Robyn O’Brien shares her personal story and how it inspired her to become a Real Food evangelist. Her journey started when one of her children had a dangerous allergic reaction to a "typical" breakfast.
Five years ago Robyn O’Brien was an average American mom; busy with four kids, living on a limited budget, and not in the least interested in hearing anyone lecture her about what to feed her kids. Then one day, after being served a typical breakfast consisting of Eggo waffles, blue-colored yoghurt and scrambled eggs, her youngest child suddenly had an acute allergic reaction. That very day, Robyn threw herself into researching food allergies, and virtually overnight, Robyn became a real-food activist.
She quickly learned that the foods sold in our grocery stores are not necessarily safe. On the contrary, many, if not most of them, now contain "foreign" ingredients that have never been tested for safety.
That something has gone awry is obvious when you take a look at the statistics. Between 1997 and 2002 the number of peanut allergies doubled, and the number of hospitalizations related to allergic reactions to food increased by a whopping 265 percent. One out of 17 children now has some form of food allergy. And allergy rates are rising.
When you consider that a food allergic reaction occurs when your body reacts to a food protein as a foreign invader (just like a virus or bacteria) which triggers an inflammatory response, the obvious question then becomes:
Is There Something "Foreign" in Our Food Today that Wasn't There Before?
Processed foods in general can contribute to allergies for a number of different reasons. Most processed foods contain a variety of food colorings, flavors, preservatives, and other additives can have a major impact. But there's another, even more insidious hazard lurking in American food stores...
In the mid-1990's, new food proteins were engineered and introduced into our food supply, yet many people are still, to this day, clueless about this. As O'Brien states, it was clearly done to maximize profitability for the food industry, yet NO human trials were ever conducted to see if these genetically engineered proteins were actually safe for animal- and human consumption.
One of the first foods to undergo this change was milk, which incidentally is also the number one food allergen in the US.
In 1994, the dairy industry started using a genetically engineered growth hormone, rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) on cows in order to increase milk production. However, it resulted in higher rates of disease in the treated livestock. To counteract the ill effects, dairies also had to start using more antibiotics, which we now know is one of the driving factors behind the rise in antibiotic-resistant superbugs in humans.
While Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and 27 countries in Europe refused to use rBGH due to the fact that it had not been proven safe, the United States took the opposite stance, and basically decided that since it hadn't been proven dangerous, it would be allowed...
As inconceivable as it may seem, prior to rBGH being introduced into the milk - and every other conceivable dairy product - that millions of Americans consume every day, it had only been tested on 30 rats for 90 days!
Why You Should be Concerned About rBGH in Your Milk
Samuel Epstein, MD, a scientist at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, is one of the top experts on cancer prevention. He is frequently called upon to advise Congress about things in our environment that may cause cancer, and he has written eight books, including two books on this particular topic What's in Your Milk?, and Got (Genetically Engineered) Milk?
In his books, Dr. Epstein explains that rBGH milk is "qualitatively and quantitatively different from natural milk," and is "supercharged with high levels of a natural growth factor (IGF-1), excess levels of which have been incriminated as major causes of breast, colon, and prostate cancers."
In addition to increased IGF-1 levels, other differences between rBGH milk and natural milk include:
Contamination of milk by the genetically modified hormone rBGH Contamination by pus and antibiotics resulting from the high incidence of mastitis in rBGH-injected cows Contamination with illegal antibiotics and drugs used to treat mastitis and other rBGH-induced disease Increased concentration of the thyroid hormone enzyme thyroxin-5'-monodeiodinase Increased concentration of long-chain and decreased concentration of short-chain fatty acids A reduction in levels of the milk protein casein
Armed with these facts, O'Brien began researching cancer rates, and lo and behold, the United States has the highest rates of cancer of any country on the planet. According to the statistics she compiled, one in two men, and one in three women are expected to get cancer in their lifetime. One in eight American women has breast cancer, and only one out of every 10 breast cancer cases is attributed to genetics.
Ninety percent are triggered by environmental factors.
What's Wrong with Our Soy and Corn?
Another common ingredient in processed food is soy, which is also one of the top eight food allergens. And again, we see the presence of something "foreign" as the vast majority of soy now grown in the US is genetically engineered to withstand massive doses of weed killer.
Ditto for corn.
Corn allergies are on the rise, and while some genetically modified corn is engineered to withstand Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, other varieties are engineered to create their own internal pesticide (Bt toxin). The biotech industry claimed there were no health risks to worry about from these altered foods. In the case of Bt corn, the concern that your gut might turn into a pesticide factory was shrugged off with lame assurances that the Bt toxin wouldn't survive once ingested.
However, just last month, a study revealed that Bt toxin was detected in:
- 93 percent of maternal blood samples
- 80 percent of fetal blood samples
- 69 percent of non-pregnant women blood samples
Turns out you cannot replace actual safety studies with lip service after all. Another recent review of 19 animal studies on genetically modified organisms (GMO) revealed that nearly 10 percent of blood, urine, organ and other parameters tested were significantly influenced by GMOs, with the liver and kidneys faring the worst. Additionally, Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology and author of two books on the topic, has previously documented more than 65 serious health risks from GM products of all kinds.
- Offspring of rats fed GM soy showed a five-fold increase in mortality, lower birth weights, and the inability to reproduce
- Male mice fed GM soy had damaged young sperm cells
- The embryo offspring of GM soy-fed mice had altered DNA functioning
- Several US farmers reported sterility or fertility problems among pigs and cows fed on GM corn varieties
Signs of Food Sensitivities and Allergies
Paradoxically, the foods you crave are oftentimes the foods that cause you the most trouble, so that's a good place to start. Common food cravings are milk, ice cream, pasta or bread. Other questions that can help you determine whether or not you might have a food sensitivity or allergy are:
- Do you experience bloating after meals, gas, frequent belching, or any kind of digestive problems?
- Do you have chronic constipation or diarrhea?
- Do you have a stuffy nose after meals?
- Do you have low energy or feel drowsy after eating?
- Do you have frequent headaches or migraines?
- Does anyone in your family have food allergies?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may want to investigate further.
How to Determine What Foods You're Allergic to
If you think you're suffering from a food allergy and notice symptoms shortly after eating a specific food, then that's a good place to start. Keep in mind that you can also be sensitive to food additives like artificial colors, preservatives and flavor enhancers (MSG), so reading labels is required if you're having allergy symptoms. One of the best things you can do if you believe you are suffering from a food allergy is to do a diet elimination challenge. Simply remove all foods that contain what you believe you are allergic to and see if your symptoms improve over the next few days. You may need to go as long as five days to give it a full trial.
If the symptoms disappear in one day, then you have your answer. The real clincher, though, is to reintroduce the food or drink (on an empty stomach). If the suspected food is the culprit you will generally be able to feel the symptoms return within an hour.
This can be difficult if you eat a lot of processed foods, as these often contain "hidden" ingredients like corn, milk, soy, wheat, yeast and artificial additives that are often problematic. The most suspect foods will be those eaten daily or more than once a week, as well as foods that you crave or eat at night. In extreme cases where it is difficult to isolate the offending food, you may even need to go on a fast to see if your symptoms resolve.
Avoiding Foreign Ingredients is Beneficial for Everyone
As discussed above, when your body encounters something that it views as a foreign invader, allergy symptoms are a natural side effect. However, there's evidence that even if you don't have food allergy symptoms, genetically modified foods are NOT entirely compatible with human biology, and long term, anything could happen… As mentioned earlier, infertility is a recurring side effect in animal studies. Whether or not this can occur in humans is still completely unknown.
Therefore, avoiding GM foods should be on everyone's list, whether you have food sensitivities or not. As O'Brien says, we cannot wait for legislation. We must begin to act in our own self interest.
"There is nothing more patriotic we could be doing," O’Brien says.
If you don't already have a copy of the Non-GMO Shopping Guide, please print one out and refer to it often. It can help you identify and avoid foods with GMOs. Also remember to look for products (including organic products) that feature the Non-GMO Project Verified Seal to be sure that at-risk ingredients have been tested for GMO content. You can also download the free iPhone application that is available in the iTunes store.
You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications.
When possible, buy your fresh produce and meat from local farmers who have committed to using non-GM seeds and avoid processed non-organic foods as much as possible, as again these are virtually 100-percent guaranteed to contain GM ingredients.
Genetically modified foods are, from my perception, one of the most significant threats that we have against the very sustainability of the human race, so everything you can do to avoid them is a step in the right direction for humankind.