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In the past few weeks, we have learned all about a staple in many of our diets: wheat. We have learned the benefits of it and the difference between conventional and organic wheat.
Now that we have seen how to identify healthy types of wheat, we are going to look at another very prevalent and important crop: corn. It’s in most of the foods we eat, so let’s recognize what that means for us and our bodies.
How Much Corn Do You Eat?
Maybe a couple of ears of corn a month? A serving or two at dinner? Corn chips every now and then?
23 pounds per year. That’s almost two pounds of corn per month. Per person.
The average American consumes an average of 23 pounds of corn per year. A week ago, I thought I rarely ate corn. How is all this corn sneaking into our diets?
Corn is the US’s biggest crop. We harvest 84 million acres of it every year. Here’s where all that corn goes:
36% to animal feed- cows, chickens, fish, etc.
12% DDGs (dried distillers grains) – then to animal feed
27% to fuel (ethanol)
7% other food stuffs (cornstarch, additives, etc.)
4% to high fructose corn syrup
(Source: National Corn Growers Association, World of Corn report)
You consume about 23 pounds of corn per year directly (eating it on purpose) and indirectly. Indirect consumption is sneaky.
Corn can be found in or used to make:
–sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol, erythritol (sweeteners found in foods, chewing gum, toothpaste)
–high fructose corn syrup (sweetener in beverages, bread, yogurt, ice cream, salad dressings, and more)
–zea mays – biological name for corn (found in foods, breadings, and cosmetics)
–vitamin D – when milk is supplemented with vitamin D, it is added using a carrier oil: corn oil
–citric acid – actually derived from corn, not citrus
–caramel coloring – food dye found in beverages, breads, candies…just about any food.
–grain alcohols – mostly made from corn (beverages, medicines, perfumes, flavor extracts)
–cellulose microcrystalline – pill coating used in medications
–cellulose – anti-caking agent commonly seen in shredded cheese
Not to mention the over 100 other ingredients that are/can be made from corn. If you eat conventionally-raised meats, you’re eating animals raised on corn.
I hate to pick on McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets (not really), but let’s take a look at just how much corn is in one of these fried morsels. These ingredients in a McNugget are or may be derived from corn:
chicken, modified food starch, salt, natural flavoring, dextrose, citric acid, yellow corn flour, baking soda, calcium lactate, spices, corn starch, and the nugget is fried in “vegetable” oil, which contains corn oil as well.
11 unique corn-derived ingredients, many used multiple times. This is not unique to McDonald’s. Nearly all processed food is sneakily packed with corn products.
The point? You’re eating more corn than you think.
To be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect when I started learning about corn. What I did learn began to quickly overwhelm me. I’ve whittled down my concerns to two main points:
Corn is everywhere. It is heavily processed and creatively used in hundreds of surprising places. It is prolific, and (whether you want to or not) you eat a lot of it.
Over 85% of our corn crops are genetically modified. Some varieties of corn GMOs turn the plant itself into a pesticide. If an insect eats that variety of corn, the insect will die. That same corn (Bt-corn) is used in our cereals and is registered with the EPA as a pesticide.
It’s the combination of these two concerns that has my radar up. How do you feel about this?
Genetically Modified Corn
Corn itself isn’t the bad guy. The genetic engineering of crops is worthy of your concern. From a business standpoint, it’s brilliant. Take the good qualities from one species and splice it with your crop, making it bug-proof, taller, bigger, higher yield, and drought-resistant. The farmers harvest more crops, get more money, and our markets are so flooded with so much product that we export it and even turn some of it into fuel. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) were introduced into our food system in the late 1990’s. Since then, concerns over the safety of GMOs have been raised over and over again.
Many countries around the world have banned GMOs or require GMO labeling. Why hasn’t the US followed suit? Where other countries require food additives to be proven safe, the FDA in the US requires proof that it is dangerous. “Innocent until proven guilty” may work well for the legal system, but I’m not sure I want the same approach taken with my health.
[Disclaimer: we could discuss GMOs for hours and still not scratch the surface. We’re going to focus on just a few studies, but please research the topic for more information.]
The Rats Grew Massive Tumors. A study published in 2009 fed rats three different varieties of genetically modified corn and compared the results. They found that all the test subjects developed side effects in several organs but the biggest damage was to the kidneys and liver – the two main detox organs. In addition, the test group rats began developing tumors after just 4 months in the study. The rats fed GMO corn died earlier than the control group.
The Butterflies Died. A 1999 study found that when Monarch butterfly caterpillars ate leaves that had been dusted with the pollen from Bt-corn, they ate less, grew slowly, and had a higher mortality rate. About 50% of the test group died. All the control group (not fed the Bt-corn pollen) survived.
The Mice Didn’t Breed. A 2008 study from Austria found that mice fed GMO corn had significantly fewer litters and significantly smaller litters of mice babies than the control group.
With about 85% of our corn crops being genetically modified, you are probably eating GMO corn…everyday.
But the FDA made sure GMO corn is safe, right? Nope. Actually, the FDA doesn’t run any tests on GMO foods and doesn’t require independent testing. The manufacturer is responsible for testing and doesn’t even have to disclose all of its data – just a declaration that the testing was adequate.
How to Avoid GMO Corn
The FDA still supports the use of GMO corn, saying it’s totally safe and has not been proven dangerous. After my research, I personally feel there’s enough data to question its safety and inspire more research. I’m choosing to avoid it.
Here’s what you can do:
-Tell the FDA you want GMOs labeled! 64 other countries require the labeling of GMOs. The US does not. Get involved in the Just Label It! campaign to add your voice to the 1.3 million Americans who want the FDA to require GMO labeling.
-Buy Organic. A certified organic agricultural product cannot be genetically engineered. So, if your label lists “organic corn”, it has not been genetically modified.
-Buy Fresh. Most raw fruits and vegetables have not been genetically modified. If it has, the PLU code will begin with an “8”.
-Buy Organic Again- meats, eggs, dairy. Organically raised poultry and cows have been fed an organic diet and will not have been fed GMO corn or treated with rBGH (a genetically engineered growth hormone). Grass-fed or pasture-raised animals will be more forage-fed and free of corn altogether. Farm-raised seafood is fed corn; choose “wild caught” seafood when possible.
-Know Your Options. Some brands have listened to consumer concerns and now run a GMO-free operation. Whole Foods, Safeway Organics, Trader Joe’s, Gerber, Clif Bars, Nature’s Path, and dozens of other companies are currently GMO-free. A good list of GMO-free brands is available on AllergyKids.com and a thorough search option is available at the Non-GMO Project site. This is of major concern in the cereal aisle. It was recently determined that Kellog’s Corn Flakes (and many of their other cereals) are made with Bt-Corn. The #1 ingredient in Corn Flakes is a pesticide. Thanks for the “healthy” breakfast!
-Non GMO Project Labels (shown above). You’ve probably seen this logo on products around the store. The Non GMO Project guarantees a 100% GMO-free product. It is an independent verification that analyzes the entire supply chain from farm to shelf.
-Ask Nicely. If one of your favorite products doesn’t advertise Non-GMO ingredients, politely ask them if any of their ingredients are genetically modified. These communications will tell companies that consumers care, and (hopefully) they will respond with better products in the future.
Easy Changes to Make Now
-Baking Powder. Pick up Rumford’s Non-GMO Baking Powder while you’re replacing the cornstarch. Baking powder is made with cornstarch, so it is likely GMO unless otherwise stated.
-Beverages. Check labels for high fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring, citric acid, and more. These are all highly processed corn products and likely genetically modified.
-Prioritize. Take a look at the food products you eat most often and prioritize those first. For my family, we prioritize organic tortilla chips. There are lots of organic and non-GMO brands, so there is always at least one option we can find at most any store.
-Become Aware. Not ready to make changes? Just start with reading. Read labels and start noticing what ingredients are or can be made from GMO corn. This list shows which ingredients are hiding corn.
What are your thoughts about corn and its genetic engineering? Legitimate concerns? Call for more research? Will you make any changes to avoid GMO-corn products?
We’re going to continue our organic journey and learn about rice. Does organic make a difference? What about white vs. brown? What are the nutritional benefits? All things rice, next week!
The is part of an Organic Living Journey Guest Post Series now written by Mariana who has a mother’s heart and scientist’s brain.