Q: I avoid sweets most of the year, but like to bake occasional treats for my family in the autumn and during the holidays. I eat gluten-free but I also want to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to protect both my health and the environment. I recently noticed that some gluten-free flours contain common sources of GMOs. Can you provide a rundown on ingredients that are both gluten-free and non GMO foods that I can use in baking? -Beth W., Kansas City, Kan.
A: As you mentioned, many gluten-free baking mixes contain ingredients that are derived from common genetically modified foods such as corn, soy, and sugar beets-cornstarch, cornmeal, soy flour, sugar, fructose, xanthan gum, and others.
While you can find Non-GMO Project Verified versions of gluten-free flour blends, I recommend avoiding them altogether-even if they're non-GMO-because gluten-free flours such as cornstarch, rice flour, tapioca starch, and potato flour raise blood sugar levels very high, which sets people up for blood sugar- and insulin-related health conditions including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and more.
A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that the more subsidized foods that people eat-including corn, soy, rice, and sorghum-the greater their risk of obesity, inflammation, and abnormal cholesterol. Also, gluten-free flours can sometimes be cross-contaminated with gluten, and unfortunately some have tested significantly higher in gluten than the 20 parts per million (ppm) required by the Food and Drug Administration to be labeled "gluten-free."
I recommend baking with coconut flour and/or almond flour that is certified gluten-free, tested for gluten, or produced by manufacturers who adopt strict gluten contamination countermeasures. For coconut flour, try Nutiva, Coconut Secret, and Let's Do Organic; for almond flour, check out NOW Real Food Almond Flour, Honeyville Blanched Almond Flour, and Dowd & Rogers blanched California Almond Flour.
Coconut and almond flours work in different ways, so look for cookbooks that explain how to work with these flours. Then use the substitution guide on p. 68. (Editor's Note: If you don't like the idea of altering traditional recipes with non-GMO ingredients, try a cookbook, such as Melissa's Going Against GMOs, in which all ingredients in recipes are both non-GMO and gluten-free.)
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Guide to Using Non GMO Foods When Baking
Non GMO Eggs and Egg Substitutes
Where GMOs hide: Commercial eggs often come from chickens fed with GMO feed. If you use xanthan gum, beware that it can be derived from GMO corn, milk, or soy-or derived from wheat.
Substitute: Non-GMO Project Verified or USDA Organic eggs. (For the best health and nutrition benefits, choose organic, pasture-raised eggs.) Or make a non-GMO egg substitute with organic flax seeds and water or chia seeds and water. These can substitute nicely for xanthan gum in some circumstances.
Non GMO Milk and Milk Substitutes
Where GMOs hide: Commercial milk frequently comes from cows fed GMO feed or cows injected with GM recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). Processed milk substitutes also can contain hidden forms of GMOs, including sugar, soy lecithin, vitamin B12, xanthan gum, and GMO vegetable oils.
Substitute:Unsweetened milk and milk substitutes with the USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified seal, or canned unsweetened coconut milk.
Non GMO Cornstarch and Baking Powder
Where GMOs hide: Cornstarch and baking powder made with cornstarch are common sources of GMOs.
Substitute: Arrowroot or coconut flour, or Non-GMO Project Verified cornstarch in place of regular cornstarch. In place of baking powder, make your own by mixing 1 tsp. baking soda with 2 tsp. cream of tartar to make 1 Tbs. of baking powder. Or use baking soda combined in a recipe with acidic ingredients such as lemon juice, organic apple cider vinegar, or organic buttermilk, to provide the desired leavening effect that baking powder provides.
Non GMO Fats and Oils
Where GMOs hide: Corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, and commercial butter from cows fed GMOs or injected with rBGH.
Substitute: Organic butter or ghee, coconut oil, or other naturally non-GMO oil.
Non GMO Sweeteners
Where GMOs hide: Corn syrup, fructose, molasses, beet sugar, white sugar from beets, brown sugar, and powdered sugar. Honey is not genetically modified, but it is sometimes contaminated with GM pollen from plants such as GM canola or corn. Sugar substitutes, including stevia, xylitol, and erythritol, can also be derived from GMOs or contain hidden sources of GMOs.
Substitute: 100 percent pure or organic cane sugar or cane syrup, coconut sugar, coconut nectar, 100 percent pure maple syrup, and other non-GMO Project Verified or organic sweeteners.
If you want to use honey in recipes, seek out a Non-GMO Project Verified honey (such as Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Amber Honey, Wedderspoon raw and organic honeys from New Zealand, or Rigoni di Asiago Mielbo Italian Honey). For alternative sweeteners, use a pure stevia extract without added ingredients, such as SweetLeaf natural stevia sweetener; 100 percent pure monkfruit; non-GMO erythritol; non-GMO xylitol; or inulin (a chicory root dietary fiber sweetener, such as Just Like Sugar Table Top).
Non GMO Vegetables
Where GMOs hide: The most common genetically modified vegetables available in the U.S. are corn, potatoes, yellow squash, and zucchini.
Substitute: Organic varieties of those-or any-vegetables. When making baked goods, this comes into play most often when making zucchini bread.
Non GMO Fruits
Where GMOs hide: Common GMO fruits include papaya and some apples. Papaya is hardly ever used in baking, so apples are the main culprit in this case. Also beware that dried fruits, such as dried cranberries, blueberries, and cherries, are typically sweetened with sugar that could be from genetically modified sugar beets.
Substitute: Organic apples. If your recipe calls for dried sweetened cranberries, blueberries, or cherries, also use organic varieties.
Non GMO Flavoring Extracts
Where GMOs tend to hide: Vanilla flavoring is increasingly produced through a new unregulated experimental genetic technology-synthetic biology (synbio)-an extreme form of genetic engineering.
Substitute: Non-GMO Project Verified or certified organic, gluten-free, pure vanilla extract or unsweetened organic vanilla powder.
Adapted from Going Against GMOs: The Fast-Growing Movement to Avoid Unnatural Genetically Modified "Foods" to Take Back Our Food and Health by Melissa Diane Smith