What You Need to Know About GMOs and Your Family’s Diet



As parents, we strive to protect our children, especially if we know certain choices can help protect them from cancer in adulthood. One of the choices you can implement as early as today is nourishing your family with fruits and vegetables, which can help them maintain a healthy diet. As a nurse practitioner in the Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, a question I see often is, “Are non-organic or genetically modified organism (GMO) fruits and vegetables unsafe or likely to cause cancer?” There are many parents that follow an all-organic diet, with the belief that this is safer for their family. In this post, I plan to address this question so that you can head to the market, feeling more confident in the fruits and vegetables you are buying for your family.

What Does GMO Mean?

When you see the letters “GMO,” it stands for genetically modified organism. This means a plant has been modified or bioengineered by adding genes from other plants and organisms to increase the resistance to insects, herbicide, spoiling, or to improve flavor or nutrient content.

How Do I Know If My Food Contains GMO?

  1. Currently there is no law, in effect, that mandates that products made with food grown with GMO’s be indicated on the label.
  2. Some products may be labeled as “Contains no GMO ingredients” or “Non-GMO.”
  3. Foods that are labeled “organic” do not contain GMO.

In the United States most soybeans and corn are grown from seeds that have been genetically modified. For example if there is food product that has either corn or soybeans in the ingredient list then most likely that food has been made with GMO’s.

What Does Organic Mean?

A food that is labeled “organic” describes foods from plants grown without adding artificial chemicals including conventional weed or pest killers, fertilizers made from chemicals or sewer sludge. When you see a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic sticker on food or packaging, it means the food is produced without antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, irradiation or bioengineering (GMO).

Are GMOs Harmful to My Family?

There is little evidence that says GMOs are harmful. At this time, there is no proof that foods grown with genetically modified organisms are harmful to humans or that they increase or decrease the risk of cancer. However, since these foods have been around for a relatively short time, the long-term health effects are not known. These foods continue to be monitored by the nation’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to assure safety.

What If I Can’t Afford Organic Foods?

Fruits and vegetables that are grown and processed organically often cost more money and may be out of reach for your grocery budget. If you are worried that you are putting your family at risk if you cannot afford to buy organic fruits and vegetables or foods made without GMO’s? Do not be worried. The available evidence does not suggest that eating non-organic food is dangerous.

Contact with pesticide residue on non-organic fruits and vegetables is safe. If you thoroughly wash your fruits and vegetables with plain running tap water before preparing them for your family, it will reduce some of the pesticide residue.

Some families choose to purchase only certain fruits and vegetables labeled “organic.” This is because certain fruits and vegetables, if grown non-organically, have high levels of pesticides. You may have heard them referred to as the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen.” (Tweet this)

Here is a printable version of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, for your home! 


A diet full of fruits and vegetables is usually associated with a healthy weight and people who have a healthy weight have a reduced risk of cancer. Whether you choose organic or not, make sure your family’s diet includes 1 ½ cups per person of fruits and vegetables daily!

Acknowledgement: Thank you to Linda Heller, MS, RD, CSP, CLE, Clinical Nutrition Manager, Clinical Nutrition Services at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, for her advice on this blog post.