Why You Should Avoid GMO’s

I’ve always believed that buying certified organic foods was the best way to make sure that my food was free from any unnatural, strange, mutated substances. Some recent clams have made me curious about the truth behind genetically modified ingredients (aka GMO’s).  Call me crazy, but I don’t enjoy the thought of eating things that were created in a lab to increase profitability of the food industry; it makes me feel like an unwilling human science experiment. Here’s my take on the issue:

 

What is a GMO?

Organisms that have been modified from their original state (their DNA has been altered) by adding genes belonging to other living things…even animals.

 

Why are GMO’s created in the first place?

Typically, to make plants more pest, disease and herbicide resistant. Sometimes they are also used to make a plant drought or cold resistant, to create shorter growth periods, or to add nutrients, as well as for other increasingly diverse functions.

Corn and soy are two of the major GMO sources in our food supply, and when you start to realize how much of our food actually contains a derivative of these two products, you will be shocked. Take corn syrup, for example, which is typically a byproduct of GMO’s; it’s found in everything from soda to ketchup to bread and cereal!

 

Why avoid GMO’s?

To start with, here’s a great link:

http://www.responsibletechnology.org/10-Reasons-to-Avoid-GMOs

There are people (ok, mostly industries who benefit from their use) that say that GMO’s are safe.  There are, however, many countries outside of the U.S. that have banned the use of GMO’s because they consider them unsafe.

In my opinion, since the effects of GMO’s on humans (or our planet) have not been properly evaluated, I’d rather avoid them. As always, I encourage you to also do your own research on the subject.

 

How to avoid GMO’s

As most of us already know, processed foods aren’t the best for our health, and this is also where you will find the majority of GMO’s hiding.

I’ve found that the best way to MAKE SURE that your food does not contain GMO’s is to look for the “NON GMO Project Verified” symbol.  Their website http://www.nongmoproject.org/ has an actual list of products that have been shown to be free from genetically modified ingredients, and I would highly recommend browsing the information that they have to offer.

In case you were wondering, my personal favorite Non-GMO Project verified product is Garden of Eatin’ Red Hot Blues Tortilla Chips. Seriously, these are the best tortilla chips that I’ve ever had out of a bag.

 

In conclusion

The best thing about not buying products with GMO’s is that you are “speaking with your wallet.” If enough people stop buying these products, the companies that use them will be forced to take the GMO’s out of the products (or at least have to label them accordingly.)  Of course, this is my opinion, and I’m not anti-corporations or anything of the sort, but I feel that consumers have the right to make informed decisions about what they are purchasing and what goes into their bodies.

 

If you are weirded out like me about being a human science experiment: Just say “NO!” to GMO’s!

 

Evolution of The Food Pyramid

my plate Evolution of The Food Pyramid

As you might have heard, First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack just released their updated version of the “Food Pyramid,” or the more recent “MyPyramid.” The evolution to “MyPlate” has definitely created some buzz, especially surrounding how much the government should be involved in our nutrition. I think it’s fair to at least state their opinions about what is best for us, and they do have some valid messages, for example:

~Balance your calories and portions

~Eat mostly fruits and veggies

~Include quality whole grains in your diet

~Choose foods with low sodium

~Consume water instead of sugary drinks.

However, wouldn’t it be beneficial to our health to regulate the use of harmful pesticides and growth hormones? For some reason, nobody seems overly concerned with that issue.

On the bright side, the new USDA Nutritional guidelines DO recognize vegetarian protein sources, and even attempt to give ‘tips’ about vegetarian eating.  If you’re curious, check it out here.

Notice anything missing from the plate? Can you find the oils group? It was being phased out with “MyPyramid,” but now it’s gone. My beloved olive oil gets no respect whatsoever. Of course, I’m sure that they are implying we need to cut down on fats and oils, but I believe that we still need fats in their healthy forms like olive and fish oil.

Think what you will about “MyPlate,” but at least it’s sort of an improvement as a basic guide. What’s my take? I always suggest doing your own research and being informed about what you’re eating and what’s best for you.

An interesting resource (and a book that I really enjoy) is In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.  He discusses how the government and big business impact our food supply.

Mediterranean Kale Quinoa

This is a really healthy dish, and a great way to include some kale in your diet. My husband, who is not a big fan of kale, even likes this meal. I left out the exact ingredient measurements so that you can adapt to your personal preference, but the ingredient combination really works. I always keep some quinoa, veggie stock, and garbanzo beans on hand, so I don’t really have to buy much at the store when I decide to whip this up.Mediterranean Kale Quinoa Mediterranean Kale Quinoa

1.Cook quinoa according to directions on the box or bag, using low-sodium vegetable stock instead of water.

2. Sautee some chopped onion, garlic and orange (or yellow) bell pepper until soft, using olive oil or cooking spray. I like to season the veggies with some cayenne and/or black pepper when they are almost finished cooking.

3.Sautee some kale (see my recipe below).*

4. Warm some garbanzo beans.

5.In a large bowl, combine vegetables and garbanzo beans, spoon mixture over the  quinoa.

6. Top with either plain Greek yogurt (mixed with a little lemon juice) or some Tzatziki sauce.

I like to serve this dish with a mini pita or two. You can also add a little crumbled feta cheese to the recipe, if desired.

*My favorite way to make sautéed kale:

1 lb. fresh kale, rinsed and coarsely chopped

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced or finely sliced

½ cup low-sodium vegetable stock

1Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Warm olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, add garlic and cook until just softened. Increase to high heat, add kale and vegetable stock, cover, cook 5-7 minutes. Remove cover and cook until liquid is absorbed. Toss with red wine vinegar and lightly season with garlic salt, pepper, or your choice of seasonings to taste.

Purple Potato Eater

PurplePotatoes2 Purple Potato Eater

I found some beautiful purple potatoes at the grocery store the other day, and had to buy them. I had no idea how to prepare them or what they tasted like, but that’s half the fun! I get sort of giddy when I find new produce or healthy products to try out. Sometimes they become my new favorite thing, or I vow never to go near them again (like some weird fruit that I tried in Mexico). These potatoes (luckily) were very good. Oddly, they tasted just like regular potatoes, but their purple color is said to increase their nutritional value. The anthocyanin pigments (that produce their purple hue) are known antioxidants, so they give a little extra health kick.

So, what did I decide to do with these lovely potatoes?

1. I sliced them, quartered the slices then combined the potatoes in a bowl with some small fresh broccoli florets.

2. I tossed the potatoes and broccoli in olive oil, put them on a baking sheet, and baked the combo for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

3. I mixed the baked broccoli and potatoes with some cooked warm lentils, sautéed onions and crumbled feta cheese.

It was tasty, and the purple added a great splash of color to the dish. If you ever find these little potatoes at your local farmer’s market or grocery store, I would definitely recommend trying them for yourself!

Super Skinny Jalapeno Poppers

Baked Poppers2 Super Skinny Jalapeno PoppersMy love of  jalapeno poppers, paired with my dislike of unnecessarily fattening food drove me to find a better way to prepare these tasty little tidbits.

The best part is that these super skinny poppers are also super easy to make, and always a crowd pleaser. 

The only ingredients you will need are:

-Jalapeno Peppers

-Laughing Cow Light cheese wedges, Swiss or Queso Fresco & Chipotle flavors. A combo of the two flavors is my favorite.

-Light shredded Mexican blend cheese

-Vegetarian “bacon” bits

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Wash the jalapeno peppers, cut the tops off, then slice lengthwise (end to end).

3. Seed and devein the peppers. (If you don’t remove all of the seeds or veins, you might have a very HOT popper!)

4. Mix the Laughing Cow cheese with the Mexican blend (don’t go overboard on the Mex blend for calorie purposes), then microwave for a few seconds to soften.

5. Scoop the cheese blend into the pepper half, then place on a baking sheet sprayed with zero calorie cooking spray. Sprinkle each half with the veggie bacon bits and a pinch of the Mexican blend cheese.

6. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the pepper starts to wrinkle and the cheese is completely melted.

NOTE: Each of these poppers is only about 35 calories, which is amazing compared with their high calorie and fat counterparts.

The Skinny on “Natural” Food Labeling

        As an increasing number of people are becoming more aware of healthy living and weight loss, so are food manufacturers. At least, they are aware of the fact that you are more likely to purchase their product if it’s labeled “Natural”. Unfortunately, “Natural” has become more of a marketing term than a guarantee of food quality.  Since healthy living and weight loss have become huge industries, it makes sense that people are buying products in those categories, but the labeling standards aren’t even close to where they need to be. So what can you do? Simply be an informed consumer.

 Natural Label The Skinny on “Natural” Food Labeling

 The Difference Between Natural and Organic

Essentially, organic labeling is regulated (see my article The USDA Organic Labeling System) and natural labeling is “sort of but not really” regulated.

The USDA’s definition of “Natural”:
A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”).

Even though this definition is headed in the right direction, it’s really what IS NOT included in this statement that is important.  There is nothing prohibiting the use of growth hormones OR genetically modified organisms. Does this sound “Natural” to you? Me neither.

Keep in mind, natural does not mean organic! This is a huge point of consumer confusion; many people even think that a “natural” product is better than an organic product. Not the case.

Does Natural Mean Healthy?

Not necessarily, since the definition of “Natural” is so vague. For example, the fats in butter and meat are natural, and a food high in saturated fat and cholesterol isn’t considered healthy to most people.  Instead, look for a statement like “low in saturated fat” (no more than one gram per serving).

Does Natural Mean Low-Calorie?

One word: no. Some “Natural” foods are low-calorie, but that labeling DOES NOT guarantee a low-calorie food.

What Can I do?

To be clear, I am not saying that “Natural” products are bad. There are some perfectly wonderful foods with that label. In order to know if you are picking one of the good ones, simply look at the ingredient list. If there are only a few simple ingredients and you can understand what they are, you’re on the right track.

If you are concerned with what kind of strange substances might be in your food, organic is the best way to go (100% USDA certified is the absolute best). I know that it’s not realistic to eat organic food all the time, so the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do is to read ingredient lists and not be misled by marketing claims.

 

The What’s Big Deal About Organic Produce?

I’ve heard stories of people who refuse to eat a food if it’s touched something non-organic. I am not one of those people! I do, however, make an effort to include many organic fruits and veggies into my diet. I want to have the least amount of unnecessary, unhealthy chemicals in my body as possible, without being too freaked out about it.

I pay attention to the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists put out by the Environmental Working Group. The “Dirty Dozen” items contain 47 to 67 pesticides per serving AFTER being washed with a high-pressure washer. Yes, I like to avoid eating random pesticides, call me crazy. The “Dirty Dozen” foods are believed to absorb more pesticides because they have soft skin as opposed to the “Clean 15” which have a tougher outer layer. Here’s the EWG’s 2010 list:

THE DIRTY DOZEN THE CLEAN 15
1. Celery 1. Onions
2. Peaches 2. Avocados
3. Strawberries 3. Sweet Corn
4. Apples 4. Pineapples
5. Domestic blueberries 5. Mangoes
6. Nectarines 6.  Sweet Peas
7. Sweet bell peppers 7. Asparagus
8. Spinach, Kale, Collard Greens 8.  Kiwi fruit
9. Cherries 9. Cabbage
10. Potatoes 10. Eggplant
11. Imported grapes 11. Cantaloupe
12. Lettuce 12. Watermelon
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Sweet Potatoes
  15. Sweet Onions

(This list comes in especially handy since organic produce can be more expensive. If you’re budgeting grocery dollars, it’s pretty safe to buy the “Clean 15” in their conventional form.)

What types of pesticides are used?

It really depends on the type of produce, (and I can’t pronounce most of the pesticide names) but what we do know is that many chemicals that have been banned in other countries are still being used in the U.S., which is pretty scary.  Even if the chemical isn’t as dangerous by itself, when you start creating a ‘chemical cocktail’ and combining substances, often the reaction in your body is not a good one. Take celery (it looks so innocent) for instance…..The USDA Pesticide Data Program reported 64 (!) pesticides, with carcinogens, neurotoxins and and developmental toxins present.   Whatsonmyfood.org  is a great resource for finding out what chemicals are used on specific types of food.

Why do we want to avoid pesticide overload?

Pesticide buildup has been linked to many health problems, from Parkinson’s Disease to headaches, and

  • Immune system weakness
  • Breast and other types of cancer
  • Reproductive damage
  • Disruption of hormonal systems

Conventional vs. Organic Farming

Conventional farmers Organic farmers
Use chemical fertilizers to make plants grow faster. Use natural fertilizers like manure or compost to feed soil and plants.
Spray insecticides to get rid of pests and disease. Use ‘helpful’ insects and birds, mating disruption and/or traps to get rid of pests and disease.
Use chemical herbicides to keep weeds from growing. Rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to keep weeds under control.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s good to be informed about what is being used in your food’s production, especially when it can have a negative impact on your health. I don’t buy organic ALL the time, but I try to avoid chemical buildup in my body.  I just want everyone to know this stuff because then you can make smart choices about your food and your health.

The USDA Organic Labeling System

Comparing products at the grocery store, it’s helpful to know what’s behind a label.  The best way to know that your food is being held to the highest quality organic standards is to look for the USDA Organic logo:

usda organic The USDA Organic Labeling System

 

 

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certification.

The USDA does not actually grant certifications themselves, but allows certain state and private organizations the ability to legally grant USDA Organic certifications.

~”100% Organic”: The product can contain ONLY organic ingredients. This means no weird antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are allowed. The product can display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.

~”Organic”: The product contains 95%-99% organic ingredients, with the others are ingredients on the approved National List of Approved Substances. You can check out this list at http://www.organicfoodprocessing.org/info/natlistapprovedsubstances.pdf. These products can also display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.

~”Made with Organic Ingredients”: The product must be made with at least 70%-94% organic ingredients, three of which must be listed on the package, and the others must be on the National List. These products may display the certifier’s logo but not the USDA Organic logo.

~Less than 70% Organic Ingredients: Specific organic ingredients are only mentioned in the ingredient list.

It’s interesting to note that even if a producer is certified organic, they don’t have to use the USDA Organic label. Also, not everyone goes through the rigorous process of becoming certified, especially smaller farmers. It doesn’t hurt when you are buying form a smaller operation (like at a farmers’ market) to ask the vendors how your food was grown.