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What does GMO stand for? And why are people’s opinions about GMOs so polarizing? Some think scientists are messing with nature while others appreciate what they deem to progress. Are GMOs actually abusing farmers and the environment? Are there food safety and health risks? And is GMO labeling accurate?

If you’re curious about GMO foods, you’re not alone. In this day and age, consumers are growing more skeptical of processed foods. And everyone wants to know exactly what they’re putting into their bodies. So….

What does GMO stand for and what are they? Read here to learn about the risks associated with genetically modified foods and why you’re better off avoiding them.

What Is GMO?

lab technician examining food | Gundry MD

GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. Sometimes you’ll find GMO foods labeled “genetically modified foods,” “genetically engineered,” “recombinant,” or even “bioengineered.” In any case, GMOs are organisms that consist of scientifically altered genetic material that doesn’t actually occur naturally.1

Turns out, scientists can physically alter the DNA of an organism to achieve desired effects, such as improving the yield of a certain crop or making a plant resistant to certain pests.

But genetic modification to the food supply has evolved. It’s not quite the same as simply selectively cross-breeding plants with desirable traits. Genetically modified foods mean that the actual DNA of the plant has been edited to cause a significant change in an organism, which can come with a catch.

GMO Foods And Your Health: Added Ingredients Like Lectins And Pesticides

Here’s how it works. GMOs are created by inserting foreign genes into plants. That much you know. And the intent is to support the plant in making its own insecticide (aka lectins) or be able to resist external insecticides like Roundup.

pesticides on crops | Gundry MDOriginally, Roundup was used only to treat GMO plants by exterminating the weeds around the GMO plant, leaving it protected.

But there are other GMO plants resistant to viral, bacterial and fungal illnesses that are under development. And these GMO plants are created using different approaches — for instance, enhancing natural plant defenses like lectins.2

So, while the genetically altered crops survive Roundup, farmers now apply Roundup to non-GMO foods, too. Plus, Roundup remains on the crops fed to livestock you eat. That means the animal fat, meat, and milk humans consume all contain Roundup, too. And since Roundup is used to harvest tons of non-GMO foods, you end up eating it directly as well, leading to significant damage and health risks.3

Risks Associated With GMOs And The Chemicals Used On GMO Crops

When it comes to risk assessment of GMO foods, it should be noted that there is an array of natural chemicals that protect plants against herbivores and illnesses. And these chemicals can be toxic when consumed by people.

toxic crops | Gundry MDHowever, when foods are genetically modified, this can cause unintended changes in the concentrations of such toxins.4 So, you do have to be careful.

But the risks don’t stop there. GMOs might actually affect your ability to produce vitamin D. Remember RoundUp (with key ingredient glyphosate)? Well, RoundUp/glyphosate can paralyze the key liver enzymes that convert vitamin D to a form your body can actually use in order to recycle cholesterol.5 That means two things: RoundUp effectively raises your cholesterol and that paralyzed vitamin D can no longer repair your damaged gut wall.6

Furthermore, early studies show the effect of glyphosate (aka the active ingredient in RoundUp) on your good gut bugs. The newest research reports symptoms and changes to your gut microbiota can evolve with long-term regular exposure to glyphosate.7 Yet another reason to avoid GMO foods.

There are health risks to the environment, too. For example, insects and weeds can become resistant to pesticides or herbicides sprayed on the fields in which GMO foods grow. Not only that, but some GMO plants have genes that give the antibiotic resistance. And again, when you eat GMO foods, those genes might be transferred to the bacteria in your gut. Subsequently, the bacteria in your gut could potentially become resistant to the specific antibiotic too.8

Which Foods Are Often Genetically Modified?

Corn is a biggie. Scientists developed crops that they say are easier for farmers to harvest. And in the mid-‘90s, corn became the first pesticide-producing crop approved by the U.S. Now, almost all of the corn in the U.S. carries the Bt toxin gene to protect it from pests, making it unsafe to consume.

Other than corn, the following foods are some of the most common GMOs in our food supply:

  • Flax
  • Sugarbeets
  • GMO tomatoes | Gundry MDPlums
  • Roses
  • Apples
  • Squash
  • Beets
  • Papaya
  • Rice
  • Canola
  • Alfalfa
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Soybeans

Does “Organic” Foods Mean “Non-GMO” Foods?

organic GMO signs | Gundry MD

So, what’s a consumer supposed to do? You may think shopping for organic foods and ingredients means you are shopping for non-GMO foods. But is that true?

First, you need to know that organic foods are grown from organic seeds. That means these plants don’t come into contact with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or genetic altering. Of course, natural pesticides and fertilizers are still used. However, in some circumstances, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers may get used as well and produce is still certified organic.9

Certified organic labels and non-GMO Project Verified labels are supposed to guarantee that plant food is non-GMO. However, the GMO labeling laws are iffy at best, so you should still find out as much as you can about where your produce is grown. Shop locally if you can. And ask your local grocer or farmer how they tend to their crops.

How To Choose Non-GMO Foods?

In the end, there’s really no guarantee that your foods labeled non-GMO will actually be non-GMO. So, be relentless in your research. Shop locally and ask local farmers how they tend to their crops. Avoid processed foods as much as you can.

And as you know, always choose pasture-raised poultry, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed and finished animal proteins.