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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. (This post brought to you by Clif Bar & Company. The content and opinions expressed below are that of Live Eat Learn.)

Non-GMO vs. Organic Foods...what's the difference? And should you be eating them? Find out + learn how to read the labels here!

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.  These are usually combinations of genes that can’t occur in nature or be bred via traditional plant breeding.

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, but they’re the crops that tend to make up our convenience foods (i.e. corn and soy). But they’re certainly not everywhere! 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 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. This means the general public and farming communities have more exposure to these chemicals, and there is more opportunity for them to pollute our waterways, oceans, and air. 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.  But organic is not non-GMO, nor has it been shown to be more nutritious, but it is quite nice for Mother Earth. Here’s the rundown.

Organic food promotes biodiversity of plants and animals and is much, much better for the environment. 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.

So what should you eat?
As you may have noticed, I’ve teamed up with the athletes and foodies in the CLIF kitchen to introduce a whole new kind of energy bar. CLIF Nut Butter Filled Bar brings together two great energy foods – a delicious, creamy nut butter inside an organic energy bar – to deliver sustained energy. They’re

  • USDA Organic
  • Non-GMO
  • Made with delicious, creamy peanut, hazelnut, or almond butters
  • 7 grams (9% DV) of plant-based protein
  • Low glycemic

Also, they’re like…way delicious. I bring them with me on my long bike rides around Holland because they’re full of sustainable energy! The Coconut Almond Butter is my personal favorite, but you can check out the whole Clif Bar lot! Want to learn more about Non GMO?



This info is brought to you in partnership with Kate Geagan, MS, RD.Kate is an award-winning dietitian and “America’s Green Nutritionist,” who has helped millions fall in love with food that powers a vibrant, high energy life. She is an internationally known author, speaker, consultant and nutrition communications expert, as well as a spokesperson for several global brands in the organic and natural space.

Called “a global thought leader in her field” by Discovery Health of South Africa, Kate is helping lead a national conversation which champions cleaner food choices to support a thriving body and planet. She is the author of Go Green Get Lean: Trim Your Waistline with the Ultimate Low- Carbon Footprint Diet.


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  1. Carole says:

    I choose non-gmo (and organic where possible), as I don’t believe in the process of genetically modifying the foods we eat. Yes, there is natural modifying, but we’re talking about taking a plant and modifying it with something not of the same family, to make it Roundup ready, etc.

    As has been seen, by doing so, we have now produced bugs that are becoming resistant to pesticides, which for some, has increased the usage of them. I don’t want to be a guinea pig for what could turn out to be long term health issues, not to mention what all of that junk does to the soil, and the planet.