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Getting Healthy Series, Health
“GMO” is another hot buzzword in the wellness industry. In this article we’ll talk about what it really means and why it matters. If you’re already a big health & wellness buff, then this article is probably not for you. If you’re like the majority of America and you’re just starting to learn about all this, I hope this article can help you out. So, let’s get to it. 
 

GMO Defined

This acronym stands for Genetically Modified Organism. According to the Non GMO Project it applies to a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using recombinant DNA (gene splicing) methods, gene modification or transgenic technology. It’s a relatively new science that creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial & viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
 

GMO Splicing

There are a few articles out there that claim GMO labeling is unnecessary because we have been doing it for thousands of years. It’s important to clarify that what these articles are touching on is hybridization not genetic modification.

In high school science we learned about Gregor Mendel. He is known as the “father of genetics” and he discovered hereditary traits through hybridizing flowers and plants in his monastery. Through controlled hybridization he discovered that certain traits are dominant while others are recessive. Is any of this ringing a bell?

Hybridization is when two of the same species are crossed and their offspring end up with different traits. Humans capitalized on traits they liked and would continue to hybridize or cross-breed members of the same species to come up with offspring that exhibited the traits they were after. This is how we’ve gotten all the different dog breeds that we have today.

Genetic modification is when organisms are modified on the DNA level with genes from outside their species or a distant relative. The outcomes of genetic modification would never occur in nature because different species cannot cross-breed successfully. In nature, mules are the perfect example of this. Mules are the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse and they are sterile. Because they are sterile and cannot reproduce, they are not a distinct species.

Foods have been genetically modified for various reasons such as herbicide protection, viral protection, to get bigger and to produce more volume of product, etc.

Here are a few examples of gene splicing in conventional foods:
  • Corn + DNA from soil bacteria immune to RoundUp herbicide & E.Coli = RoundUp Ready Corn
  • Strawberries + fish genes = protection from freezing
  • Dairy cows + genetically engineered hormone rBGH/rBST = increased milk production
 

Dangers of GMOs

The full impact and the dangers of GMOs are only recently coming to light. The true effects will be seen in the generations to come. In the meantime here’s some of the environmental effects that can be seen since the introduction of GMOs:
  • They are present in the majority of processed foods in the US (expect organic foods)
  • Superweeds and pesticide resistant insects are evolving out of control
  • Bees & monarch butterflies are dying in unprecedented rates
  • Pesticides are gradually killing soil microorganisms and crops are becoming reliant on fossil fuel fertilizers
  • etc.

GMO foods have been available in the market since the 1990’s, this technology is quite young and long-term negative effects on the population are still unclear. There have been NO long-term studies on the effects of GMOs in the US. Genetically modified foods are affecting us in ways that we cannot fathom. We are all genetically different and we all have different health concerns so while some people may be able to have healthy lives without being affected by GMOs, others are very sensitive and GMOs may be contributing detrimentally to their health.

According to WHO here are some concerns with the health affects of GMOs:
  • Allergy – developing allergic reactions to GMO foods
  • Gene transer – risk of the spliced genes being incorporated into the bacteria in our microflora
  • Outcrossing – through unintentional cross-pollination, the GMO products contaminating and then eliminating the natural Non-GMO plants, so that only the GMO version is left

The Non-GMO Project categorizes GMO foods into 3 levels: High, low and no risk. Take a look at their table to see which foods are high risk.

GMO Labels

The US does not currently require GMO foods to be labeled. That makes us the odd man out with 64 other nations requiring GMO labeling on foods. The image below from LabelGMOs.org shows which countries require GMO labeling and which do not.

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If you shop at health food stores or in the heath food isle of your local grocery store, I’m sure you’ve seen the label below.

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In order to use that label, the product needs to have less than 1% GMO ingredients. That means the product is 99% – 100% GMO free. If you see a product that is labeled organic but without the Non-GMO label, that’s alright too because certified organic products cannot include GMOs.

This article really is the tip of the iceberg in terms of GMO information. If I’ve been able to whet your appetite for more information there’s a great comprehensive ebook all about GMOs available for free: GMO Myths & Truths by EarthOpenSource. I’ll be honest with you, I just discovered this freebie while I was researching this article, so I haven’t been able to read it myself yet but I do want to get around to it in the future.


References

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Getting Healthy Series, Health
“Organic” is a hot buzzword in the wellness industry. But what does it really mean and why should it be important to you? If you’re already a big health & wellness buff, then this article is probably not for you. If you’re like the majority of America and you’re just starting to learn about all this, I hope this article can help you out. So, let’s get to it.

Organic Defined

Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines the term organic:
of food : grown or made without the use of artificial chemicals; not using artificial chemicals; of, relating to, or obtained from living things”
 
The key point here is “without the use of artificial chemicals.” The fact that organic foods have to be labeled tells us that everything conventionally grown uses chemicals. But it’s just on the outside, washing it will clean it right? The answer to that is: it depends. If you saw my last post about the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen, you know that different types of produce all have different pesticide levels.
 
So, why do we even have this term for food in the first place?
 
Back in the day, all foods: meat, produce & fruit were all produced naturally. Or in other words “organically”. Healthy crops and livestock are the bread & butter for famers and ranchers. If their crops or livestock were wiped out due to blight or disease, then so was the farmer’s livelihood. In order to protect that livelihood, farmers would adopt the latest technology and newest farming techniques to improve their production and the bottom line. Meaning pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and genetic modifying became the “norm”. These new-farming techniques produced bigger crops, bigger livestock and better looking produce. It’s a win-win, right? Wrong.
 
What they didn’t realize was that those chemicals, the pesticides, the hormones and the genetic modifying would affect humans in unpredictable ways. Over time, those chemicals build up in our bodies until on day our immune system is overloaded and we develop chronic diseases like cancer,  arthritis, fibromyalgia, allergies, so on and so forth. The foods we’re eating today are completely different than what our ancestors ate. On a genetic level, we’re not equipped to handle the chemicals and the genetic modifying. Only in recent years research is uncovering how much damage we’re truly doing to ourselves with these changes in the way we produce food.
 
If you’re just starting out on this journey, or you’re on a budget. Don’t fret. Overall, it’s much more important to fill up with veggies, greens, fruit and legumes than it is to buy everything organic. The phytonutrients in all the foods that are “good for us” are so powerfully protective that if you eat enough you’ll still be healthy. The problem (that we might tackle another day) is that in our Modern American Diet or Standard American Diet (MAD or SAD, for short) we’re not getting enough of the good stuff (nutrients) to prevent any of the bad stuff (disease).
 

Organic Labels

Picture this: you’re in your local health food store or in the natural foods section of your local grocery store and you’re browsing for organic foods. Does all the labeling and the packaging give you a headache? How you do know that what you’re getting is really what you want? Let’s take a look at the organic labeling system.
 
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I’m sure you’ve noticed that label up above, right? That’s the USDA Organic seal. Products with the USDA Organic seal must be 95%-100% organic. If less than 100%, the rest of the ingredients are not available organically but have been approved by the National Organic Program (NOP).
 
Products that are 70%-94% organic are allowed to read “Made With Organic Ingredients” on the package. They are not allowed to use the USDA Organic seal.
 
Products that are less than 70% organic can only list the organic ingredients in the information panel and they cannot use the USDA Organic seal.
 
So, if you want to be sure that what you’re buying is 100% organic, it has to say somewhere on the package 100% organic. It it doesn’t, it’s safe to assume that it’s not 100% organic. Look for something like the seal below:
 
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Organic Certification
I haven’t done a lot of research into organic certification, all I know is that it’s expensive. In order to be certified the farms and processors have to fulfill the following requirements:
  • Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
  • Support animal health and welfare
  • Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
  • Only use approved materials
  • Do not use genetically modified ingredients
  • Receive annual onsite inspections
  • Separate organic food from non-organic food
Why are Organic Foods Expensive?
Organic foods take greater care to produce than conventionally grown foods. According to the USDA, organic methods “integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.” They’re also more expensive because getting certified is not cheap. If you’re shopping at a farmer’s market don’t be afraid to ask how they grow their crops. A lot of small scale farms that sell their products at farmer’s markets often grow their food organically but they can’t afford the certification. Keep supporting them and maybe one they they will be able to afford it!

So, I hope this article has helped you to better understand organic foods and labeling. Now, go to your local grocery store and get shopping!

References

  1. USDA: Substances for Organic Crop & Livestock Production
  2. USDA: Organic Agriculture
  3. USDA: Organic Livestock Practices
  4. USDA: Organic Production & Handling Standards
  5. USDA: Labeling Organic Products
  6. Organic.org Certified Organic Label Guide
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Getting Healthy Series, Health
So, you want to get healthy but you don’t know where to start. You’ve been hearing all the different health buzzwords like organic, raw, vegan, gluten, etc and all it’s doing is giving you a headache! Maybe you’ve already tried changing your diet, maybe you’ve done it several times and so far it still hasn’t worked out. Well, you’re in the right place!
 
This is the start of my Getting Healthy Series. You’ll learn great tips and tricks to start getting healthy the right way. We’ll go over all the different diets out there, breaking them down so that you can decide for yourself which diet is right for you. We’re all individuals with different health goals and needs. No single diet or lifestyle is right for everyone. Strict followers who have had great results will all swear by what helped them. However, what works for your friend or neighbor may not work for you. I’ll help you navigate what’s out there so you can make your own informed decision.
 
Today, I’m introducing you to the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. If you’ve been to Whole Foods or your local health food store, I’m sure you’ve noticed that organic foods are pricier…sometimes too pricey! Is it really worth it to empty your wallet for something that’s just going to end up in the toilet? If you want to go organic but you’re on a budget where do you start? This is where you’ll find out!
 
Today, in order to provide fruits and vegetables that are deemed worthy of display in grocery stores, factory farms douse growing produce in pesticides to keep all the bugs and weeds away. Not only do these chemicals coat the outside of the foods, they soak into the ground and get absorbed by the roots of the plants. Then the chemicals go into your body when you eat the tainted fruits and veggies. However, this process is not cut and dry. There’s a lot of factors that go into which produce has the most chemicals and are therefore the most dangerous to consume if not organic.
 
Luckily, all the hard work has already been done for us by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Each year EWG rounds up the US Department of Agriculture’s findings for the chemical content in fruits and vegetables. The most chemically laden foods are on the Dirty Dozen list while the safest are on the Clean Fifteen. If you’re going to pick and choose which foods you purchase organically, then buy the Dirty Dozen organic. When buying any of the foods on the Clean Fifteen, rest assured that it’s safe to consume. Anything not on these two lists are in the middle so the choice is yours whether you want to splurge and purchase the organic versions or save and go with the conventionally grown versions.
 
I hoped that helped you start on your healthy food journey. Stay tuned for future installments! Have you heard of the Dirty Dozen? How about the Clean Fifteen? Does this make you think twice about the food that’s going into your body?
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