GMO: Friend or Foe?

Before I began work on my recent e-book on genetically modified foods (GMOs), I didn’t think GMO foods were such a big deal.

But by the time I finished the book, I felt very differently. The wholesale introduction of genetically modified organisms into the food supply is one of the most dangerous nutritional experiments in history. It has the potential to wreak havoc on many aspects of human health.

The pro-GMO crowd argues that GMOs increase yields, reduce pesticide use, benefit farmers, bring economic benefits, benefit the environment, reduce energy use, and will help feed the world. Most of those arguments fall apart under close examination; e.g., if it is so critical that GMO crops exist to feed the world, then why can we tolerate as much as 40 percent of the corn harvest being siphoned into production of ethanol? Or, if GMOs reduce the amount of herbicide used by farmers, then why was it necessary in 2013 for the EPA to double the permissible residual levels of the herbicide glyphosate in grains, while increasing levels permitted in sweet potatoes and carrots by factors of 15 and 25, respectively?

Right now, though, I’m concerned with the effect of GMOs on individual health.

Genetic modification means splicing the genes from one species onto the genes of another. There’s a big difference between genetic modification and breeding. You can make a mule by breeding a horse with a donkey. GMOs are fundamentally different. GMO creation is splicing the genes from one species (a fish, for example) onto another (a tomato).

This kind of gene splicing has a huge potential for disaster, because we’re taking something that does not exist in nature and putting it in food.

And that’s precisely the problem.

Think about it. What does the body do with foreign compounds? It mounts an attack. Which always—not sometimes—involves inflammation. And inflammation is a cause, multiplier, promoter, or contributor of just about every degenerative disease we know of.

Also, the gut is the first interface between food and the body. Inflammation in the gut almost always translates to something called leaky-gut syndrome which allows all sorts of compounds to get into the bloodstream where they don’t belong.

It gets much worse.

Let’s get back to glyphosate, the herbicide more commonly known by its commercial name, “Roundup.” GMO crops are frequently “Roundup Ready” which means you can spray them with Roundup without killing them. Even GMO crops that are not “Roundup ready” are frequently sprayed with Roundup.

Want to see what the research studies on glyphosate show?

  • Glyphosate is an antibiotic, but it kills some of the best bacteria in the microbiome, including bifidobacteria and lactobacillis.
  • Glyphosate amplifies toxicity and compromises detoxification.
  • Glyphosate has been shown to be an endocrine disrupter in human cells. (Translation: It screws around with your hormones.)
  • Glyphosate induces human breast-cancer cell growth via estrogen receptors.
  • Glyphosate accelerates cell proliferation (i.e. cancer) at tiny concentrations (measured in parts per billion to parts per trillion!).

So, are you ready for the amounts of glyphosate “legally” permitted in food?

I hope you’re sitting down.

The amount of glyphosate that’s “legal” for breakfast cereals is 30 parts per million (ppm). For soybeans, it’s 120 ppm.

The nine crops that are always GMO in this country (unless labeled organic) are soy, corn (not popcorn), cottonseed (oil), canola (oil), sugar beets, papaya, zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and alfalfa.

Which brings us to cooking oils.

I’ve long argued that we are in desperate need of a dietary oil change.

You know those vegetable (seed) oils that we’ve been told to consume for so many years, oils like soybean, corn, and safflower, that are supposed to be so much healthier than saturated fat? Guess what? They’re not.

Those seed oils are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory. Their counterpart—the omega-3 fatty acids—are anti-inflammatory. The ideal dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fat is 1:1, but in the Western diet we consume between 16 and 20 times more inflammatory omega-6 than we do anti-inflammatory omega-3.

To make things worse, 88 to 93 percent of those vegetable and seed oils come exclusively from genetically modified crops. So not only are we getting an overdose of the inflammatory fats, we’re getting them from genetically modified organisms.

It’s time to consider dumping some of the seed oils and replacing them with something better.

And that something better is often saturated fat.

Yes, the same saturated fat that’s been accused of clogging our arteries and contributing to heart disease has turned out to be innocent of all charges. Numerous rigorous, well-conducted studies published in major journals have found saturated fat to be of no real consequence in the development of heart disease. Recently, the results of a huge study involving over 135,000 patients from 18 countries followed for 74 years—the PURE study—showed that people who ate the most carbs had the most risk for heart disease, while those who ate the most saturated fat actually had less risk for stroke.

In our well-meaning (if ill-informed) quest to banish saturated fat from the table, we’ve neglected some very healthy cooking oils which could easily replace some of the GMO, high-omega-6 fats. One of my favorites is Malaysian palm oil.

Malaysian palm oil is a classic case of a terrific, healthy oil being unfairly maligned by bad research demonizing saturated fat.

Red palm oil from Malaysia is red because it’s loaded with carotenoids, the same healthy family of compounds that give us beta-carotene. It’s also loaded with tocotrienols, a type of vitamin E that has been found to be highly anti-inflammatory, have enormous antioxidant power, and is believed to have potential for supporting cardiovascular health. What’s more, tocotrienols have been found to help protect the brain after stroke.

Malaysian palm oil is processed without harsh chemicals, heat, and solvents. It’s entirely sustainable, and completely non-GMO. Fifty percent of Malaysian’s forests are protected (as opposed to 3% in the USA). No orangutan habitats are destroyed in the making of palm oil in Malaysia.

Other fats that are primarily saturated and are great to bring back into your diet include grass-fed butter, coconut oil, and even organic lard from pastured pork.

Swap some of these great oils for some of the seed oils in your pantry cabinet. Meanwhile cut back on the omega-6s (vegetable oils in general) and increase your intake of omega-3 (wild salmon, fish oil, flaxseed, ahiflower oil, etc).

By making that health oil swap you accomplish two important outcomes. One, you help to correct the dietary imbalance that favors inflammatory omega-6 fats. And two, by eliminating genetically modified oils, you also eliminate a potential source of gut inflammation, the gateway to so many diseases and conditions that you don’t want to have.

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS

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