The Core Diet Blog

The following content was provided by Registered Dietitian, Jaime Windrow.

Each and every year, springtime provides an opportunity to shift towards fresh and clean living. With the change in season, many schedule an annual house cleaning. But, spring is also a great time to "cleanse" the body. A little spring-cleaning of our diet can go a long way towards a faster season of training and racing, as well as healthier living. Who couldn't use a little of that?

Eat non-GMO foods. Eat organic. Eat locally. Eat seasonally.

When did food become so complicated? While modern food processing and worldwide distribution has made for year-round availability, it all comes with a cost. While this is certainly attractive during the winter months, it is only possible with the addition of antibiotics, hormones, herbicides, pesticides and genetically modified proteins in our food supply. Oftentimes without even knowing it. The biggest concern is the unknown,combinedeffect of long-term use of these chemical additions to our foods, which has never been, and is not currently being studied.

So, whether you are training for an Ironman or just staying fit in the gym, we could all use a little "cleaning". Unfortunately these days, an apple is no longer just an apple. A tomato is no longer just a tomato. And, chicken is so much more than just chicken. The key is in knowing which apple, tomato, or chicken to choose when presented with so many options. This can be the difference between having high quality nutrients on your plate, and chemicals disguised as healthy foods.

It would be extremely challenging, as well as ridiculously frustrating, to eat a diet that is 100% "clean", 100% of the time. I love author Robyn O'Brien's application of the Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, to the theory of healthy eating. In essence, if you can eat "clean" 80% of the time, then you are making amazing improvements to your overall health, both short- and long-term. Imagine the influence that you can have on this idea just under your own roof! Filling your cupboards and refrigerators with as much of the foods and brands that you trust to be safe and of the highest quality, as possible, will greatly limit the effects of the times when you are not eating from under your own roof, and have no control over your food sources.

In order to attain "clean" eating, we must first understand the terms and processes below. From there, we need to make decisions on what makes the most sense for us and our lifestyle.

Genetically Modified Foods

What are genetically modified foods and why is this done?

A GMO (genetically modified organism) results from a lab process in which genes from one species are inserted into another species. This modification is an attempt to obtain desired characteristics, such as herbicide tolerance, cold, drought and disease resistance, and the plant's ability to produce its own pesticide. This process is called Genetic Modification (GM) or Genetic Engineering (GE).

How is GM or GE done?

Since these desired traits would be impossible to obtain through natural processes (that's why nature sets up barriers!), scientists have to find ways to force the DNA from one organism into another. For example, in an attempt to engineer a tomato that will deter insects, scientists may introduce the genes of a scorpion into tomatoes, which cannot be achieved through traditional crossbreeding or grafting. The two widely used methods of "forcing" are:

  • Using bacteria to "infect" and penetrate the host cell with the new gene.
  • Using a special gun to fire tiny metal pellets, coated with the DNA of the new trait, into the host cells.

Are GM foods tested?

Nope! The FDA does NOT require testing for plants that are genetically engineered. Their view is that because conventionally bred plants are not tested for safety, there is no need to test those that are genetically engineered. Other countries do not share this same point of view!

What are the possible effects of GE foods?

Scientists continue to argue the pros and cons of GE foods. Depending on what country a particular study was performed, or who financed it, the results vary widely….but there is some evidence there!These foods can possibly do harm.Not only to human health but to the environment as well.

Possible Environmental Hazards:Harm to other organisms; reduced effectiveness of pesticides; and gene transfer to non-target species.

Possible Health Concerns:Allergenicity; unknown negative effects on human health.

How do I know if a food or food product is genetically engineered or has genetically engineered ingredients?

If you live in Europe, Great Britain, Australia, Japan, or Russia, then you're in luck! They have much stronger labeling laws than the United States, and require food manufacturers to clearly identify products that contain genetically engineered ingredients. In the United States, however, unless a food is certified organic you will not know whether or not is has been genetically engineered or has genetically engineered ingredients. Food safety is the big issue here, and the inability to make informed decisions about the foods that we are putting into our bodies is greatly lacking.

What are the biggest commercialized GM crops in the U.S.?

According to the FDA and USDA, there are over 40 plant varieties that have completed all of the federal requirements for commercialization. The big ones are:

Soy (~91%); Sugar Beets (~90%); Cotton (~88%); Canola (~88%); Corn (~85%).

Others: Tomatoes, sweet corn, potatoes, papaya, squash, rapeseed, honey, rice, peas, as well as vitamins and vegetable oils.

Can I avoid GM foods by eliminating the above?

Yes, you certainly can! But unless you are buying 100% organic, all of the time, (expensive!), it is nearly impossible to avoid these ingredients. Just do a quick pantry check and look at the labels that have already made their way into your house. You will see that these ingredients are in EVERYTHING because of the products that are derived from the above. These include oils from flour, soy protein, cornstarch, and high fructose corn syrup. Also food additives, flavorings, enzymes and non-food items such as cosmetics, soaps, detergents, etc…

What about meat, eggs and dairy products?

Many meats and eggs come from animals that have eaten genetically modified feed, and many dairy products from animals injected with rBGH - Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone. rBGH is a genetically engineered growth hormone that was approved by the FDA in 1993. This hormone is NOT approved for use in the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, or Canada.Are we starting to see a pattern here with our food supply?

Some Tips to limit GE Foods:

Tip # 1: Opt for Organic whenever possible (see below for more information)

Tip # 2: Look for Non-GMO Project Seals

Non-profit organization

Tip # 3: Avoid at-risk ingredients

Ingredients derived from genetically modified crops

Tip # 4: Buy brands that have gone GM-free. Many brands and restaurants are listening! Since we can all vote with our fork, we have a voice and it's starting to be heard. Check out the guide below, for a list of brands that are going GMO-free.

A Couple of Helpful Guides:

TheShopNoGMOApp on iPhone

Go Organic

What is Organic?

Organic foods are grown using sustainable methods of soil and water conservation. They are minimally processed and grown without any toxic pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers, or genetically modified seeds. Animals raised organically are housed properly, meaning that they have room to move about and behave like animals. They are fed healthy food sources and are not given any drugs, antibiotics, hormones or other chemicals that may speed their natural growth process.

The Dirty Dozen:

According to the Environmental Working Group, "The Dirty Dozen" contains the highest levels of chemical and pesticide residues. As a result, I recommend going organic on these fruits and vegetables, whenever possible:

  • Peaches
  • Lettuce
  • Imported grapes
  • Pears
  • Spinach
  • Potatoes
  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries

Fun Food Fact:

Did you know that organic produce is assigned a five-digit stock number beginning with "9". So if a regular apple is "4455", an organic apple would be labeled "94455".

Free Range, Grass-fed Meat and Dairy


Meat from grass-fed, organically raised cattle tends to be leaner and has about five times the Omega-3 Fatty Acids, as its alternative.For more on this, I suggest readingGrass Fed Beef, written by Leslie Reap, a fellow Core Diet nutritionist!


Milk from organic, pasture-fed cows is produced without antibiotics, artificial hormones and pesticides and can also provide extra Omega-3s and beta-carotene. When it comes to any dairy products, my advice is to always go organic!

Local and Seasonal Foods: Be a Locavore!

Locavore: someone who seeks out to eat locally grown foods.

It is easy to forget about eating seasonally with year-round availability of most fruits and vegetables. And, depending upon where you live, eating seasonally can pose even greater challenges, as seasonal products tend to be geographically specific. Farmers Markets are a great place to start, and can often provide plenty of organic options.

However, by joining the 'locavore movement', and supporting locally grown agriculture, it would be pretty hard not to eat seasonally. This means fresher, more nutrient dense and healthier foods that taste better! At the same time you will be supporting your local community. Have you ever eaten a fresh, juicy, red strawberry on a hot spring day? Compare that to the strawberries you've been buying this winter - they are not even close in terms of taste! And for twice the money in the winter!

So what's coming into season? This depends on where you live, but in general - Think GREEN! As the weather is changing, the new growth of green crops are popping up. Basil, asparagus, swiss chard, romaine and parsley are just a few of the greens to try new recipes with. I recommend the following website to find out what is in season where you live:

Buying into a Community Supportive Agriculture (CSA) share is a great way to buy local and seasonal food. Each week you pick up your "share", which is not always limited to produce. You'll be introduced to new foods, new cooking methods all while supporting the community and environment. Check out Local Harvest for Local Farms, CSA's and markets.

Some Final Thoughts…

Let's celebrate springtime in style! We often overwhelm ourselves with too many changes at one time, causing us to give up before we've even started. Getting discouraged is not going to get you anywhere, so throw out those negative thoughts and look forward with a fresh, new, positive attitude! Do a few things really well! So, as the sun starts to peek out from behind the clouds, and the mercury rises, take a moment each day to do ONE thing that brings you towards a healthier body and cleaner environment. Every great journey starts with a single step…


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What a great article! Scary stuff tho.
by Mark Scribner -11 years ago- 03/28/2011, 20:05
We have a couple of community urban gardens in New Orleans - $25 gets a box of all sorts of veggies organic/locally grown. (there is usually at least one veggie I haven't cooked before in our box). Keeps eating fresh veggies fun while supporting the local urban farmers. Thank you for the site - I was able to find some other local gardens in the area.
by Kirsten Melberg -11 years ago- 05/11/2011, 15:42

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