What’s in a name? Non-GMO vs. Organic Foods
As a nutritionist and food blogger, I think it’s so important to share quality nutrition info here on Live Eat Learn. We live in an age where new “right” ways of eating pop up all the time, and it can be so hard to separate the fact from fiction. So today, let’s dive into the tricky world of non-GMO vs. organic foods.
What are GMOs?
Essentially, things are added or removed from the DNA of the product (the plant usually) to make it “better” in some way. This could be to make it resistant to pests, to have higher nutritional value, or to produce more of the edible part of the food.
As with all things, this requires a balance. Take for example the wheat we eat today. In trying to produce more of the edible wheat head, developers failed to improve the stalk. The result? Wheat with a big, fat head and a weak, crumpled stalk that couldn’t support it. Which of course led to the genetic modification to breed thicker stalks.
Where do GMOs show up in food?
There are actually just a handful of GMO crops, and they’re the crops that tend to make up our convenience foods (like corn). 26 countries worldwide totally or partially ban GMOs, and more than 60 countries require GMO labeling.
Should you avoid them?
The way I see it, it comes down to two things: environment and health.
In terms of the environment, GMO crops can lead to increased use of chemicals herbicides and pesticides in conventional farming, because the crops are able to live while the pests and critters die.
Looking less at the environmental aspect and more towards your personal health, science has neither conclusively confirmed nor denied that these have an effect on your health.
How is this different from organic?
Organic food is free from synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, additives or solvents, and usually promotes ecological balance.
Organic food promotes biodiversity of plants and animals and is generally better for the environment from a holistic standpoint. It prevents topsoil erosion in farmlands, antibacterial resistance in animal products, chemical runoff when fertilizers and pesticides seep into grounds and rivers, and a whole palooza of things.
But is it healthy? Organic foods are actually no more healthy than your everyday, synthetic pesticide-laden foods. There has been little science to support the notion that organic foods have any different nutritional value than their non-organic counterparts.
How can you know what you’re eating? Look at the label!
- USDA organic: There are strict guidelines for what can be labelled organic, including no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, must prevent erosion, and must be non-GMO.
- Non-GMO: This label only means the product was not made with GMO foods (so it could be labeled non-GMO but still not be organic).
- Natural: This label isn’t regulated in America, which means anyone can slap a “natural” label on just about anything without any restriction.