Q: I want to avoid genetically modified foods, and I've seen lots of general guidelines to follow, but it'snot always easy because GMOs aren't required to be labeled. Is there any way to know which foods contain GMOs so I can be more effective at staying away from them?
- Matt B., Venice, Calif.
A few years ago, I realized exactly what you did: general GMO avoidance guidelines aren't enough for many people. This is why I created the Eat GMO-Free Challenge - a series of tips to follow each day for 31 days to help people remove or avoid all sources of GMOs from your diet.
Below you'll find a few suggestions to get you started. You can find the complete Challenge in my book Going Against GMOs or at Eatgmofreechallenge.com.
Freely eat all types of vegetables except zucchini and yellow squash, a small amount of which is genetically modified; GM sweet corn, which started to appear in grocery stores in the autumn of 2011; and GM potatoes, which arrived on some grocery shelves this past summer. Seek out organic versions of these veggies.
Enjoy all types of fruit except papaya, especially papaya grown in Hawaii or China, most of which is genetically modified. Look for organic papaya, or choose non-GMO varieties such as Mexican red or Singapore pink, as well as varieties grown in Brazil, Belize, or Mexico. (Also, beware of GM apples, which are slated to arrive in 2016.)
Remember the 3 Cs (corn, canola, and cottonseed) and 2 Ss (soybeans, and sugar from sugar beets). These are the most common genetically modified crops.
Did you know ... ?
You can now choose from 1,733 Non-GMO Project Verified brands and more than 30,000 Non-GMO Project Verified products, in categories ranging from groceries to supplements to pet food. Watch for non-GMO featured products and specials at natural food stores that are participating in Non-GMO Month in October.
In order to earn the Non-GMO Project Verified label, a product must undergo a rigorous review process by the Non-GMO Project, which operates North America's only third party verification program for non-GMO food and products. The program includes testing of at-risk ingredients.
You also can avoid GMOs by buying products that have the USDA Organic label. The use of GMOs is prohibited in organic products.
To avoid GM corn, read product labels and avoid those with obvious corn-based ingredients. Examples include corn oil, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch, corn meal, corn masa (as in tamales), and maize starch. Steer clear of sweet corn and all foods that contain corn-based ingredients (including corn tortillas, corn chips, polenta, and corn grits) unless they're labeled USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.
Most of the papaya grown in Hawaii or China is genetically modified.
To avoid GM canola, look for canola oil in lists of ingredients and avoid products that contain it unless they're labeled USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified. Canola oil is found in a wide range of products, including pasta sauces, salad dressings, mayonnaise, snack foods, prepared foods, and frozen entrées.
To avoid GM cottonseed, look for cottonseed oil in product ingredients and avoid those that contain it. Cottonseed oil is sometimes found in roasted nuts, snack foods, bread, and certain canned fish items.
To avoid GM soy, look for food products that say: Contains Soy (it should be clearly listed because soy is a common allergen); or check the ingredients. Common examples of soy-based ingredients include soy protein, soy flour, soy sauce, soybean oil, soy milk, and soy lecithin. Tofu, tempeh, and miso are other sources of soy. Steer clear of foods with these ingredients unless they're labeled USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.
Look for organic pastured eggs from chickens that aren't fed GM corn or soy.
Purchase Non-GMO Project Verified eggs or organic pastured eggs (from chickens that are not fed corn or soy that has been genetically engineered).
Be careful about what you drink. Most conventionally sweetened beverages contain GMOs, including soft drinks, iced tea, and coffee drinks such as lattes. Look for alternatives sweetened with stevia or other natural sweeteners.
To avoid sugar from GM sugar beets, read product labels and don't buy foods that contain "sugar" or "beet sugar" in their ingredients. When not specified as sugar from sugar cane, "sugar" in a list of ingredients almost always means a combination of sugar from sugar cane (which isn't genetically modified) and sugar from sugar beets (which are genetically modified).
Upsetting the Apple (or potato) Cart
Despite widespread public distrust of genetically modified (GM) foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March approved six varieties of a GM potato (engineered by the J.R. Simplot Company to have reduced bruising and fewer black spots) and two varieties of a GM apple (engineered by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Inc., to resist browning when cut or bruised).
One variety of the GM potato was already being sold in some supermarkets, and GM apples are estimated to start appearing on some grocery store shelves in 2016.
To steer clear of apples and potatoes that are genetically modified, seek out those that are labeled USDA Organic. Even if potatoes and apples are not genetically modified, it's a good idea to buy organic: Apples and potatoes are listed on the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen list of produce items that have the highest amounts of pesticide residues.
Avoid processed foods and convenience foods as much as possible. Because almost all conventional corn, soy, and sugar beets grown in this county are genetically modified and subsidized by our government, they're inexpensive and end up in about 75-80 percent of processed foods in different forms.
Cook with unrefined extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil instead of conventional butter, canola oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, or soybean oil. Conventional butter can contain GMOs, and the latter four oils almost always contain GMOs. If you want to cook with butter, buy organic butter, preferably organic pasture-raised butter.
Switch to organic, grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish and seafood. Conventionally raised animals are usually fed GMO corn and GMO soy-based diets, and farm-raised fish are typically fed GMO feed, as well.