Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Genetically Modified Foods - Free Lebanon

Genetically modified foods are a hot topic now. They are found in many food products sold in the Lebanese market and have become quite controversial. What are GMOs? Are they healthy or do they increase the risk of diseases? In which foods are they found and what can we do about it... Many questions cross our minds when GMOs are involved!

This is why Christele from Health 'n' Horizons, Nour from Nourish Body and Mind and I have joined forces in creating a new movement, GMO Free Lebanon. The purpose behing this movement is to increase awareness about what GMOs are, where you can find them and how they pose risk to your health. This movement also aims to push for labeling of GMO-containing foods, as many countries give their people the right not take part in this humongous human experiment. In Lebanon, we want this right too!

So what are Genetically Modified Organisms?

Humans have been ‘modifying’ foods for more than 2000 years, merely by selective breeding in which plants with naturally higher resistance to fungus and harsh environmental conditions were preferred to yield more crops. However, in 1946, scientists discovered that DNA can be transferred between different organisms and consequently genetically modified foods came to life, hence the acronym GMO which stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. Other terms you might encounter are genetically engineered (GE) and genetically modified (GM) foods.
Photo credit
Genetic engineering allows scientists to cross species in laboratories in order to enhance certain traits not originally found in crops. So crops can have DNA traits from bacteria, viruses  and other plants or animals. For instance, a bacterial gene (from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt) is added to corn crops to make them resistant to certain insects. The insect dies within a few days after biting through the corn. Other crops are modified to carry their own their herbicide making them resistant to the spraying of the deadly chemicals which will kill every other weed or plant. These biotech crops are more commonly known as Roundup Ready as they are resistant to the herbicide Roundup. Both herbicide and GM crop are unsurprisingly produced by the same company, Monsanto. (You gotta become familiar with those names!) (2)
In 1994, the first genetically modified plants approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for marketing the in the USA was Flavr Savr, tomatoes with delayed ripening. However, in 1997 all Flavr Savr production was ceased yet the possibility of producing genetically modified foods literally genetically modified our current kitchens.

Are GMOs currently OK for consumption?

The USA and Europe (EU) have opposing positions regarding GMOs. While the US considers GMOs to be safe, the European Union recommends having organic and non-genetically modified foods instead as the health and environmental risks of GMOs outweigh the benefits. This is why the EU forces stricter regulations on growing GMO crops and requires their labeling on all genetically modified products (3).
Most news about GMOs and their effect on health are kept on low profile (fishy much?); however, few studies have increased our alarm buds and forced us to place a huge question mark over any genetically modified food.

Few GMO side effects in animal studies (so far)
The results of a study conducted in 2012
on genetically modified corn-fed rats showed increased
organ damage and tumor risk (6)

. Increased risk of infertility (4) 
· Increased risk of stomach lining inflammation (4) and reduced digestive ability (5)
. Increased tumor risk (6)
· Increased liver, kidney pathologies (6,8) and toxicity and endocrine dysfunction (7,8)
· Increased death rates (6) as well as premature death (5)
. Increased allergen content in foods (5)

What foods have been genetically modified so far?
Around 70% of processed foods found in US markets have been genetically modified (1). There is currently no data in Lebanon regarding GMO distribution in the market. However, given that many well-known brands in the Lebanese market are imported from USA, Canada, Australia, India, Mexico, China… and given the fact that Lebanon does not force labeling of GMOs, we are unknowingly consuming GMO-containing products.

· Soybeans (oils, lecithin, baby formulas, baby food… )
· Corn (and corn products: High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), corn starch, corn flour, glucose, fructose found in sweets, soda, snacks, cakes, ketchup…)
· Canola/rapeseed oil
· Cotton and cottonseeds (oils)
· Sugar beets (could be labeled as ‘natural sugar’)
· Moreover, given that genetically modified crops (wheat, soy, corn) are fed to animals, especially cattle, these in return pass GMOs to milk, dairy, labne, cheese, and meats
· Papaya
· Zucchini/ squash
· No GM animals have been approved for use, however, salmon was near FDA approval in December 2012  

So why GMO Free Lebanon?
We started GMO Free Lebanon as we found a lack of awareness among the Lebanese about what GMOs are, their health risks and their wide availability in the Lebanese market. 
>> Our goals are:
- To increase awareness and education about genetically modified foods
- To push for labeling of all products in the Lebanese market. We have the right to know what is in our food and we have the right to say NO to taking part in mass experimental trials. Without labeling, how can one trace the source of allergy, intolerance, sensitivity, illness or disease? And “where is the scientific evidence showing that GM plants/food are toxicologically safe?” (10)
- Demand banning of GMO foods when they are proven unsafe. GMOs are insufficiently evaluated. Longer and more detailed tests need to be done to protect human and animal health as well as our planet (11).
So what can you do to protect your health and help out our cause?
- Like and share our Facebook page which will be a common platform for sharing evidence-based research and practical tips and tricks to help you make informed choices (even if you do not live in Lebanon, approving labeling/banning in one country will help raise global awareness towards the health risks and environmental side effects of growing and consuming GMOs).
-Know where GMOs are found and try to avoid them:

·       Read labels carefully to detect ‘possible’ genetically modified ingredients
·       Buy products that are certified as 100% organic or labeled as non-GMO
·       Choose 100% Grass-fed beef (as corn fed ones are having GMO corn for a diet!)
·       Try as much as possible to avoid processed foods and cook at home, from scratch 
·       Grow your own garden if you have the space.   

Last but not least, stay posted to the GMO Free Lebanon facebook page as we will push for labeling and we will expose genetically modified foods in Lebanon!

References and related articles
(12) Ornl.gov

Monday, July 8, 2013

Breastfeeding during Ramadan - Guest Post

Every year around the time of the blessed month of Ramadan there are many moms on our Facebook support group “Breastfeeding in Lebanon” asking if they could fast and still have enough milk for their babies. The answer is not simple as every mom/baby is different, but I hope this article will be helpful and reassuring to everyone!
Can a breastfeeding mom decide NOT to fast?
Fasting is obligatory for all able-bodied adults, however, there are some exceptions. Allah, The Most High says:
((And whosoever is sick or is upon a journey, then the period is made up from other days...)) [Sourah Al-Baqarah: 185]
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are included here and are allowed not to fast during that time if they feel it may negatively affect baby’s health! They may compensate for the missed fasting at a later time when they are no longer pregnant or breastfeeding. They may also pay some expiation for not fasting instead (please consult a scholar or a book of fiqh for exact guidelines).
Will fasting affect milk supply?
And even though Muslim breastfeeding moms are allowed not to fast, many women still

Photo credit: Kidsmug.net
prefer not to skip this blessed time or at least not to miss too many days. So they naturally worry if their baby will have enough milk during fasting and if the milk will still have all the necessary nutrition (if it will be “good” and fat for the baby).

Breastfeeding studies have shown that fasting during the daylight hours of Ramadan does not affect mom’s milk supply but very strong dehydration (not having enough water in the body) may do so. That is why breastfeeding women during fasting may want to drink as much fluids as possible at night to compensate for the day time dehydration.
Mothers may also decide to stay on a “safe side” and drink water even if fasting. As Kelly Bonyata, a known lactation consultant, mentions in her article: “Some mothers have found that drinking water on fast days is more of a need during the first six months when baby is exclusively breastfed (not taking any food or drink other than breastmilk); once baby is older and taking other foods, it may be feasible to neither eat nor drink during the fast.” (Reference: Kellymom.com - great resource for many more links on fasting and breastfeeding!)
What to keep an eye on?
Every mom and baby is different, and while it may be absolutely fine for one mom to fast and exclusively breastfeed at the same time, it may be a real challenge for another one. That is why it’s important to check on the following signs on whether everything is going well.
Signs of dehydration in mother:
1)    Headache or other pain;
2)    Dark yellow strong smelling urine;
3)    Mother feels very weak;
4)    Extreme thirst.
Signs that milk supply may be negatively affected:
5)    Number of wet and dirty diapers of the baby has suddenly decreased.
6)    Baby seems unusually unhappy and fussy. May cry at the breast and even refuse it completely.
7)    Baby seems hungry all the time and wants to breastfeed non-stop (frequent breastfeeding will actually help the mother increase her supply in the best and fastest way! So baby should be always allowed to breastfeed as often and as long as he wants!)
8)    Baby stopped gaining weight or even started to lose some.

** If any of these signs are present the mother may need to re-consider her decision to fast till later time, as her and her baby’s health may be under risk!
Tips for fasting and breastfeeding
Stacey Greaves-Favors, experienced La Leche League Leader and breastfeeding counselor, recommends the following:
1)    Pay attention to what you eat during the evening and pre-dawn hours: have a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables; high fiber and complex carbohydrates are more filling; limit sweets.
2)     Drink, drink, drink when you can! Water is the best, fresh fruit/vegetable juices are also good, but sugary and caffeinated drinks should be avoided or limited.
3)    Eat a meal in addition to suhoor and iftar (never miss suhoor when fasting and breastfeeding!)
4)    Get plenty of rest. An afternoon nap is a great idea. Try also to do most of the work in the morning and relax more in the evening hours.(Reference: Saudilife.net)
5)    Watch your body and your baby for any signs of problems.

Good luck ladies! And don’t let anyone push you to make a decision to fast or not! This is your and only your decision. Think of everything carefully, weight risks and benefits of each decision and remember that you are the best expert to your baby’s health and you will be able to make the right decision for yourself and your baby!

Nadiya Dragan El-Chiti is a breastfeeding counselor and lecturer. She is a graduate from the University of Maine, Orono (USA), with Master’s Degree in Communication and a certificate from World Vision in coordination with WHO for accomplishing an intensive training in “Exclusive Breastfeeding”.  Mrs. Nadiya  gives seminars and private consultations on breastfeeding essentials, managing work and breastfeeding as well as starting solids and breastfeeding. She also provides personal support and assistance to mothers who already gave birth and are facing challenges in breastfeeding. You can contact Mrs. Nadiya by facebook, Breastfeeding in Lebanon, by mail at bfassistancelb@gmail.com or by phone, 961 71 924481.

** This post was originally published in Moms and To Be magazine, issue 54.