It's one of the buzziest acronyms in the current health and wellness conversation, and while you've been hearing about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for a while, chances are you've been eating them, too. As of this year, 90 percent of all corn and 93 percent of all soybeans planted in the U.S. are genetically engineered crops.
Although the federal government and plenty of scientists agree that genetically modified foods are completely safe, critics are suspicious. They cite hotly debated animal studies that have linked a GMO-laden food supply to tumors in rats, stomach inflammation in pigs, and infertility in mice. (Did we mention that genetically modified food is banned in most of Europe?) Complicating matters even further, anti-GMO advocates balk at the biotech industry's involvement in the debate and in the research, which only fuels suspicions of the overall safety of GMO foods.
"Inserting new genes into plants does more than affect the properties of plants. It can affect our immune cells in unpredictable ways" says Dr. Terry Wahls, the author of Minding My Mitochondria. "What we need are long-form studies across multiple generations, and those just don't exist yet." Without the research, some say that flooding our food supply with GMOs is a dangerous risk.
While the experts are busy duking it out, the rest of us are left with a singular quandary: What's for dinner? Without sweeping labeling regulations, some big-name brands are getting on board with voluntary labeling programs. For example, Chipotle recently began calling out menu items containing genetically engineered ingredients on its website, and Whole Foods vowed to label all genetically modified foods sold in stores by 2018. Plus, a handful of states, including Maine and Vermont, are considering labeling laws along the lines of California's Prop 37, which was shot down by state voters last year.
In the meantime, try these tips from Wahls for avoiding GMOs in your diet.
1. Emphasize organic.
Because organic foods aren't sprayed with pesticides, they don't have to be engineered to be pesticide-resistant. Foods labeled "100% organic" are made without genetically modified ingredients.
2. Know what your meat eats.
When it comes to completely cutting out GMOs, consider your dinner's dinner: Cows, chickens, pigs, and even farmed fish often exist on a diet of genetically modified food, so organic, grass-fed meat is always the safest bet.
3. Ask for heirloom.
Smaller farms are unlikely to grow genetically modified crops, another reason that the local farmers' market is a great place to shop. Look for heirloom produce: By definition, heirloom plants are grown from seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation without change, so it's the kind of produce your grandmother ate (read: GMO-free).
4. Be picky about packaged.
The top two genetically engineered crops—corn and soy—also happen to be two of the most ubiquitous ingredients on grocery-store shelves. Read labels for things like soy lecithin and corn syrup before buying bars, cereals, and other packaged foods.