The Evidence Is In on GMOs (Just Ask This Dietitian)

By Christine Palumbo, RDN

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If you think you’re making a healthier choice when reaching for the non-GMO cereal at the grocery store, it might be time to revisit your food assumptions.

Over my 41 years practicing as a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’ve heard them all. Eat sweet potatoes, not white ones. Avoid frozen foods. The list goes on. They’re well intentioned, but many of my clients and friends alike get caught up in these games of “nutrition telephone,” where concerns get passed along by so many people, they lose all connection to actual facts. That’s one of the reasons I decided to pair up with A Fresh Look — a farmer-led educational nonprofit — to help set the record straight on unscientific food myths that lead people into unhealthy diets, or unhealthy fixations on eating ‘right’.

Today, I’m sharing some of the most frequent questions I get from my clients. Any of these sound familiar to you?

Q1: Is wheat bread always the best choice?

You’re out for breakfast and the waiter asks, “white or wheat?”

You reply without hesitation: “wheat.” But wait! What most people don’t know is that almost all bread is essentially wheat bread if it’s made from wheat flour, another term for refinedwhite flour. What you should really focus on is choosing bread that is 100% whole wheat or whole grain.1https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/cooking-tips-techniques/whole-wheat-whole-grain-breads-0 So, if your waiter doesn’t offer either of these, there’s really not much nutritional difference. Just go with whichever sounds the best to you!

Q2: Should I avoid GMOs when shopping for my family?

This question is one that I have seen time and time again, and arguably one of the most frustrating because most concerns are based on myths long settled by the science. Still, some 40% of us incorrectly believe ‘non-GMO’ equates to ‘increased health’.2https://www.foodinsight.org/2018-food-and-health-survey It seems much of the confusion stems from understanding what the term “GMO” really means. A lot of people think GMO foods are injected with something foreign, and probably dangerous, when in reality the term refers to a way of cultivating crops to increase naturally occurring traits that benefit people and the planet — like boosting natural pest resistance, which allows farmers to use fewer pesticides and reduce their environmental impacts. The truth is, these crops are no less nutritious, safe or healthy for us to eat!3https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/well/eat/are-gmo-foods-safe.html I also like to share this Food Policy report with my clients: economists4https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919218301131 studied nearly a decade of monthly grocery sales data for more than 10,000 products and found that Americans have been paying up to 62% more for foods with a non-GMO label. Just think, by ignoring that label, you could save on your grocery bill and still get healthy, sustainable food that is just as nutritious and good for the planet.

Q3: Should I always choose a sweet potato over a white potato?

Because white potatoes are often eaten in an ultra-processed way (think french fries, buttery mashed potatoes, your favorite BBQ-flavored chips), it’s common to think that sweet potatoes are healthier. This could be because most of us eat sweet potatoes closer to their natural form (think baked potato) . The truth is, both spuds are essentially equal in nutritional value!5https://www.precisionnutrition.com/sweet-potatoes-vs-potatoes-infographic While sweet potatoes have more vitamin A, white potatoes have more vitamin C, potassium and phosphorus. Phew! That means you can go for that white potato (if you’re planning to bake it) and rest assured that you’re still getting great nutrition.

Q4: How can I make sure I’m avoiding pesticides on my produce?

My clients are often surprised to hear that pesticide residue on crops is usually so minuscule6https://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/06/06/synthetic-v-natural-pesticides/ that it’s not something we need to be worried about. But they’re even more surprised to learn that every method of farming uses some form of pesticides. Even organic farming uses chemical pesticides — they just have to qualify as naturally occurring, even if they’re more dangerous than a man-made alternative. So if you’re worried about pesticides on your food, it’s worth noting that GMO Farming methods have actually allowed farmers to reduce average pesticide use by 37%7http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111629, all while using milder chemicals and fewer of them.

Q5: Am I skimping on nutrition when I buy frozen veggies instead of fresh ones?

If you’ve ever bought veggies only to have them go bad before you could eat them, I’ve got good news for you: frozen is fine! I always tell my clients to simply make sure they get their daily servings of fruits and veggies — no matter what form they take or what kind of farm they come from. Depending on when your fresh produce reaches your grocery store, the veggies you pick up in the frozen aisle may actually be more nutritious.8http://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2017-05-14/fresh-vs-frozen-vegies/8443310 The freezing process seals in the nutrition, maintaining the freshness in the safety of your freezer. As for how they were grown, just remember the science shows no nutritional difference whether something was grown with organic, conventional or GMO Farming methods.

This post is sponsored by A Fresh Look, a 501(c) (6) organization, whose mission is to provide trustworthy research-based info to consumers about the benefits of GMO Farming methods.


A Fresh Look, Inc. A family farmer-led non-profit