This post is part of an Eczema Kids’ Nutrition Series where MarcieMom looks at various food types and their impact on eczema children, with topics ranging from early introduction to elimination. Often, advice on kids’ nutrition, especially on eczema, varies and MarcieMom invites Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian to help give her thoughts on this series written by MarcieMom.
More on Toby Amidor – Toby is the founder of Toby Amidor Nutrition where she provides food and nutrition consulting services. She is the Nutrition Expert for FoodNetwork.com and Nutrition Advisor for Sear’s FitStudio.com. She is an adjunct professor at Teachers College, Columbia University.
What’s Genetically Modified Food?
Genetically modified (GM) food or genetically engineered (GE) food are foods which genome has been modified by having another gene selected and transferred to it, encoded for a specific protein. GM food came into the supermarket around 1994, starting with tomatoes being approved for consumption and since, the majority of soy, corn, cottonseed and canola are genetically modified. Foods are genetically engineered mainly (i) to be tolerant to herbicides and (ii) to be able to produce its own pesticides that kill the pests feeding on them. To be tolerant of herbicides meant that farmers could say, spray Roundup herbicide (produced by Monsanto) and kill the weeds but not kill the vegetables, known as Roundup Ready soybeans, cotton etc. which seeds are also sold by Monsanto.
How did GM or GE Food Come About?
Crops can be genetically modified to be easier and faster to grow, and more resistant to drought, pests and diseases, thereby increasing food supply in our increasingly populated world. As mentioned above, the vegetables can also be engineered to be tolerant to herbicides. Some foods are genetically modified to improve its nutritional value by say, introducing antioxidants to vegetables that are lower in it.
So What’s the Problem?
The problem seems to be that we know little of the extent of the problem. There is a growing opposition against genetically modified food and some articles on the web have summarized it:
The main worries are:
Risk of increased allergy – for instance, there’s a soy allergen, trypsin inhibitor, which normally would reduce if the soy has been cooked. However, if the soy has been genetically modified, cooking didn’t reduce the amount of the allergic protein.
Risk of antibiotic resistance markers in human – if the markers are added to the GM food, there’s a risk of horizontal gene transfer whereby the antibiotic resistant gene will be transferred to bacteria in human intestine.
Risk of increased herbicide or pesticide – Although GM food would need less herbicide, farmers may end up using more of it since the crops are tolerant to it!
Risk of SuperPests – The pests turn ‘super’ because they have also adjusted to the GM food and thus stronger pest-resistant crops need to be engineered which may set off harmful effect on the food chain.
Risk of harm to organs – Some studies showed that rats had higher mortality rates and damages to their body organs and mouse had reduced enzyme production after consuming GM food.
Should it be Avoided for a Child with Allergy or Eczema?
There is no straight answer to this, though pregnant woman and young children may want to be more aware of this since the brain and immune system of foetus and young children are not well developed. There is no study directly linking children with allergy or eczema to GM food, and parents who are worried about GM food can opt for organic, which means not genetically modified, no synthetic pesticides, no irradiation or bio-solids added as fertilizer. Below are the ‘Dirty Dozen’ foods that contain the most pesticides, in a study done by non-profit organization Environmental Working Group.
8. Bell Peppers
Most of the foods above are so rich in vitamins which I give lots to my girl! Buying organic for the top pesticide food and top GM food would target the most risky ones and be less costly than switching all food to organic.
MarcieMom: Would you recommend a parent to always buy organic if they can afford it? And if they can’t, what food would you say ‘It’s better to eat the non-organic ones than not eat it’ and for what food would you say ‘Forget about feeding your child this if you can’t find an organic version’?
Toby: I would suggest going by the Environmental Working Groups Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. The dirty dozen contains the highest levels of contaminants and includes apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines, imported grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, domestic blueberries, lettuce and kale/collard greens. I suggest to spend your organic dollar on those 12 foods. Another option is local—visit your local farmer’s market and speak to your local farmer about what they grow and the techniques they use. They are typically very happy to discuss this information!
MarcieMom: The foods that are genetically modified such as soy, cottonseed, corn and canola are used in many processed foods, including soy lecithin used in chocolates, corn syrup in many sugary snacks and canola in oil. Would you recommend parents to read the label for all the food items and not buy if they contain soy, corn, cotton or canola? Or would your advice be to avoid certain category of food, say snacks and cookies, which aren’t healthy anyway?
Toby: These ingredients are found in such high amounts in our society, but we need to balance the good with the not-so-good. In general, all these oils are unsaturated and better for heart health. Using them within your repertoire of oils in moderation is healthy. And if you choose more whole foods over highly processed ones, you could pretty much avoid many of those other ingredients and higher calorie foods that should really be limited in your child’s diet.
MarcieMom: Will feeding our children supplements for the nutrients or vitamins we want them to consume get around this problem of pesticide and GM food?
Toby: NO! Whole foods provide so much more than can be isolated in a pill. The nutrients found in food work with one another to provide your child with maximum health benefits. Furthermore, eating food helps maintain the integrity of your gut. You also want to get your child to get used to eating well-balanced meals together with the family—they will learn about healthy eating and spend more time with the family too.