- Non-GMO Project
You may have seen the little square on the front of crackers and chips, or on bags of bread. Non-GMO labelling means that genetically modified organisms were not used in the ingredients. GMOs, genetically modified organisms, are living organisms that have been genetically altered in a lab. Genetic engineering is used to crossbreed plant, animal, bacteria and virus genes. Some have expressed concern for the lack of human health studies when consuming these products, and so the Non-GMO Project Certification took shape. You can read more about it here.
Some of the most susceptible crops are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, soy, sugar beet, tomatoes and wheat.
Foods grown in soil and without the use of prohibited substances, like certain synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, or raised using specific animal practices can be called Organic. If a label states "made with organic ingredients", it means that at least 70% of the ingredients are organic and the rest might not be organic but still in compliance with their requirements. Ingredients in organic foods must not include artificial preservatives, colours, or flavours. Organic foods do not contain GMOs.
The list of the crops with the highest residues make up the annual "Dirty Dozen". You can find that ranking, as well as the "Clean Fifteen" here. When buying organic, focus on the Dirty Dozen foods in particular.
You may recall in the news a couple of years ago, attention was drawn to the presence of glyphosate in cereals, particularly in amounts exceeding safe values and especially in products marketed to children (a quick internet search will remind you of this topic if you'd like to look further.)
- Sugars are glucose, fructose, lactose, sucrose - present in fruits and fruit juices, dairy, or added through table sugar, honey, syrups - and are broken down in the body for the same amount of energy regardless of the source
- Many sugars come from corn or sugar beet sources
- sugar, brown/golden sugar, icing sugar, golden syrup, turbinado sugar, molasses, glucose-fructose (high fructose corn syrup), corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, glucose, high maltose corn syrup, agave syrup, cane sugar, coconut sugar, date sugar, fruit juice concentrate, honey, maple syrup, rice syrup, maltodextrin
- Sugar Free - Less than 0.5g of sugar per serving, but artificial sweeteners often used.
- No Sugar Added - often contains artificial sweetener
- Unsweetened - no sugar or artificial sweetener added (but innate sugars present e.g. fruit sugars), often seen on apple sauce or juices
- Fiber helps to lessen the effects of sugars (by slowing absorption), so sugar obtained from eating a piece of fruit is more beneficial than sugar from a glass of juice.
Aim for < 50 grams of free sugars daily. I also recommend avoiding artificial sweeteners as they "trick" your body into thinking sugar is on its way, but when it doesn't come you respond by holding onto the sugar in your next meal. Diabetics and those with insulin sensitivity can do better than these products (ask me more).
- Whole Grain
- using the whole grain kernel to produce flour, oatmeal, cornmeal, or rice
- refined grains have had the outer shell (bran and germ) removed through milling, and are often enriched (synthetic vitamins added back after processing)
The best options are quinoa, brown rice, millet, amaranth, and other grains cooked in their whole form.
- Gluten Free
- in order to achieve a Gluten-free label, foods in Canada must be under 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten
- gluten is found in barley, rye, wheat, kamut, spelt and in oats (from cross contamination)
For people with gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease, I recommend prioritizing non-grain sources of food (vegetables, proteins) as I have found my patients have better health outcomes this way. Many gluten-free foods contain higher amounts of sugar, refined grains, or high levels of processing which removes their nutritional value anyways. It works for a substitute (like a pizza craving), but isn't great to rely upon regularly. Another reason that I think limiting grains helps people with gluten intolerance is that some research points to gluten intolerance stemming from glyphosate sensitivity. Glyphosate interrupts normal bacterial flora (good bacteria) leading to damage to the gut. Since glyphosate is common in many grains, it's best to reduce their intake during healing.
- Canadian Milk
- Canadian dairy products do not contain rbST or rBGH (artificial growth hormone), neither does European milk
- claims not to have detectable levels of antibiotics (Health Canada <0.01ppm)
- lower somatic cell count (SCC), said to reflect the health of the cow, in Canadian over American milk
Some dairy products come from American milk, so look for the Canadian milk labels or choose organic options in order to limit antibiotic and growth hormone exposure. These growth hormones can increase IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor) which is linked to cancer and diabetes risk.
**FYI: For people with allergies a scary thing happened ..... in the US it was reported that as supply chains were interrupted from the pandemic, some ingredients would be temporarily replaced in packaged foods. So for example, using sunflower oil instead of vegetable oil. This poses a serious concern for allergy sufferers. I haven't heard yet if this has been an issue here in Canada, but I just wanted you to be aware if you have an anaphylactic allergy. Canadian labelling laws require that common allergens be listed separately on ingredients lists (so you will see: Contains milk, sesame as an example, beneath the ingredients.)
My general rule: shop the outside of the store as much as possible (fewer packaged foods), and use markets, small stores and local farms when you can.
Remember, aim to fill half your plate with vegetables. Eating in this way will automatically provide you with loads of nutrients, and crowd out some of the other foods. When you are well nourished you will find less desire for junk foods.
Here's to informed, and healthy eating!
Take good care,