeks for anyone with gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, or other health issues, to see it they feel better.

If you decide to try cutting out wheat, chose another grain that is not linked with problems or sensitivities. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a great option for a number of reasons. It is actually a seed, not a grain. It contains all the essential amino acids, making it a great choice for vegetarians and vegans. It has a low glycemic index which means it does not make blood sugar go up too high. And it is versatile in that you can use it instead of rice with a meal or as a breakfast cereal with some walnuts, cinnamon, and milk or milk alternative. It’s a tasty option and cooks in only 10 minutes. Why not give it a try?

For more information on a wheat-free diet, see here.

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

The Truth About Cholesterol Lowering Drugs: Is Diet a Better Option?

Cholesterol lowering drugs—also known as statins—are one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the world. Almost one quarter of Americans 45 years and older are on a statin drug. You probably know many people who are on a statin or perhaps you are taking one yourself.

It makes a lot of sense to lower your cholesterol since heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States. However there are a lot of concerns about whether taking statin drugs is worth the risk.

Studies have found that statins do not decrease mortality rates in healthy people who do not have heart disease. A recent analysis of 11 studies, which included 65,229 healthy but high-risk men and women, found that taking statins did not decrease the risk of dying. A 2011 Cochrane review found similar results.

In addition, when a healthy person takes a statin, the risk of a heart attack or stroke drops from 3 or 4 percent to 2 percent—not very impressive!

The downside to taking statins is they can cause muscle pain, kidney and liver damage, and fatigue. They have also been linked with memory loss and 1 out of 200 people on statins will develop diabetes. In women, the diabetes risk may even be higher. The Women’s Health Initiative found a 48 percent adjusted increased risk of diabetes for women who were taking statins.

Recent animal research has found that rats given these drugs could not run as far as non-medicated rats. The levels of oxidative stress (a marker for possible cell damage) increased by 226% in exercising rats. And the rats had less stored carbohydrate in their muscle (glycogen). Also, the mitochondria—the mechanism in the cell that produces energy—were not working as well or correctly. This probably explains the fatigue that can come with taking statins. Ironically, these drugs make it harder to exercise for the very people who need it the most!

Let’s take a look at the research around diet. There are many published studies but I am only going to mention two. The “Lifestyle Heart Trial” found that a low-fat vegetarian diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes, lowered cholesterol as much as statin drugs. And the study proved that diet and lifestyle changes could actually reverse heart disease.

The second study compared two diets. One diet was vegetarian, low in fat, and included fiber from bread. This group also took a statin. The other group ate a low-fat vegetarian diet which included a “dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods” such as beans, lentils, oats, psyllium, almonds, and other veggies and fruit high in water-soluble fiber. The group that ate the “portfolio of foods” lowered their cholesterol as much the group taking statin drugs.

When you consider the potential side effects, and that you can get the same decrease in cholesterol by changing your diet and lifestyle, I can’t help but wonder why anyone without a history of heart disease would take these drugs. You would get more benefit from eating a healthy diet and exercising. Not only will these lifestyle changes lower your cholesterol, they will also help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, decrease inflammation, make the plaque in your arteries more stable, slow or halt the progression of atherosclerosis (blocked arteries), lower your risk of cancer and improve your mood. Need I say more?

If you are on a statin, and you have never had a heart attack, stent, or bypass surgery, I would seriously consider changing your diet instead of taking this drug. If your doctor recommends that you take a statin, talk with him or her about holding off so you can try making significant changes to your diet for a month or two and then retest your cholesterol.

Physicians Rita Redberg, MD and Mitchell Katz, MD sum it up nicely by saying: “Advising healthy patients to take a drug that does not offer the possibility to feel better or live longer and has significant adverse effects with potential decrement in quality of life is not in their interest.”

Disclaimer: Talk with your health care provider for advice regarding your particular situation.

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

Food Labeling Lies: Are Snapea Crisps Healthy?

By Carole Bartolotto, MA,RD

I think we all know that food manufacturers care more about their bottom line—money—than they do about our health. They will say just about anything to sell their products including manipulating serving sizes and making outrageous claims. Let’s take a look at one example.

If you’ve ever had Snapea Crisps, you’d know they are tasty and they seem to be healthy—at least based on the claims on the packaging. But can these claims be trusted?

The package says it’s a “snack salad” and is “baked.”

On the back it says, “Your Salad Never Got Such a Lift!” and that the company, Calbee, has a “….Mission of delivering the farm fresh goodness of vegetables to your table.”

I checked out their website and it says that, “SnackSalad was developed for the many customers who wish to get the healthy benefits of eating salad and fruit more often, but to do so in a more delicious way.”

All of these claims lead you to believe that you are eating something that is healthy and equivalent to a salad. In fact, this product is often found in the produce section of the market.

I think many people believe that Snapea Crisps are puffed peas. But actually they are ground-up green peas, genetically modified corn oil, white rice, salt, and preservatives, formed into a pea shape, and baked! A review of the Nutrition Facts reveals that 1 ounce of these crisps has 150 calories and 8 grams of fat. The more information I gathered about Snapea Crisps, the less they sounded like a salad. And the more they sounded like a bag of potato chips.

Both Snapea Crisps and Lay’s potato chips have 150 calories, similar grams of fat per ounce, and are highly processed. The difference between Lay’s potato chips and Snapea Crisps is that you know you are eating junk food when you grab a bag of chips. However, many people think they are making a healthy choice if they choose Snapea Crisps.

Is there a better option? Why not try sugar sugar snap peassnap peas? With just 41 calories for an entire cup, you can get a tasty, crunchy, low-calorie snack without any processed carbs, white rice, or calorie dense fat.

The moral of this story is to pay attention to the labels and claims on processed foods. More importantly, stick with whole foods as often as you can. I love Michael Pollan’s quote from his book Food Rules, which certainly applies in this situation.

“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.

See my update on Snapea Crisps here.

For more info, follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cabartolotto

xx

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

Five Diet and Lifestyle Changes That Can Lower Your Cancer Risk

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

It seems like more and more people that I know are being diagnosed with cancer. Seven years ago, my mom died of ovarian cancer. Two years later my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. Cancer does not run in either side of the family, which caused me to wonder what increased their risk. I also wanted to know what I could do lower my risk.

The good news is that there is a lot we can all do to decrease our chances of getting cancer. What you eat, how active you are, and how much you weigh are things you can influence and improve on every single day of your life.

These 5 changes will help to decrease your risk of getting cancer. There is emerging research that they can also decrease your risk of a recurrence if you are a cancer survivor.

1. Maintain a healthy weight. This is one of the most important things you can do. Aim for a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 21 and 23. (This link will help you calculate your BMI.) That is easier said than done considering that over ⅔ of the population in the U.S. is either overweight or obese—but it is possible!

Cutting out calorie-dense foods such as sugary drinks, sweets, fast foods, and foods high in fat is a good place to start. For example, the Panda Express Two Entrée meal with double orange chicken and chow mein has 1,330 calories! For some people, that is how many calories they should have in the entire day. If you replace it with a large salad with lots of veggies with 1 tablespoon of salad dressing, a bowl of lentil soup, and a cup of strawberries, you would save over 900 calories.

2. Be physically active. Aim for 30 minutes, 5 days a week of some form of exercise you enjoy such as walking, running, hiking, swimming, or biking.

3. Eat mostly plant foods. Eat at least 3 pieces of fruit a day. Think of it as dessert after every meal. Eat as many veggies as you can. Aim for at least a few cups a day. In particular, go for the nonstarchy vegetables. Examples include kale, spinach, chard, romaine lettuce, baby greens, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumber, radishes, jicama, artichokes, onions, beets, celery, cauliflower, asparagus, hearts of palm, peppers (green, red, or yellow), sprouts, or sugar snap peas.

Also add beans, peas, and lentils to your diet. Choose whole grains instead of processed grains, such as oatmeal instead of corn flakes. Be adventurous and try things like quinoa or whole-wheat bulgur.

4. Avoid or limit red meat and totally avoid processed meats. Red meat includes beef, pork, and lamb. I know that the ads say pork is the “other white meat”, but remember that food manufacturers like to twist the truth to make a sale.

5. It is best to avoid alcohol. If you do drink, only have 1 drink per day for women or 2 drinks per day for men. But if you have a history of breast cancer, having 3 to 4 drinks per week is associated with a 30-percent increased risk of breast cancer recurrence, so avoiding it may be your best option.

More Good News

If you do the hard work to make these changes, you will also have a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Good luck and remember, if I can do it, you can too!

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

The Truth About Agave Nectar

A few weeks ago I popped into my local Whole Foods Market because I wanted to buy an organic barbecue sauce. As I was looking at the different brands, it was interesting to see that agave nectar was in a few of them. I was chatting with one of the girls who worked there and she commented, “Well, agave is better than sugar.”

But is it really?

Somehow agave nectar has become the darling and healthy option for sugar lovers everywhere. It is in everything from breakfast cereals to soy ice cream. But it turns out that agave nectar may not be healthy after all because it’s really high in fructose.

Sugar is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is about 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose (although the amount of fructose in sugary drinks can be as high as 65 percent). Yet agave nectar can contain as much as 92 percent fructose!

So what’s wrong with fructose? Since fructose is metabolized in the liver, eating too much can cause fatty liver and high triglycerides. Fatty liver can negatively affect liver function. High triglycerides can increase your risk of heart disease. Fructose can also make insulin, the hormone that lowers blood sugar, less effective. Therefore, if you are choosing agave instead of other sweeteners for health reasons, you are missing the boat.

There are a few good points about agave nectar. One is that it’s sweeter than sugar. So you could use less and consume fewer calories with the same level of sweetness as sugar. Interestingly, I have seen many companies switch to agave, but I don’t see fewer grams of sugar on the label. Also, because it is high in fructose agave has a low glycemic index, which means it does not cause a big spike in your blood sugar.

Another good point about agave is that it is not genetically modified (see past post “What You Need to Know About GMOs”), at least not yet. High fructose corn syrup, because it comes from corn, is genetically modified. Sugar beets are now also genetically modified so most of the sugar you are eating is genetically modified as well.

The bottom line is agave nectar is not better for you than any other sweetener. And just like sugar, it will add calories, increase your desire for sweet foods, and help you gain weight. It doesn’t mean you should never eat it, but don’t kid yourself that it is somehow better than other sweeteners. All forms of sugar, including agave nectar, should be eaten in moderation.

Probably the best option is to have fruit for dessert or to add fruit to other foods for sweetness. For example, in place of adding agave nectar to your oatmeal, try adding blueberries or strawberries instead. Once your palate adapts to the less sweet taste of foods minus all the sugar, fruit will taste a lot sweeter.

Here is a frozen dessert recipe that hits that sweet spot without added sweeteners:

  • Peel and slice one really ripe banana and put it in the freezer.
  • Add the frozen banana to a blender or food processor with a little liquid such as rice or soy milk or even water
  • Add a teaspoon of vanilla (optional).
  • Blend till smooth and enjoy!

Do you have any ideas for incorporating more fruit into your diet in place of sugar and other sweeteners?

For more information on fructose, check out Dr. Lustig’s talk on YouTube called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” here.

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

Calcium Supplements: Do They Increase Your Risk of a Heart Attack?

Who would have ever thought that something as seemingly harmless as a calcium supplement could actually cause harm? Unfortunately for us, that is exactly what new research has revealed.

An analysis published in the British Medical Journal in 2010 found a modest increase in the risk of a heart attack with calcium supplements.* This prompted the authors to conclude that “a reassessment of the role of calcium supplements in the management of osteoporosis is warranted.”

Now new research has also discovered a link between calcium supplements and heart disease.** This study followed approximately 24,000 people between the ages of 35 and 64 for 11 years. The researchers found that people who got their calcium almost exclusively from supplements were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack. No one knows for sure why this happened. They thought the increase might be due to a spike in calcium levels in the blood. In contrast, the lower amount of calcium found in food would not cause such a spike.

Calcium is essential for our body, and it is linked with bone health, lower blood pressure levels, and possibly even a lower risk of colon cancer. However, until we know more, it might be best to get calcium from food. So what can you do instead of taking a supplement?

The easy answer is to choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products or eat yogurt, preferably Greek. However, for a lot of people dairy just does not make sense. Some people choose to avoid it for ethical reasons. There are numerous health reasons why someone might avoid dairy as well. In the book, The China Study, a link was found between casein, the protein in milk, and cancer. And a high intake of dairy has been linked to an increased risk of prostate and ovarian cancer. Dairy can also make symptoms worse for people with autoimmune diseases, sinus problems, chronic bronchitis, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, and eczema. Some people have lactose intolerance, which means they don’t have the enzyme that breaks down the sugar in milk, and others may be allergic to it.

So what are the good nondairy sources of calcium? As I mentioned in my post “Got Kale?”, you can have 1¾ cups of kale, which is equal to the amount of calcium in 1 glass of milk. I really like Trader Joe’s Lacinato kale. It makes it super easy to use since it is already washed and chopped—and it’s organic. I put 2 large handfuls of kale, 1 inch of peeled ginger, an apple and about 1½ cups of water in my high powered blender. If you want something sweeter you can try adding mango instead of an apple. Other good options that offer the same amount of bioavailable calcium as a glass of milk include:

  • 1¼ cups of bok choy
  • just over ½ cup of calcium set tofu (calcium processed)
  • 2½ cups of broccoli
  • 1 cup of turnip greens
  • 1½ cups of mustard greens

Bok choy is particularly yummy and easy to prepare. I like to sauté it with some rice vinegar, MIrin (rice wine), a dash of tamari, a few drops of sesame oil, and Chinese Five Spice.

While the amount of calcium in spinach looks good on paper, the calcium is not bioavailable because of its high oxalate content. You would have to eat almost 8 cups of spinach to get the same amount of calcium as 1 cup of milk!

So why not try an alternative to a calcium supplement today? Your heart, and maybe even the rest of your body, will thank you for it.

___________

*Effect of calcium supplements on risk of myocardial infarction and cardiovascular events: meta-analysis. Bolland MJ, et al. BMJ. 2010 Jul 29;341.

**Associations of dietary calcium intake and calcium supplementation with myocardial infarction and stroke risk and overall cardiovascular mortality in the Heidelberg cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study (EPIC-Heidelberg), Kuanrong Li, et al. Heart 2012;98:920-925.

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

Got Kale?

It rarely happens that a vegetable goes from almost total obscurity to practically rock star status in a matter of a few years, but that’s exactly what happened to kale. When I was a waitress back in college, it was kale that covered the ice in salad bars to make it look pretty. Now it’s in the blenders and refrigerators of health conscious people everywhere.

So what’s all the excitement about? Is kale really that great? Well actually, yes, it is.

Kale is high in a variety of nutrients such as beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein and zeaxanthin (antioxidants), and sulforaphane (lowers your risk of cancer).  This explains why Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who created the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), gave it a score of 1,000—his top rating. It is also the top veggie and a “super star” according to the Nutrition Action Healthletter, with a score of 1,389. In addition, it’s a good source of bioavailable calcium. Only 1¾ of a cup of kale is equivalent to one glass of milk in terms of absorbable calcium. That’s good news for people like me who can’t drink milk but want to avoid calcium supplements because of current research that links them to an increased risk of a heart attack (more on that in a future post).

So eat more kale! Try kale chips, roast or sauté it, or put it in soups or smoothies. However, there is one stipulation, buy organic. Why? Because kale as well as collard greens and green beans are commonly contaminated with organophosphate insecticides, according to the latest version of the Environmental Working Group’s 2012 Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Their “Dirty Dozen” list identifies the fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticides. Their “Clean Fifteen” list identifies those with the least. This year they have added a “Plus” category due to the use of organophosphate insecticides, which are toxic to the nervous system.

You can see the full list here and at http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/guide/. There are also phone apps to make shopping easier. When you can, buy organic versions of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables and the Plus category vegetables.

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

Healthy Drinks

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Are sugary drinks the new tobacco? They just might be considering that New York City banned the sale of super-sized drinks and other cities have proposed taxing them. And for good reason. It’s relatively common knowledge that sodas, sports drinks, juice drinks, energy drinks, and smoothies offer a plethora of calories and sugar. What some people don‘t realize is that you can get hundreds of calories in just one drink, but they don’t make you feel full like other foods. On top of that, they can increase your feelings of hunger in just a few hours. This probably explains why emerging research shows that calories from sugary drinks cause more weight gain than calories from other foods. It’s no wonder they are considered one of the main causes of the obesity epidemic!

Yet nothing beats a nice cold drink on a hot summer day. So what to do?  Why not try a zero calorie drink, without artificial sweeteners, that is flavorful and maybe even good for you?  I have done many drink tastings with hundreds of people and there are a few standouts you can buy at the market that are worth trying.

MetroMint has zero calories and a tasty Chocolatemint flavor that even diehard chocolate fans seem to like. Steer clear of the berry and cherry flavors unless you like the medicinal taste of cough syrup.

Another great no-calorie drink is Hint. The Strawberry-Kiwi and the Mango-Grapefruit flavors are particularly good.

The winner in the unsweetened tea category is Sokenbicha Bold Barley Tea. I have found it at Whole Foods Market, but not all of the stores carry it. If you find a store that has it, try it. You will not be disappointed. It’s really good. There are other worthy unsweetened teas out there such as Tejava and Trader Joe’s also has an unsweetened green tea. However, they both pale in comparison to the Sokenbicha Bold Barley Tea.

Another great option is fruit-and-herb-infused water. I’ve created a few recipes at home and have been pleasantly surprised at how easy, tasty, and cheap they are. Why spend a buck fifty for a small bottle of another drink when you can make a whole pitcher at home for less money?

One recipe that I really like is made with sliced lemon with vanilla. It is easy, cheap, and quick. You can also combine lemon, mint, rosemary, and cucumber for a really tangy drink. I have a lemon tree in my yard and grow rosemary and mint, so all I have to buy is a cucumber and some filtered water. You can’t get much easier or cheaper than that. Another really tasty infused water is made with strawberries, but you have to leave it in the frig for a few days to get a great flavor.

Below is one of my favorite recipes. Try it instead of a daily 140-calorie can of Coke and in a year, with very little effort on your part, you could lose 14 pounds! Let me know if you would like to see more of my recipes for fruit-and-herb-infused water.

 Strawberry Kiwi

Strawberries infuse very well. This drink is so tasty and delicious it will keep you going back for more.

Ingredients

  • 9 ripe strawberries
  • 1 kiwi
  • 8 cups filtered or bottled water

Directions

1. Wash the strawberries, cut out the leaves, and cut in half.

2. Wash, peel, and slice the kiwi.

3. In a 2½-quart pitcher, or a gallon plastic water bottle, combine the water, strawberries and kiwi.

4. Make sure to cover the container and place in the refrigerator. If you are using a glass pitcher without a lid, place a piece of saran wrap snugly over the top.

This drink tastes good in 3 to 4 days. Take the fruit out once you like the flavor. Depending on how fresh your fruit was, it should last about 5 days.

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.