If 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 Erma Levy, a research dietitian in MD Anderson.
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 drought, or to improve their nutritional content.
GMO health risks unknown
What’s the concern? Some 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 meat that was grass-fed or pasture-fed. 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 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.
Eat a healthy diet to reduce cancer risk
Our experts agree – sticking with a plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains outweighs any GMO health concerns.
“You may have to explore the health food section of your grocery store to find the products that are right for you,” says Levy. “The key is to buy products that help you maintain variety in your diet and excite you about eating healthy.”