So What the Heck are GMOs, anyway?

When I first started noticing labels like “No genetically modified ingredients” or “Non-GMO Project Verified” on products at the grocery store a few years ago, I had no idea what that meant. I was like, “No genetically modified organisms? Ok, great.” I didn’t think much about what that was implying about the other foods sold there without that label. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, as they are commonly known, definitely sounded creepy, but at the time I didn’t realize the extreme prevalence of them in our processed foods or the damage they are thought to be wreaking on our health.

The Non-GMO Project website, which I highly recommend you check out at, defines GMOs as “living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering, or GE. This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.” So, GMOs are plants whose genes scientists have performed Frankenstein-level experimentation on. And that experimentation appears to have spawned some serious health risks. As reported on the Institute for Responsible Technology website, “The Academy [The American Academy of Environmental Medicine] reported that ‘Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,’ including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. The AAEM asked physicians to advise patients to avoid GM foods.” Over 60 countries have banned GMOs from their food, according to the Non-GMO Project website. But they are in pretty much every American processed food you can think of – possibly up to eighty percent, according to the organization – a statistic I just learned while writing this post, and which pretty much scares the bejeezus out of me . Eighty percent? Are you f@!king kidding me????

I’m assuming the way GMOs have been snuck into so much processed food is that so many of them contain canola, cottonseed, and soybean oils, corn syrup, and refined sugar made from sugar beets – all ingredients mined from prominent GMO crops (please, please, please, buy organic corn this summer!). And let’s not forget about alfalfa, a prominent component of the traditional livestock diet – and therefore, our meat supply. While I’ve already got you all freaked out, below is the full list of crops known to be major purveyors of genetically modified material in the United States (the ones termed “high-risk” on the Non-GMO Project website; according to it, an incredibly high percentage of each – very close to the entire U.S. production, in most cases, have been proven to be genetically modified):







-Sugar beets

-Zucchini and yellow summer squash

It’s incredibly frustrating and scary to learn how many of our food products contain this horrible stuff. But the key is to not be overwhelmed and to accept that most of us living in the U.S. or other countries who allow GMO use are not going to be able to avoid them entirely at this time – unless we stop going out to anything but organic restaurants and dump all of our family and friends for solely certified-organic-eating folks (maybe we can all find a commune to live on). What we can do is work to control the situation as much as we possibly can without beating ourselves up if we decide to slip up – such as when we are buying hummus to bring to a gathering and decide to buy one that has canola oil in it instead of the one with no oil in it that has the best chance of being non-GMO, because that hummus is so puny and expensive, and then we feel massive guilt at feeding our self and our friends a dip chock-full of poison . . . yeah. That may or may not have been a conflict I endured recently.

Here are some great ways I have found to reduce my GMO consumption:

-Search the Non-GMO Project Verified index for products that have been Non-GMO Project Verified (it’s impressively extensive). Once you find non-GMO products you love, shopping is so much easier.

-When in doubt, buy organic (U.S.-certified organic products must prove they are non-GMO to quality for that label, according to the Non-GMO Project website).

-Avoid products with The Big Ones in them (canola, cottonseed, and soybean oils; corn syrup; refined sugar made from sugar beets).

Being all vigilante on GMOs like this is going to make your shopping trips a heck of a lot longer, at least at first, so make sure you’ve got an empty bladder and a full stomach when you hit the supermarket! Because the best way to avoid GMOs that I’ve found when there isn’t a Non-GMO Project Verified or organic product available/in your budget’s price range is to start looking at ingredient labels to see if they contain any form of what are commonly GMO crops. This can be challenging and at times, downright impossible (especially if your grocery store is behind on the healthy-living curve). But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my quest to eat cleaner, it’s that awareness goes a long way. Just being conscious of what ingredients you are putting into your body can be enough to dramatically shift your health and eating habits. For me, it’s not about being perfect. But being better? That’s something I can totally stand behind.

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