Avoiding GMOs when eating out

A couple of years ago, I was delighted to sit down to a meal with many like-minded friends at a lovely restaurant. Jeffrey Smith — author of the best-selling book about genetically modified organisms or GMOs, “Seeds of Deception,” and “Genetic Roulette” — kindly helped us avoid GMOs in our meal as we ordered as a group. I asked him to share his expert advice in how to avoid GMOs when eating out. I found it very helpful and hope you do, too.

KH:What are the top offenders when eating out? What should we especially avoid?
Jeffrey Smith: Fast-food places are the biggest offenders, since their processed foods usually have soy and corn derivatives in most items. For other types of establishments, most of the potential GMOs are visible: e.g. corn products and tofu. To avoid sugar from sugar beets, you will have to limit your desserts to those with pure cane sugar or some other sweetener, as plain sugar is mostly from sugar beets. But don’t go for the packets of Equal or Nutrasweet. These are from aspartame, which is produced from the use of GM microorganisms and is linked to quite serious diseases.

The chief invisible GMO ingredients are oils. Soy, corn, cottonseed, and canola are all GMOs. So I inquire, usually by phone in advance, whether the restaurants uses these as cooking oils. If so, I find out if they can cook my entrée without oil, or with olive oil. Butter is also an option, but it may be from cows injected with GM rbGH, or fed GMOs.

From a health perspective, the processed foods like oils, sugar and corn sweeteners will have less risk than, say, GM corn on the cob or corn chips. The refined oils won’t have DNA and proteins. But the massive collateral damage that occurs in a GM plant due to the process itself might cause the introduction or overproduction of a dangerous constituent, such as a fat soluble toxin, that does make it into the oil. So its still a risk, but not as bad as those products that still contain the DNA and proteins.

What type of items should we order?

Ideally organic food. For non-organic, they key is just avoiding the at-risk ingredients (from soy, corn, cottonseed, canola, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, and a little bit of zucchini and crookneck squash.).

I imagine that certain kinds of restaurants are harder to eat GMO-free than others. What type of restaurant do you look for when eating out?
I look for restaurants that cook from scratch. It’s easier to find places that don’t use GM cooking oil if they are Italian, Greek or Middle Eastern. They usually use olive oil. But confirm that it’s pure and not blended with canola or some other GM oil.

Do you have a favorite restaurant?
I think I’m too eclectic to have a single favorite. My small town in Iowa has some great restaurants. But I also love trying local ethnic foods while I travel. While visiting India, for example, every meal in a 19-city tour was 5 star.

Do you have any other tips for us?
When you start trying to avoid GMOs in restaurants, it’s easy to get angry or blame the owner or server. I recommend just the opposite. Bring them a Non-GMO Shopping Guide and a brochure on the health dangers (available at www.responsibletechnology.org). Realize that most people are not even aware of GMOs. They will much more likely pay attention to you and the literature if you are friendly and loving.

And if you accidentally eat GMOs that you are trying to avoid, don’t fret and worry. After all, worrying is toxic, so why add to your toxic load by worrying about eating a toxic GMOs.

Safe eating.

Thanks, Jeffrey! Your advice is much appreciated.

Photo: david.nikonvscanon/Flickr

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. says

    So very true! I find that most places that serve locally sourced, produce and pastured meats can almost always prepare my meal with olive oil or butter. I strictly avoid anything fried, because the fryer oil is almost always icky- soy, canola or a blend. We are very, very careful when we dine out. This is certainly not an “everything in moderation” situation (I hate that saying!) Thanks for sharing these great tips! 🙂

  2. Karen says

    I hesitate to ask . . . GMOs weren’t on my list of foods to strictly avoid. Can you enlighten me as to why they are so terrible?

  3. says

    This is a great post! Thank you! It seems that typically, the higher-end restaurants are the best choices for being able to avoid GMO’s; unfortunately, most people cannot afford to eat there. But eating out at a restaurant should be a luxury – something saved for special or rare occasions – so then it would be worthwhile to splurge a little to get better quality. Sadly, the nicest restaurant in our area (they cook from scratch and change the menu seasonally) cuts their olive oil with canola. They said the customers complained because the olive oil had too strong a flavor. Maybe I could encourage them to at least use organic canola oil; the brochures mentioned in the post would be very helpful. Great idea!

    In our area (Tennessee) there is a franchise called “Blue Coast Burrito” that serves Baja style burritos. Their food is all made fresh to order. Reading this post showed me that it would be easy to eat there and avoid GMOs as long as I avoid the tortillas and corn chips. They offer a “peasant plate” which simply includes rice, beans, meat if you choose, and various toppings including homemade salsas and pico de gallo. It is delicious, and probably GMO-free! This is good news because sometimes you just need a fast and easy place to go for lunch or dinner, and if you care like I do about what you eat, it is really hard to find such a place.

    Very helpful, informative post. I will be forwarding this link to friends and family.

  4. Brooke says

    I’m not sure where you’re located, Kimi, but is this an issue in Canada? Are you familiar with the differences in food between the States and Canada?

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