How to Tell if GMOs Are In Your Food

By Jill Ettinger on June 09, 2014

The California Department of Food and Agriculture estimates that as much as 80 percent of our processed food options contain genetically modified ingredients. Genetically modified foods are of significant concern to many Americans because of the health and environmental risks. With more than 60 countries around the world already banning or restricting GMOs, there's good reason to believe they do in fact pose significant risks to our health. We're already beginning to see the environmental impact of pesticides required in growing GMO foods, and the rising rates of certain human health issues connected with those pesticides are strong indicators of the connection.

With no labeling requirements anywhere in the U.S., the only truly effective way to know that you're not eating GMOs is to stick with organic and non-GMO verified options. But that can be limiting, and at times, impossible. You can, however, develop the ability to recognize highly suspicious ingredients that could be genetically modified and learn to avoid those. Still, without labeling laws, it's no guarantee, but it's a starting point.

Read more about the importance of reading labels

Nearly 90 percent or more of the following crops are genetically modified in the U.S.: corn, soy, canola, cotton and sugar beets. There are many ingredients derived from these, particularly from corn and soy. Most conventional animal feed includes some amount of GMO corn and soy, so, in other words, most conventionally raised meats, eggs and dairy products are genetically modified. It's easy enough to limit your intake of non-organic meat, eggs and dairy. Decreasing consumption of conventionally raised animal products not only reduces your exposure to GMOs, but it also reduce the huge environmental impact factory farming has, and it can help to reduce the horrific treatment most livestock animals endure, too.

Even if you already avoid heavily processed junk/fast foods, you may still be consuming a few more than you thought in foods like salad dressings, bread, oils, even protein supplements. These can all contain genetically modified ingredients.

A comprehensive list of possible GMO ingredients can be found on the Institute for Responsible Technology's website. Here are some of the most common ingredients to look out for:

  • aspartame
  • corn syrup
  • corn oil 
  • corn starch
  • cottonseed oil
  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • isolated soy protein
  • isoflavones
  • lactic acid
  • modified starch
  • maltodextrin
  • soy flour
  • soy lecithin
  • soy oil
  • soy sauce
  • tamari
  • tempeh
  • tofu
  • vegetable oil
  • whey powder
  • xanthan gum

Read more about the Scary Seven

Despite rumors to the contrary, there are very few genetically modified fruits or vegetables being sold in the U.S. But do look out for yellow squash and zucchini that aren't organic, as well as Hawaiian papaya, and some sweet corn varieties, particularly those available at Walmart.

When it comes to dining at restaurants, you're in unknown territory for the most part, as they do not have to disclose ingredients. Your best bet: stick with whole foods, such as beans and rice or salads with olive oil and vinegar instead of dressing.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Photo credit: Brother O'mara


By Jill Ettinger| June 09, 2014
Categories:  Eat
Keywords:  EatFood and Nutrition

About the Author

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is Naturally Savvy's Managing Editor and a contributing writer.

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