About a year ago, Grape Nuts and Cheerios went GMO free. Remember the cheers of joy that went up across the country? While it may be a great thing that major corporations, like General Mills and Post Foods, have embraced the GMO-free way of life, did you stop to read the nutrition label on the side of your new box of cereal? The vitamin content of both cereals take a nasty drop. Specifically, vitamins A, D, B12, and B2 (aka riboflavin), which had been previously added to Grape Buts were suddenly missing, and Cheerios were sans riboflavin. So, what caused the big disappearing act? Consumers have been wondering, and there seems to be an answer now.
Post Foods (makers of Grape Nuts) said that the vitamins were removed because they did not “meet non-GMO standards.” But why? Apparently, just like microbes can be used in engineering nutrients and flavors, they can be used to manufacture vitamins. NPR’s The Salt’s Dan Charles recently wrote a very interesting piece on this topic, and he offered several reasons vitamins may not pass non-GMO muster.
Scientific papers have been published showing how riboflavin and B-12 can be made using genetically modified microbes, and that’s a likely reason the cereals aren’t adding these vitamins back in; but when you’re talking about labeling a product “non-GMO” there are a lot of hoops to jump through. While there are strains of bacteria that naturally produce these vitamins (so they wouldn’t necessarily have to come from GMO microbes), manufacturers also have to show that the feed consumed by these microbes (glucose, for one) were also derived from non-GMO sources. That’s another step, more work, and, potentially, more expense. Another hoop: Some vitamins have to be mixed with other substances, like cornstarch, to handle them easily. Is your cornstarch GMO free, Post Foods? Prove it. Starting to see why these vitamins are no longer being added? These companies can still get non-GMO vitamins, but it’s harder and takes more time, so it’s no wonder that, instead, these vitamins have just been dropped.
Now you’re wondering about your vitamins, aren’t you? Apparently, the only production of vitamins that’s cheap, industrial-scale and non-GMO is synthetic chemistry. According to Mr. Charles, ” Vitamins are commonly manufactured from scratch in chemical factories, using ingredients that cannot be linked to any genes or biological process at all.” So, a chemistry lab or a GMO–take your pick (or eat really healthy food).
Brown Bag can help you with the “healthy food” part of the program. According to Mr. Charles, vitamins can be taken out of things like carrots, but it’s a much more expensive process. So, why not just eat some carrots? Many vitamins and minerals, like vitamin D and calcium, are better absorbed by the body in their natural forms rather than supplements. In the winter, many people need to take vitamin D supplements because they’re not getting outside as much to soak up the sun’s natural vitamin D, and that’s understandable. But when sunshine and warmth are abundant, your body will absorb vitamin D much better coming from the sun. The same can be said for calcium supplements. Your body will better absorb the calcium in kale or milk products than a supplement, so if you can eat calcium-rich foods, forego the supplements and eat the foods. That goes for other supplements, as well.
Avoiding GMOs isn’t always easy, but if it’s important to you and you love your breakfast cereal, then look for other ways to add vitamins B 12, B 2, A and D to your diet. May we suggest a Build-Your-Own Salad? Load it up with all the nutrients you’re looking for, and maybe you can cut down on the supplements.