Nowadays (especially in the US), there are a huge amount of labels being placed on the food (and non-food) items in the supermarkets. And it’s becoming quite confusing for everyone! Therefore, I’ve tried to do my research so that I really know what I’m buying and why.
Have you found yourself buying organic produce and organic animal products, without fully understanding what it means? Is it just that there are no pesticides? No injected hormones? And do you feel better about buying chocolate bars and packaged oatmeal labeled “non-GMO” though you’re not really sure why?
There is a lot behind the different labels that should be better explained. In particular, there’s a lot of confusion and debate around what non-GMO and organic labels really mean, and what we should be buying.
Let’s start with the "ORGANIC" label – what does this imply?
Organic farming limits a lot of the potential harmful practices used in conventional industrial farming. It PROHIBITS the following:
- synthetic pesticides and herbicides (that have been linked to various cancers, birth defects and kidney disease)
- use of antibiotics (used to stimulate growth, that are hormone disruptive and are linked to weight gain among other things)
- use of ingredients laced with Hexane residue nor Ractopamine residue
- use of genetically modified ingredients
While all of these claims are important, I’d like to emphasize how crucial it is that we limit the amount of non-organic animal products we eat, that are injected with growth-stimulating hormones and antibiotics. These antibiotics kill the good bacteria in our gut, which are so important for our overall health. And this huge amount of antibiotics that we’re consuming nowadays (in large part, indirectly from eating these animal products that have been injected with antibiotics) is a big contributing factor to the epidemic of diseases that stem from an unhealthy gut, i.e. a large intestine with an imbalance of good bacteria vs. bad bacteria. This is why we now need to fill up on probiotics to make sure we restore this crucial balance in our gut.
As you may hear me say often, having a healthy gut flora is probably the #1 most important factor to having proper digestion, a stable weight, and even happy thoughts (as our gut can even influence our thoughts and emotions)! So I can’t emphasize enough the importance of cutting down on conventionally farmed, antibiotic-injected animal products!
What about the "NON-GMO" label?
This label verifies that a product doesn’t contain genetically modified (GMO) ingredients, which is important because genetically modified foods can be highly disruptive to our endocrine and digestive systems.
However, the non-GMO labeling doesn’t specify anything about the conditions under which the food was grown / produced, nor where it came from. So for example, “non-GMO” labeled foods may still be produced with tons of harmful pesticides, like organophosphates, that have been linked to lymphoma and leukemia. And note - while some natural pesticides are allowed on organic crops, organic produce has much lower levels of pesticide residue overall compared with conventional crops.
Sadly, GMO foods are so widespread in this country now! Two of the largest GMO crops in this country are Soy and Corn, which are heavily subsidized, and are therefore used as ingredients in so many other products that really should contain no soy nor corn (ex. high fructose corn syrup being used in place of natural sugars, or soy lecithin used as an additive in many supplements, and even foods like my beloved dark chocolate). So the easiest way to avoid GMO corn and soy is to 1) only buy ORGANIC soybean and corn products, 2) avoid packaged foods when possible, and when you do buy them, read the ingredient labels and try to avoid products with corn and soy additives.
CONCLUSION? While Non-GMO labeling is important, aim for buying Organic food when possible (which by default, is Non-GMO).
And MOST IMPORTANTLY, I always advise to READ THE FULL INGREDIENT LABELS. Try to buy products with no more than 5, or max 10 ingredients, and make sure these ingredients are foods/spices/herbs etc. Avoid products with ingredients you cannot pronounce, which are usually chemical additives, stabilizers and preservatives. Your body doesn’t recognize these unnatural ingredients, rejects them, and this sets your body into fat-storage mode, so ultimately, these chemical ingredients make you gain weight!
Even better? Look for fresh and local foods from your local farmers markets that have no labeling, but you know come from organic farms nearby. (Just think - if it's coming from a local farm, the produce is fresher as it hasn't been traveling for hundreds of miles, which increases the need for stabilizes/preservatives, etc).
Also, this way you are supporting farms that are investing in organic farming, and slowly making a difference towards the improvement of the (horrible) industrialized, pesticide-, hormone- and antibiotic-ridden farming techniques in this country. We need to work together to bring this country back to a place where fresh organic produce is more affordable, so more people can afford to eat cleaner, whole foods, and not have to rely on cheaper, heavily-processed foods.
Love and Organic farming,