Melissa presents a series of 31 tips to help you learn how to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the first-ever online Eat GMO-Free Challenge™.
The tips were designed to help people on a typical diet (or on no special diet) slowly learn how to remove or avoid direct sources of GMOs, meaning the 10 (and soon-to-be 11) genetically modified crops, the artificial sweetener Nutrasweet (aspartame), and recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) found in dairy products. The challenge works up to more advanced tips to help people gradually learn how to remove or reduce indirect sources of GMOs, such as meat and milk from animals that are fed GMOs.
Make the commitment to try the challenge for a month. You can look at all the tips at once, but discipline yourself to read just one tip a day. The challenge is much easier to grasp and adhere to that way.
Start whenever you’d like, and follow the tips for 31 consecutive days to learn step by step how to become a savvy non-GMO consumer by saying no to GMOs in real-life, day-to-day living.
© Copyright 2011 -
You can click to expand each individual tip independently, or click to expand all 31 tips at once.
[Show] Tip #1
Freely eat all types of vegetables except for: zucchini and yellow squash, a small amount of which is genetically modified; and GM potatoes, which arrived on some grocery shelves in the summer of 2015. Seek out organic zucchini, yellow squash, and potatoes.
EXTRA TIP ABOUT VEGETABLES: Most people think corn is a vegetable but it isn’t really. It’s a grain. Genetically modified sweet corn started to appear in grocery stores in the autumn of 2011, so if you occasionally eat sweet corn, avoid sweet yellow corn unless it’s specifically labeled USDA organic or non-GMO or you talked with the farmer and are assured that it is from non-GMO sources.
[Show] Tip #2
Enjoy all types of fruit except papaya, especially papaya grown in Hawaii or China, most of which is genetically modified or contaminated with GMOs. Look for organic papaya or choose non-GMO varieties (Kapoho, Mexican Red, Caribbean Red, Maradol, Royal Star, Singapore Pink, and Higgins) and those grown in Brazil, Belize, or Mexico. (Also, beware of GM apples, which are slated to arrive in 2016 – read this post.)
BONUS TIP: By “going against the grain” and eating more fresh vegetables and fruits instead of processed foods with grains and oils in them—as I wrote in my book Going Against the Grain – we automatically avoid most GMOs and eat a diet that is more health producing in numerous ways and that helps people lose weight when they need to. Think of all the foods you can enjoy without worry: cucumbers, leafy greens, celery, avocados, cabbage, peppers, onions, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, apples, pears, berries, and so many more!
[Show] Tip #3
Learn the 3 “C”s and 2 “S”s as a way to imprint the 5 major genetically modified crops in our food supply in your mind. The 3 “C”s are: Corn, Canola, and Cottonseed. The 2 “S”s are Soybeans, and Sugar from sugar beets. More detail about each of these foods will be covered in the next five tips.
BONUS TIP: Make “label reading” a habit so you become aware of what’s in your food. If you have a spouse or young kids who go shopping with you, teach them to read ingredients so they become aware, too, and they can help you spot at-risk ingredients.
[Show] Tip #4
To avoid GM corn, read food product labels and avoid those with obvious corn-based ingredients by looking for ingredients that contain the words “corn” or “maize” in them. Common examples include: corn oil, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch, corn meal, corn masa (as in tamales), and maize starch. Steer clear of sweet corn and all foods that contain corn-based ingredients (including corn tortillas, corn chips, polenta, and corn grits) unless they are labeled USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.
EXTRA TIP ABOUT CORN: A remedy to the GMO problem with yellow corn is finding heirloom blue cornmeal from conservation organizations such as Native Seeds/Search. However, if you have wide-ranging health problems—or if you are overweight (as most Americans are)—the evidence really points to going further against the grain and avoiding all forms of corn, including blue corn and organic corn products to regain your health. Learn more about that in in Going Against GMOs.
[Show] Tip #5
To avoid GM canola, look for canola oil in lists of ingredients and avoid those that contain it unless it is labeled organic or Non-GMO Project Verified. Canola oil is found in a wide range of products, including pasta sauces, salad dressings, mayonnaise, snack foods, prepared foods, and frozen entrees.
[Show] Tip #6
To avoid GM cottonseed, look for cottonseed oil in food product ingredients and avoid those that contain it. Cottonseed oil is sometimes in roasted nuts, snack foods, bread, and certain canned fish items.
[Show] Tip #7
To avoid GM soy, look for food products that say: Contains Soy (it should be clearly listed because Soy is a common allergen); or look for obvious ingredients that contain the words “soy” in the food product’s list of ingredients. Common examples of soy-based ingredients include: soy protein, soy flour, soy sauce, soybean oil, soy milk, and soy lecithin. Tofu, tempeh, and miso are other sources of soy. Steer clear of foods with all of these ingredients unless they are labeled USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.
EXTRA TIP ABOUT VEGETABLE OILS: Even if they are not genetically modified, there are other important health reasons to avoid foods made with corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, and soybean oil. As a general rule, vegetable oils are sources of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which contribute to inflammatory diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and autoimmune diseases, when eaten in excess. Plus, the fats in vegetable oils also are very easily damaged by heat, so they should not be used in cooking. Chapter 8 in Going Against GMOs (entitled Going Against GMOs for Optimal Health Eating Guidelines) explains more about health troubles caused by canola, cottonseed, corn, and soy.
[Show] Tip #8
To avoid sugar from GM sugar beets, read food product labels and don’t buy foods that contain “sugar” or “beet sugar” in lists of ingredients. When not specified as sugar from sugar cane, “Sugar” in a list of ingredients almost always means a combination of sugar from sugar cane (which isn’t genetically modified) and sugar from sugar beets (which is genetically modified).
EXTRA TIP ABOUT SUGAR: Eating sugar generally should be avoided for many other health reasons. Whether GMO or not, eating refined sugar and other concentrated sweeteners contributes to elevated blood glucose and insulin levels, which over time sets off a whole cascade of events that lead to weight gain, common heart-disease risk factors, prediabetes, and diabetes. To learn more about this, consider reading my previous books Syndrome X and Going Against the Grain.
[Show] Tip #9
Stay away from soft drinks—both regularly sweetened and artificially sweetened. Regular soft drinks are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup or sugar, both of which are derived from common GM crops (corn and sugar beets). Other soft drinks and sweetened waters are sweetened with fructose, another product derived from corn. “Diet” or artificially sweetened soft drinks are sweetened with aspartame (also known as Equal, Nutrasweet, Spoonful, or AminoSweet), another genetically modified product.
BONUS TIP: When you first start to realize how many foods and beverages GMOs are hidden in, it can feel overwhelming and intimidating. It’s a difficult process to gradually reduce or remove GMOs in your diet because GMOs are in a lot of products! Don’t get discouraged or beat yourself up or give up. If you feel overwhelmed, realize that this reaction is almost universal. Virtually everyone feels that way when beginning the process of going non-GMO. Just stay resolved to keep at it and do the best you can today. I promise that it will get easier. When changing any longstanding habits, the more you stick with it, the easier it becomes.
[Show] Tip #10
Ditch plain sugar in baking, and use maple syrup, stevia, unrefined cane sugar, coconut sugar or coconut nectar in its place. These sweeteners don’t contain GMOs.
EXTRA TIP ABOUT HONEY: Honey is not genetically modified but it is sometimes contaminated with GM pollen from plants such as GM canola or corn. If you want to use honey in special desserts, seek out a Non-GMO Project Verified honey, such as Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Amber Honey, Wedderspoon raw and organic honeys from New Zealand, or Rigoni di Asiago Mielbo Italian Honey.
[Show] Tip #11
Avoid processed foods and convenience foods as much as possible. Because almost all conventional corn, soy, and sugar beets grown in this county are genetically modified and subsidized by our government, they are cheap and end up in about 75 to 80 percent of processed foods in different forms.
[Show] Tip #12
Eat without worry all raw or dry-roasted nuts and seeds (without risky oils), all legumes except for soybeans, and organic or non-GMO unrefined grains such as Lotus Foods heirloom rice, Lundberg Farms brown rice, and Eden Foods quinoa or wild rice.
[Show] Tip #13
Avoid eating bread. If you eat bread, buy only Non-GMO Project Verified or USDA Organic bread, or try baking your own with non-GMO ingredients. In terms of GMOs, most breads available at grocery store chains contain multiple genetically modified ingredients including: high-fructose corn syrup; sugar; soy flour; soy oil; canola oil; cottonseed oil; and other soy and corn derivatives. Gluten-free bread often contains cornstarch, dextrose, fructose, and/or xanthan gum (all from GM corn) and often a genetically modified oil, such as canola, corn, or soybean oil.
BONUS TIP: On your refrigerator, put up a Post-It note to keep reminding yourself why you’re participating in the Eat GMO-Free Challenge. The note might say: I am taking back my right for pure food – or anything that keeps you strong and motivated. Also keep reading information about GMOs and sign up for newsletters from non-GMO educational organizations to stay educated. Keeping the information fresh in your mind about why it’s important to continue staying away from GMOs is a very important part of sticking with eating non-GMO.
[Show] Tip #14
Cook with unrefined extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil instead of conventional butter, canola oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, or soybean oil. Conventional butter can contain GMOs and the latter four oils almost always contain GMOs. If you want to cook with butter, buy organic butter, which is free of GMOs—preferably organic pasture-raised butter.
[Show] Tip #15
If you eat milk products such as cheese or cream, look for organic or “rBGH- and rBST-free” milk products. rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) is a synthetic growth hormone developed from genetically engineered E coli bacteria. It is not approved for use in most other countries besides the United States because of the health conditions it creates in dairy cows and the resulting pus, antibiotic, and vaccine residues in milk.
[Show] Tip #16
If you treat yourself to chocolate on occasion, buy organic chocolate. Most conventional chocolate bars contain high-fructose corn syrup, “sugar” (which is almost always from a combination of non-GMO cane sugar and GMO beet sugar), milk (that could be from cows that were injected with a genetically modified growth hormone), and soy lecithin (which is almost always GMO unless labeled organic or non-GMO).
[Show] Tip #17
Be careful about what you drink. Besides soft drinks that likely contain GMOs (tip #9), so too do any type of commercial sweetened beverage, including sweetened iced tea, and hot tea or coffee drinks such as lattes. To keep GMOs out of the beverages you drink, choose water, sparkling water (plain or with fruit essence), unsweetened iced tea, and coffee, tea or herbal tea (plain or sweetened at home with non-sugar sweeteners). To make a latte-type drink, use organic half-n-half or unsweetened canned coconut milk.
BONUS TIP: Buy organic items when possible. Certified Organic products cannot intentionally contain GMOs. They are grown according to guidelines in which GMOs or toxic pesticides cannot be used, so eating organic foods offers health protection in many ways. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to buy organic items for often the same price or even lower than the price of conventional items. To get organic items affordably, watch the weekly grocery store ads carefully for organic items on sale, purchase local produce grown without pesticides at farmers’ markets around town, or grow some of your own organic vegetables. When you can’t buy organic, make sure to buy non-GMO conventional items.
[Show] Tip #18
For parties or snacking, buy corn chips that have the USDA organic seal or the Non-GMO Project Verified seal on them. For extra insurance, choose those that have both seals. RW Garcia (which is also gluten-free certified), the 365 brand, and Cadia are three companies to look for. For even more insurance against GMOs, choose blue corn chips with both seals on them. Blue corn is not genetically modified but most yellow corn and some types of white corn are.
[Show] Tip #19
To avoid corn-based chips altogether, purchase Non-GMO Project Verified bean-and-rice chips, such as those by Beanfields or Beanitos, rice chips or rice crackers such as those by Lundberg Farms, Edward & Sons, or Mary’s Gone Crackers, or flaxseed-based snack foods, such as Flax Snax by Go Raw or Flax Crackers by Foods Alive. These products often can be found or special-ordered in natural food stores.
BONUS TIP: Shop at your local health food store, which will contain many GMO-free alternatives that you won’t find in regular grocery stores.
[Show] Tip #20
Take a zip-lock bag with your own organic chips to restaurants or events where you know that non-organic corn chips will be served. Keep in mind that more than 85 percent of corn grown in the United States is genetically modified, so it’s important to eat only organic or Non-GMO Project Verified chips. Especially if you’re going to a Mexican restaurant, bring your own chips and tell the waiter why you’re doing so. If enough people speak up and say they’re eating non-GMO, restaurants will make the switch to non-GMO chips.
A WORD OF MOTIVATION: Congratulations! You’ve made it three-quarters of the way through the Eat GMO-Free Challenge and have learned all the basics of how to eat GMO free. Way to go! Now keep going…
[Show] Tip #21
If you fall off the non-GMO wagon and eat a food that you know or think contains GMOs, don’t be hard on yourself. Let it go, and get back on the non-GMO bandwagon as quickly as you can. It’s not helpful to berate yourself for any “mistakes” you may have made with your diet. In learning to eat GMO free, we all have made mistakes, but those mistakes help us learn to be savvier consumers. Just get back on the Eat GMO-Free Challenge as quickly as possible. Doing so will protect your health from serious risks and play a part in creating the healthier food system we all want and deserve.
[Show] Tip #22
When you eat out, look for restaurants that cook exclusively with 100% pure olive oil (and that don’t use vegetable oil, canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, or soybean oil). That means mainly Greek, Italian, and Middle Eastern restaurants.
BONUS TIP: Inquire at restaurants, especially locally owned restaurants, about ingredients in the foods on their menus. Even when restaurants do not post labels for organic or GMO-free products, if you ask about ingredients and tell restaurant personnel that you avoid GMOs, you’ll raise their awareness about the issue. It is surprising how many restaurant chefs do not know about GM foods. However, once they hear about them, they don’t like the idea—and chefs and owners of locally run restaurants often can make changes on their menus quickly compared to those at chain restaurants.
[Show] Tip #23
When eating at restaurants, order items that do not contain any “at-risk” ingredients such as corn or soy unless they are organic. Common corn-based items on restaurant menus are corn tortillas, tamales, enchiladas, and tacos, and soy-based items include tofu, tempeh, miso, and soy sauce.
[Show] Tip #24
Choose salads as a relatively safe food choice to order in restaurants, as long as the salads don’t contain at-risk foods, such as corn, corn tortilla strips, and soy sauce or vegetable oils in the salad dressing. Specifically ask what type of oil is in the salad dressings, and if they say “vegetable oil” or one of the four oils derived from GM foods (see tips 4-7), ask them if they can bring you 100% pure olive oil (not an olive oil/vegetable oil blend) and lemon or red wine vinegar to use on your salad.
[Show] Tip #25
Seek out restaurants with organic choices. Buying organic items is rule number one to safeguard against eating GMOs. Do not assume, though, that if a restaurant has “Organic” in its name that every item on its menu is organic. Always ask about at-risk ingredients such as corn to be sure.
BONUS TIP: Speak to the managers or owners of your favorite restaurants and tell them how important it is to you that they have GMO-free and organic options. When enough people speak up, that sends the message loudly and clearly to restaurant managers and owners that there is a high demand for non-GMO, organic real food in restaurant meals. Furthermore, how we spend our money speaks volumes. When enough of us vote with our dollars by buying non-GMO meals, restaurants will get the message and begin offering more non-GMO and organic options on their menus.
[Show] Tip #26
Purchase Non-GMO Project Verified eggs or organic pastured eggs (from chickens that are not fed corn or soy that has been genetically engineered).
[Show] Tip #27
Switch to eating more and more organic and grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish and seafood. Conventionally raised animals are usually fed GMO corn and GMO soy-based diets, and farm-raised fish are often fed GMO feed, too. Organic and grass-fed meat and wild-caught fish are the way our sources of animal protein were until 75 years ago or so. Find local grass-fed meats at your local farmers’ market. You can also purchase organic grass-fed meat and wild-caught fish at good sale prices periodically at natural food stores.
[Show] Tip #28
Enjoy a 100% grass-fed burger (without the bun) or a piece of wild-caught fish cooked in olive oil in a restaurant. Grass-fed burgers and wild-caught fish are two increasingly popular protein sources that are offered on some restaurant menus.
[Show] Tip #29
Read labels very carefully and check out this list of “hidden” GMO ingredients to avoid. Common hidden forms of GMOs that are surprising to many people include xanthan gum, vitamin C, vitamin E, maltodextrin, and soy lecithin.
BONUS TIP: Download the Non-GMO Shopping Guide app to your iPhone or the True Food Shoppers Guide mobile app for iPhone and Android—or the PDF guides to your computer—to help you do your shopping. For more info, see NonGMOShoppingGuide.com and CenterforFoodSafety.org.
[Show] Tip #30
Grow your own organic food, or buy organic food from a trusted source, and make more of your meals at home. This is the only way you can be completely sure that your meal is GMO free.
[Show] Tip #31
Keep reading information about GMOs to stay educated. Sign up for my Against the Grain Nutrition News & Notes e-newsletter and check out these other sites of good information about GMOs: the Institute for Responsible Technology; Organic Consumers Association; Food Democracy Now!, GM Watch, and The Organic & Non-GMO Report. Keeping the information fresh in your mind is a very important part of sticking with eating non-GMO, and finding friends who are fellow non-GMO eaters is even better.
[Show] Final Words About the Challenge
Congratulations on completing the Eat GMO-Free Challenge! I bet you already feel better!
Remind yourself that you have protected your health from unknown risks of GMOs and have contributed to a collective movement to create positive change in our food system.
With fresher, less processed, real foods in your diet, you’re bound to be healthier in the long run. So, don’t stop. Keep it up…
Now that you’ve learned general tips on how to avoid GMOs, be sure to read Chapter 8 in Going Against GMOs to learn how to eat non-GMO for optimal health. For advice on how to avoid GMOs and eat for optimal health when following a specific type of diet (such as grain-free, gluten-free, vegetarian/vegan, organic, or local), see Chapter 9 in the book.
Safe eating, and best of health!
© Copyright 2011 -
The tips in this challenge are from Chapter 7 in Melissa’s new book Going Against GMOs. They cannot be reprinted elsewhere without the written permission of Melissa Diane Smith.