Non-G.M.O. and gluten-free! These labels have been added to a wide variety of food products. If you see these, it must mean that this food product is superior to similar foods that don’t have these labels, right? Of course, the fact that my wife found these all on a package of yogurt means that few actually understand what these things mean. Just like those gluten-free pears you bought two weeks ago and forgot in the fridge–let’s run the usage of these labels through the smell test to see what they actually mean.
To start with, knowing what GMOs or gluten are is the first step towards knowing if they can be a problem (which they are not, despite Dr. Oz’s tabloid warnings). GMO stands for “genetically modified organism“, which to date means for American food consumers a handful of plants–not animals. These plants are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash, sugar beets, and apples (which are not out on the market yet). So when a person or company claims their milk or pork chops are “GMO free”, it’s a silly statement.
Gluten is treated even worse than GMOs. Gluten is a general name for proteins found in cereal grains, such as wheat, barley and rye. There is a very real and serious condition that some people have, called Celiac Disease, where sufferers have an intolerance for gluten. If you have been diagnosed by a doctor with this condition, The Celiac Disease Foundation has a list of foods that could contain gluten you should avoid.
However, if you don’t have this disease, then it’s fine to eat, just like it was for your ancestors that have been making bread for the past 30,000 years. The trouble is, unlike other potential allergens (such as nuts or dairy), the “gluten-free” label isn’t on nutritional facts panel, but rather displayed in bold letters on the front as a marketing tool for the fad diet.
Which brings us back to the aforementioned yogurt. With a big, proud label stating “GMO and Gluten Free”, one would think that the manufacturer took great strides to prevent these two components from contaminating their precious yogurt. But the ingredients in yogurt are milk and yeast–neither of which exist on this planet as a GMO. And unless you personally are making yogurt with brewer’s yeast (which sounds like an awful taste), it can’t have gluten in it because it’s never even come in contact with grain.
So these labels are meaningless, and pander to food fads. They also imply things about non-labelled products that are not true. In short, using marketing to add to the confusion over what actually constitutes healthy eating stinks.
If you’re concerned about what you’re eating, stop following the fads that come and go. Stick instead with having balanced, well-rounded meals that include all the macronutrients (yes, that means fat too) without consuming too much of any particular one. There are a plethora of resources that can help you with this, and many are free. And by ignoring buzzwords and fads, you’ll do a better job of feeding yourself and your family.