Rodale’s Organic Life
by Gina Roberts-Grey
Considering that they’re everywhere, from restaurants to grocery stores to some farm stands, genetically modified ingredients aren’t easy to avoid, but it can be done (for the most part) with some creativity.
Crops once threatened by persistent insect pests now genetically engineered to produce their own natural pesticide sound like a win-win. First introduced in the mid-1990s, these foods—grown from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in labs—are linked to several possible healthcomplications, including possible allergic reactions, according to a recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine. The pollen from GMO crops may also contaminate nearby crops and wild plants, altering their compositional make-up and slowly eroding heritage varieties of plant species like tomatoes, soy, and corn.
So with all the concerns about GMOs and what they might mean to health—and the food chain—many are attempting to slash them from daily diets. “I heard about ‘Franken-foods’ in high school, but put GMOs out of my mind until a few years ago,” says Jacqui Blue, 33, an independent filmmaker and mother of five boys in the Los Angeles area. “I decided I wanted to do what I can to ingest as natural and organic food as humanly possible to protect the health of my family.”
The switch to a non-GMO diet led to a host of health and lifestyle changes for Blue and her family. Here’s what she learned.
It’s Better For You
In the U.S. and Canada, opting for USDA-certified organic foods is synonymous with non-GMO foods. That means an organic farmer can’t plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and anorganic soup manufacturer can’t use any GMO ingredients. And that may be a more nutritious choice, according to multiple studies. Recent research from Washington State University and Newcastle University has shown organic produce contain higher levels of antioxidants conventional fruits and veggies.
But It’s Not So Easy
It’s difficult to completely eliminate all GMO food from your diet—because it’s everywhere. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a vast majority of corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered and often wind up as ingredients in processed foods (breads, cereals, and other packaged, premade foods).
“I believe it’s virtually impossible for shoppers to obtain 100 percent GMO-free groceries because of the present degree of cross contamination,” says Mark Mincolla, a natural health care practitioner and author of The Whole Health Diet. “About the best thing you can do is purchase only foods labeled as USDA organic.”
Blue and her kids are avid label readers. “If it doesn’t say USDA organic, and when possible GMO-free, we don’t buy it.”
You Can’t Assume
Especially if you dine—or drink—out. “The other day I purchased a smoothie at a health-conscious store where I buy a lot of organic products. I assumed its ingredients were also organic and was surprised to learn that wasn’t the case because the produce was brought in by the vendor,” says Blue.
And don’t assume the label or packaging will tip you off to GMO foods. Mincolla says only the state of Vermont has a mandatory GMO labeling law. “I’ve come to expect that all foods not labeled USDA organic likely contain GMOs but are not labeled.”
You’ll Spend More Time With Loved Ones
“I don’t go out to eat a lot because there aren’t a ton of restaurants that are all GMO-free,” says Blue. But to compensate, she cooks a lot more, and enlists the help of her kids. “If I can’t find a food or ingredient we like in a GMO-free version, I play with spices and invent new meals. And I cook from scratch a lot more now, too.”
Her youngest son is a fan of peeling garlic, while another is the resident pizza dough puncher. “I never expected cutting GMOs from our diet would create family time, but it’s done just that because I’ll have all five of them in the kitchen helping me at once. And doing processed foods like a frozen pizza or premade sauce doesn’t require the time together in the kitchen.”
Your Budget Doesn’t Have To Suffer
Blue was surprised to see foods labeled non-GMO means she doesn’t spend that much more on groceries. “I learned to stick to stores that carry non-GMO foods, like Target and Sprouts. I was pleasantly surprised that I can buy non-GMO foods for about the same as their conventional counterparts.”
Not Everyone Will Agree With Your Choice
At first, Blue says her kids freaked out when they learned of her plan to feed the family a non-GMO diet. “They begged for one last Halloween,” she says. “They loved the candy.” But they sleuthed out non-GMO options. “I discovered Justin’s brand, and I’m in love,” she says.
It hasn’t been so easy outside of her immediate family.
“I’ve been chastised for bringing all my non-GMO items to a film set. And even my mom has a food block and can’t eat our food because it’s not the traditional versions she buys.” But her commitment to a non-GMO lifestyle haven’t dampened Blue’s enthusiasm.
“From time to time I’ve eaten a GMO food or ingredient even if I’ve done my due diligence. Because of cross-contamination and situations like eating something someone else prepared, you can’t always be 100-percent GMO-free. But knowing I’m doing all I can for my family and the food supply keeps me motivated to stick to this as much as possible.”