The verdict is still out regarding GMOs. They may be safe but they may not be. Personally, I believe in the whole precautionary principal, which means why not avoid GMOs until they’re proven safe for humans, animals and the environment.
Top GMO foods to avoid
Soy: Found in tons of products like tofu, soy milk, soy sauce, miso, and tempeh, as well as any product containing the emulsifier lecithin (often derived from soybean oil), such as ice cream and candy.
Cottonseed: Of course you’ll find cotton fibers in fabrics but you should also watch out for cottonseed oil in bottles or as an ingredient in margarine, salad dressings, and potato chips and other fried snacks.
Corn: Corn and by-products of corn is found in hundreds of products like breakfast cereals, corn-flour products (tortillas, chips, etc.), corn oil products (mayonnaise, shortening, etc.), anything sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup such as sweetened fruit drinks, processed cookies and other snacks, yogurts, soups, condiments and more.
Canola oil: Use organic olive oil instead. If you look for a store-brand organic olive oil it’ll only cost a bit more than conventional.
Papaya: This one surprised me. We’re not big papaya eaters at my house, but if you like them, go organic.
Alfalfa: You can avoid this by trying to buy organic dairy and 100% grassfed meat.
Sugar beets: About half the sugar in the USA is from GMO sugar beets. You can buy organic sugar or look for conventional sugar listed specifically as, “pure cane sugar.”
Milk: Buy rBGH-free or organic dairy products.
Aspartame: Green America notes that aspartame, an artificial sweetener you’ve likely heard of, is derived from GM microorganisms. Avoid diet foods like diet soda or diet candy and avoid foods with labels that say, “Nutrasweet” or “Equal” or “aspartame.”
2 reasons why this list may frustrate you…
1) It’s really hard to avoid GMOs, because it’s estimated that about 70% (or more) of all processed foods (or about 30,000 genetically modified food items) at your local grocer contains GMOs.
2) This list makes it clear that your absolute best bet for avoiding GMOs is to buy organic, which as of right now aren’t allowed to contain intentional GMOs.
I know that readers here have said before that going 100% organic isn’t an option for everyone (mostly due to expense). With that in mind, I’ve got some ideas about how you can avoid more GMOs without having to go 100% organic.
Solutions beyond going 100% organic
Corn is in an insane amount of products, which is why it surprised me by making the Green America list. I get that corn is a high GMO content item, but honestly, to avoid GMO corn, you might really have to go 100% organic because corn is in tons of processed foods. If you want to avoid GMOs in corn, without going 100% organic, consider buying fresh and frozen corn in organic form (it’s not that much more than conventional) then avoid most processed foods, sticking to whole foods instead. The more processed an item, the more likely it is to contain GMO corn.
Soy – there’s no great option for soy other than going organic. In good news, you don’t have to eat a ton of soy. Simply limit what you buy or choose lower cost organic options like organic tofu over more expensive organic soy milk.
Look for food items with the Non-GMO Project Verified Seal (shown to the side). This seal is far from perfect, but companies who use the label are at least attempting to follow consensus-based best practices for GMO avoidance.
Buy local – and know your grower. Shopping at your local Farmers’ Market or small local grocer may allow you to buy fewer GMOs without having to go all organic. Ask your grower how they grow their food and hope that they offer you the truth.
For less expensive organic sugar, buy from the bulk section, use organic honey as a sweetener (it takes less to sweeten) or consider cutting your sugar intake altogether. See some low-sugar baking tips.
This list makes it clear that organic is the way to go when it comes to dairy. Luckily, some organic dairy can be affordable, for example, store brand milk and yogurt in organic form doesn’t cost much more than mainstream conventional brands. Organic ice cream and cheese are very expensive though so avoid these items except for occasionally or purchase rBGH-free versions.
If you go vegetarian or vegan you can naturally avoid many GMOs so long as you’re eating a healthy, balanced, non-processed meatless and/or dairy-free diet.
Eat at home more often. Restaurant food from typical chain or family-style places is likely to be bought wholesale, on the cheap and packed with GMOs. Dinner at home, more often, is safer, healthier and cheaper.
Images by shanii via sxc and Flickr User rockindave1