Navigating the grocery store
When shopping at a grocery store, it is best to circumnavigate the store first, using the outside aisles as a guide to the better selection of quality food products. These areas include the fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy sections, avoiding the inner aisles as much as possible where the boxed and canned items are sold. Boxed and canned items will contain higher amounts of preservatives, including artificial chemicals and salt, which allows a longer shelf life. Watch for expiration dates that are listed on the label as to when the product will no longer have the proper nutrient or freshness level and know that the newer products are always stocked behind the ones about to expire. Avoid any opened or dented cans and boxes as it may have allowed bacteria to enter.
Organic food labeling and GMO
For higher quality food products that will promote good health, look for the ‘certified organic’ label and which means it is also ‘non-GMO’. GMO stands for ‘genetically modified organisms’ and means the food has been genetically engineered or changed in some way from the original food source. You can also see the term “GE foods” (genetically engineered) which means the same as GMO. This process of genetically modifying foods is relatively new to the food industry, as there were no GMO or GE food crops planted in the US prior to 1994, however, there are now more than 165 million acres of GMO foods planted each year today. It is estimated by the Center for Food Safety that 70-75% of all grocery store products contain at least one genetically modified ingredient.[i] The reason for the growth in engineered food products is because they are often easier to grow due to their resistance to pests, along with pesticide use, and more profitable to produce.
The problem with GMO / GE foods lies with the health risks associated with them. Genes are the blueprint for making proteins, therefore a GMO food will contain new proteins that were not present in the food prior to its modification. Since it is proteins that are often the basis for allergies and our immune system response, many scientists have speculated that these altered genetic GMO/GE proteins may be a source of recent increases in body system inflammatory responses, food allergies, digestive tract dysfunction, as well as autoimmune disorders.
Unfortunately, mandatory labeling laws for GMO or GE foods do not yet exist in the United States and until such labeling is widely adopted, the only practical way to lower GMO risks is to select ‘certified organic’ foods. Since the U.S. National Organics Program forbids the use of genetic modification in foods to be certified as organic, purchasing organic is a great way to lower your exposure to GMO or GE foods.