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Do GMOs cause cancer?

Focused on Health - August 2013

by Brittany Cordeiro

GMO cornIf you munch on corn for dinner, cook with canola oil or eat cereal for breakfast, chances are you’re taking in a genetically modified organism (GMO).

“To some degree everything is genetically modified,” says Clare McKindley, clinical dietitian in MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center.

GMOs are plants or animals created by inserting genes from one species into another. Known as gene splicing, it’s a type of biotechnology often done in a laboratory. It’s also called genetic engineering.

Scientists modify organisms to enhance certain desired traits. For example, they may make plants more resistant to pesticides, weed killers or disease. They also can make plants hardier so they’ll survive during cold weather or droughts, or to improve their nutritional content.

GMO health risks unknown

What’s the concern? Many people believe that altering the DNA of a plant or animal has a significant effect on a person’s chances of developing cancer. But the current research on the health risks of GMOs is inconclusive. In other words, researchers cannot confirm whether or not GMOs increase cancer risks.

 If you are concerned, here are some ways to curb your intake of GM foods.

  • Know the most commonly modified crops. Soybeans, corn, cotton (for oil), canola (for oil), squash, zucchini and papaya are all popular GMOs. Find other GM crops.  
  • Buy organic foods. Organic foods are grown from non-GMO seeds.
  • Buy meats from grass-fed animals. Cows, chickens, pigs and even farmed fish are often on a diet of genetically modified corn or alfalfa. Check that your meat is from animals that are grass-fed or pasture-fed.
  • Read the labels. The top two genetically modified crops are corn and soy. They’re also the most widely used ingredients. Avoid products that contain ingredients like corn syrup and soy lecithin.
  • Buy brands labeled as non-GM or GMO free. Some products are labeled as non-GM or GMO-free. Meaning, they do not use genetically modified ingredients. GMO-free food sources are listed on the Non-GMO Project website.
  • Shop at local farmers markets. Most GM foods come from large industrial farms. Shop at local farmers markets or sign-up for a co-op.

READ ALSO: Organic foods: A healthier option to avoid cancer?

GMOs vegetablesEat a healthy diet to reduce cancer risks

Our experts agree – sticking with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains outweighs any GMO health concerns when it comes to cancer risks.

“You may have to explore the health food section of your grocery store to find the products that are right for you,” says McKindley.  “The key is to buy products that help you maintain variety in your diet and excite you about eating healthy.” 

READ ALSO: Food tips from a dietitian’s plate

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center