What you need to know about GMOs

The state of the debate on genetically modified foods.

It's one of the buzziest topics in the current health and wellness conversation, and while you’ve been hearing about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for quite some time, chances are you’ve been eating them, too. As of this year, 90% of all corn and 93% of all soybeans planted in the US are genetically engineered crops.

Though the federal government and plenty of scientists agree that genetically modified foods are completely safe, critics are suspicious: They cite hotly-debated 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 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, author of Minding My Mitochondria. “What we need is long form studies across multiple generations, and those just don’t exist yet.” Without the research, some experts say that flooding our food supply with GMOs is a dangerous risk.

While 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 their 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 GMO overload in your diet.

emphasize organic

Because organic foods don’t require being sprayed with pesticides, they don’t have to be engineered to be pesticide-resistant. Foods labeled “100% organic” are made without genetically modified ingredients.

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, grassfed meat is always the safest bet, says Wahls.

ask for heirloom

Smaller farms are unlikely to grow genetically-modified crops, another reason that the local farmer's 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).

be picky about packaged

The top two genetically engineered crops—corn and soy—also happen to be two of 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.