I was just reading an article by you in Active Kids magazine. You state that if kids are eating enough nutrients from foods, vitamins aren’t necessary. What are your thoughts on research showing how GMO foods and pesticides have stripped essential nutrients from our foods. Most people can’t afford to eat a completely GMO Free, organic diet. I’m very interested in your thoughts regarding this issue. -Lisa
An excellent question! My answer is based on my background in genetics, nutrition, biology and my experience as a nutritional counselor. I could easily write a book chapter on this topic and explore some tangent topics as well, but will try to be concise. So we are all speaking the same language…
The Biological Facts about Food DNA
Genetic modification (GM or GMO) is when genes are changed, often added, to a plant’s DNA to enhance it in some way. Most often this is done to increase crop yield or increase pest resistance. GM can change the nutritional quality of food and this concerns some people. Plant breeding, natural and artificial selection do as well, but no one seems concerned. Artificial selection is basically when, over the course of time, certain varieties of plants are grown more often than others for these same reasons. Would you keep planting the more nutritional zucchini that rots on the vine or the variety that does so less often? In the wild, the successful zucchini will seed more often and spread regardless of its nutritional value; this is natural selection. Plant breeding is when we create new varieties like tangelos by crossing a tangerine and a grapefruit. Is the tangelo nutritionally different? Probably. Inferior? No one really monitors this. Further, random mutation can change nutritional value and different varieties of apples have different amounts of vitamin A. My feeling is that this is a squabble over pennies. Any small difference in nutritional value probably isn’t going to account for much, if you are eating a whole-foods based diet. The US government does not require that food be labeled as containing GM ingredients so you can not identify them unless you buy organic foods as they do not have genetic modifications. There are reasons to avoid GM foods, but nutritional value is at the bottom of that list.
Pesticides sprayed onto plants do not affect nutritional value. You can wash some of the residue off when you wash your produce with warm water. You can reduce your pesticide exposure by as much as 70% by purchasing only 10 items grown organically. See my article on Buying Organic without Breaking the Bank.
As for children, my primary response to your question is that any minor loss of vitamins due to genetic engineering does not account for the overwhelming loss of vitamins from a child’s diet due to poor food choices. Let me illustrate with some diagrams.
A child should be eating a diet similar to the graph shown here, with half their calories coming from produce and about 25% coming from whole grains and 25% from protein. (Dairy is a protein, not a food group.)
|Diet Modification: A Bigger Problem|
I would be more concerned about what I call diet modification than genetic modification. Diet modification is when a child should be raised eating similar to the first graph, but the diet is instead modified to include fruit roll ups, graham crackers, gold fish, sugar cereals, energy bars, Gatorade, hot dogs, white bread products, jelly, etc. These things are not food. They are not grains, fruit, vegetables or protein and by composition contain more chemicals than the food group they are imitating. Unless you are going to make your child fat, there is little room in the daily diet for these items and all the real food groups. Every time you give your child chocolate Teddy Grahams they are not getting vitamins they need from a real food group and their diet looks more like the graph to the right. Synthetic supplements are not going to correct this. Please see my article on Vitamins.
If we compare the loss of nutrients between a child eating an organic Gala apple verses a non-organic GM Gala apple, perhaps the non-organic apple has 10% less nutrients (number made up because no real data available). But over the course of the day, a child who eats half of their calories from produce is going to get all they need. Now let’s compare the more likely scenario that the child eats goldfish for snack instead of any type of apple and the opportunity loss of nutrients is 70% or more. Your child will be getting more nutrition if they eat any type of apple, grown in any manner than if they eat the gold fish or chocolate Teddy Grahams for snack. Coincidentally, and conveniently, if you want to avoid GM foods, I can guarantee that almost all fast food, convenience and processed foods contain GM ingredients. If you can’t afford to go organic, just stop buying junk and you will reduce your consumption of GM foods.
Keep in mind:
- Convenience food is far more expensive ounce for ounce compared with whole foods. Eating healthy foods is more important than eating organic.
- I know manufacturers are adding a scoop of whole grains to the gold fish and oats to the smores flavored bars but they still don’t meet the standards of a food group. If you wouldn’t serve it as part of a healthy dinner, it probably isn’t real food.
- I am against GM with the insertion of systemic pesticides because of the very real environmental damage it causes and the increased allergen content.