Food industry is misleading the public about GMOs ion food

Letter to the Food Industry from a Frustrated Registered Dietitian

Using fear to sell food isn’t right and it may hurt you more than your customers in the long run

Dear food industry,

We have been working together for years – decades actually – and I have not felt the need to write to you until now. Even though our relationship hasn’t always been easy, I think we both realize we get the best results when we work together. That has generally meant I educate the public about food and nutrition for good health and you provide food choices to meet their needs. Deliberately misleading consumers was never part of the arrangement. So my question is this: Why are you using non-GMO claims as a marketing ploy?

We both know that GMO, or genetically modified organism for those who don’t, refers to crops developed through genetic engineering. Farmers think of it as another form of plant breeding, and that’s what I tell consumers it is. I also tell them it helps farmers get the best yields on the smallest amount of land using the fewest inputs (fertilizer, weed and pest control, water, etc.) so they can grow enough food to feed us all. And since we’re relying on just 2% of the entire U.S. population to grow all of our food, it makes sense to let those hard working farmers use all of the tools in their tool shed.

Farmers need to use every tool in their tool shed

Farmers have always relied on plant breeding to improve their crops

We both also know genetic engineering is a safe, thoroughly tested technology that has been used in food crops for over 20 years, but did you know it was used to make drugs before it was used for food? Genetically modified bacteria first produced insulin in 1976 and has been saving lives ever since. The first genetically modified foods didn’t come on the market in the U.S. until 1995.

What I can’t understand is why you would want to make GMOs look like something that should be avoided when you proudly sell so many other wholesome foods that are made with GMO crops?  It sends a mixed message to consumers when they see foods with GMO-free claims on their grocery store shelves right next to other foods without those claims. Even worse is when you pay to put a Non-GMO Project Verified seal on foods that couldn’t contain GMOs in the first place since they aren’t made with any of the eight GMO plants that humans eat (apples, canola, corn, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash and sugar beets). That means putting GMO-free claims on foods like canned tomatoes, wheat pasta, and olive oil is simply deceptive since all tomatoes, wheat and olive oil are GMO-free. And putting the claim on products that don’t even have genetic material, like salt and water, is absurd.

I hope you can see how this makes my job more difficult.

Fortunately, it looks like the Food and Drug Administration is going to take a closer look at the misuse of these claims. If they take action that will stop you from falsely suggesting that products with a GMO-free claim are safer, more nutritious, or are otherwise better than comparable products without the claim, and it will certainly ease my burden.  Plus it will save consumers all the money they now pay for the inflated prices you charge for these products.

There are no GMO oranges even though some brands of orange juice say they are GMO-free

Oranges are being wiped out by a bacterial disease that could be controlled by genetic engineering

There is one more reason why you may want to rethink your misuse of these claims. Food manufacturers might actually need GMO crops one day to continue making some of their bestselling brands. Isn’t it short-sighted to sabotage that possibility? I’m sure you’re familiar with the crisis Florida orange growers are facing due to a widespread bacterial disease that causes Citrus Greening. The use of biotechnology could save the orange juice industry, but that will present a problem for the companies with non-GMO claims all over their OJ (even though GMO oranges do not exist). If the only option available for them to stay in business is to use disease-resistant oranges made from genetically modified trees, they will have to drop the non-GMO claims on their juice. I can only imagine how confused their loyal customers will be when that happens.

Now that I’ve brought this issue to your attention I hope you will make amends so we can resume the cooperative working relationship we’ve had for so long. We certainly wouldn’t want to have to modify that.


Reduce added sugar without giving up sweet taste

The Sugar Free Diet Myth

This post was written as a guest blog for You can read the original post here.

I have been compensated for my time by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

Have you noticed the movement advancing across the country to promote sugar free or sugarless diets? You can hear about it in the campaigns calling for “added sugars” to be included on food labels and in the proposals suggesting taxes on sugary drinks.

One problem with this effort is that there is no way to remove all of the sugars from what you eat.

Sugars are naturally found in fruits, vegetables, grains and milk products, so our food choices would be severely limited if we tried to eliminate everything containing them. Sugar is also added to foods for its many functional purposes, such as the ability to improve color, texture, moisture, and yeast fermentation. It’s not just used to make things taste sweet.

How to Reduce Sugar Intake

While it may be an unobtainable goal to go completely sugarless, there are a few simple steps you can take aimed at reducing sugar in your diet.

  1. Learn the Lingo: Other Names for Sugar

Check the ingredient lists on the packaged foods you buy for all possible sources of sugar, even if it’s something that doesn’t taste sweet, like salad dressing. There are many other names for sugar, so if you spot several of them, look for the product with the fewest. You can also find more tips on hidden sources of sugar here

  1. Check the Claims: No Added Sugar vs. Sugar Free

What you see is not always what you get when it comes to the claims found on food packages. For example, “no added sugar” does not mean “sugar free” according to the Food and Drug Administration. I have explained the difference and other important details about sugar labeling in my blog, Sugar Free Food Labels – What Do They Mean?

  1. Sweeten Without Calories: Use Sugar Substitutes

One of the best ways for reducing sugar in your diet is to change the way you sweeten your foods and beverages. Replacing sugar with a sugar substitute like SPLENDA® No-Calorie Sweetener gives you the chance to enjoy a sweet taste with much less sugar in your meal plan. Now that’s a campaign worth joining!

You can find delicious recipes with SPLENDA® No-Calorie Sweetener hereand learn ways to reduce added sugar at

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in surgical gear from a scene in the movie Sleeper

Question the Health Benefits of Organic Brands

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.


Remember that funny scene in Woody Allen’s 1973 futuristic movie Sleeper when they dispute the health benefits of organic food? Well it looks like the future is here because the danger of eating organic brands has now been proven, that is if all you rely on is the label.

The twist has to do with what we perceive to be true about a food based on how it’s labeled. The effect has been dubbed a “health halo” and it happens when terms such as organic, natural and free-range are found on food. Some of us are more susceptible to it than others.

According to a new study, if you’re under the spell of a health halo, you’re more likely to think a food labeled as organic tastes better, has fewer calories and is better for you than its identical counterpart without an organic label. The study even found you’re willing to pay more for the food if smitten by the benefits of an organic label.

This is the point where I’d like to insert the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Power of Labels

Researchers from the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab recruited 115 people from a shopping mall in Ithaca, NY for their study. Each of the participants was given 2 identical samples of 3 different foods – 2 yogurts, 2 cookies and 2 portions of potato chips. One item in each pair was labeled “organic” and the other was labeled “regular,” even though both items in each pair were exactly the same.

The participants were asked to rate the taste and caloric content of each item and tell the researchers how much they’d be willing to pay for each. They then completed a questionnaire asking about their shopping habits and environmental practices.

As you might have guessed by now, the organic label influenced the opinion the participants had for those products.

Benefits of Organic

The researchers found the health halo effect of the organic label did not have a strong an influence over people who regularly buy organic foods, read nutrition labels and practice pro-environment behaviors. But for the people who didn’t match that description, they were susceptible to biases when they rated the foods. They said:

Organic cookies and Organic yogurt

  • contained fewer calories than regular
  • tasted like they had less fat than regular
  • were worth paying 23.4% more for than regular

Organic cookies and Organic potato chips

  • were more nutritious than regular

Organic yogurt and Organic potato chips

  • were more appetizing than regular
  • were more flavorful than regular

Regular cookies

  • tasted better than organic

While this study does not support Woody Allen’s premonition that hot fudge will someday be a health food, it does serve as a reminder that we should look beyond the label on the organic brands we buy. After all, organic hot fudge is still hot fudge.

Find out more on food labels here:

  • Nutrition Facts on Foods & Product Label Claims
  • Imagine Shopping Without Nutrition Facts on Food Labels
  • New Coke Ad Goes beyond the Nutrition Facts Label
Nutrition facts label and good nutrition websites need activity information

New Coke Ad Goes Beyond the Nutrition Facts Label

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read my original blog here.


There is plenty of good nutrition information in the world today, but we aren’t necessarily any healthier as a result, or any slimmer. We’ve got Nutrition Facts labels that tell us what’s in our food and nutrition websites that explain everything that happens to it once we eat it.

Maybe we need to start looking elsewhere for guidance?

A new Coke ad called Be OK spends 33 seconds equating the 140 calories in a can of Coke with fun and physical activity. It depicts someone walking her dog, getting into a groove while dancing, and doing a victory jig after throwing a strike in a bowling alley. With each fun activity we’re told how long we’d have to do it to burn off the calories in a can of Coke.

Research shows that’s a message people respond to.

What’s the Problem?
Calories are a difficult concept for Americans to grasp. Results from numerous consumer surveys done to test our knowledge of the connection between calories and weight provide all the evidence we need.

These studies have consistently shown the majority of us don’t know how many calories we are currently eating every day, how many calories we should be eating for our height, weight, activity level and health status, or how many calories we should be eating to lose weight — something the majority of us need to do.

Equally important, we have no clue how many calories we burn off each day, or more properly stated, how much energy we use to fuel the many functions our bodies perform 24/7. That is a key piece of the “energy balance” equation.

Who’s to Blame?

Caloric information has been on food labels since 1990. Books, brochures, and websites also provide detailed lists of the caloric value for everything we eat. And since 2008, chain restaurants in several big cities have been posting the caloric content for their menu items right up there along with the price.

To make it even easier for people to see the caloric content of their purchases, some food and beverage companies began putting the calories per serving on the front of their labels in 2011, not just on the Nutrition Facts panel found on the back or side of the box. But still, we have grown heavier.

What’s Been Missing?

Some researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) may have found a missing link. They designed a study to test what type of information might encourage diners to order differently from fast food menus. It compared four menu options: 1) just calorie information, 2) calories plus minutes to walk to burn the calories, 3) calories plus miles to walk to burn the calories, and 4) no calorie information.

The participants were 802 middle-aged women who were randomly assigned to one of the four groups. All were asked what they would order for themselves from a menu that featured fast food burger meals, sandwiches, salads, side orders, desserts and drinks. The only difference on the menus was the calorie and walking information.

Those who ordered from the menus with the calories and the number of miles needed to walk off those calories showed the biggest difference in their ordering preferences compared to those who had no information on their menus. Their orders contained 194 fewer calories, while the group that had calories and minutes of walking ordered 104 fewer calories, and those who had just calories ordered 93 fewer that the group with no information.

When asked which type of information they would prefer on menus, 82% of the participants said they preferred menus that showed physical activity, as minutes or miles walked, over menus that just had calories or no nutritional information at all. In their conclusions, published in the journal Appetite, the researchers state that it may be easier to imagine oneself walking a certain distance than trying to figure out what percentage of our daily caloric intake a menu item is worth.

It looks to me like The Coca-Cola Company has put the ball in our court with their new ad. What’s your next move?

Nutrition Facts don’t override taste when it comes to making food decisions.

Imagine Shopping Without Nutrition Facts on Food Labels!


This post was written during my 2 1/2 years as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in 2013, but you can see the original post here.

Food manufacturers have included ingredient lists, nutrition information and health claims on their packaging ever since they discovered it helped sell their products. The information wasn’t always accurate or ethical, but was always good for sales.

Recognizing the inherent danger in letting these practices go unregulated, Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) in 1990. The current version of the Nutrition Facts panel has appeared on packaged foods and processed meats and poultry since 1994.

In addition to requiring nutrition labels on most foods, the NLEA also requires that nutrient content claims, such as “low fat” or “high fiber,” satisfy criteria established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Additionally, all health claims describing a relationship between a food and a disease must be approved by the FDA. That is how statements such as, “Diets low in sodium may reduce the risk for high blood pressure, a disease associated with many factors” get on labels.

To make the job of finding the best food for our buck even easier, we now have “Front-of-Package” labels with abbreviated nutritional data and a variety of food rating systems, like NuVal, that use complex algorithms to rank all foods.

There is now an entire generation of Americans who have never seen a packaged food without a declaration of the serving size, calories per serving, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugar and protein it contains. Are their diets better as a result? Not really and here’s why.

Taste continues to hold its position as the number one influence over our food purchasing decisions, according to the 2011 Food & Health Survey. Even though we have more information than ever about what’s in our food and what we need to eat to stay healthy, we aren’t making most of our decisions based on that.

This led me to wonder what we might put into our shopping carts if all those metric units, daily values and carefully worded claims suddenly went away?

Putting aside for a moment the concerns of those with serious food restrictions, I don’t think it would be such a bad thing if all we had to look at in the supermarket was food. Labels could tell us the basics, like “White Bread,” “Tomato Soup” or “Strawberry Yogurt.” We could still compare prices and look for good values and favorite brands, but what would end up on the check-out counter is what we think tastes best.

And that’s pretty much what we’re doing now. The only difference would be that without the hard sell we might actually enjoy our food a little more.

See related article:

Getting Motivated to Eat Right