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How to Avoid Genetically Modified Ingredients When You Eat Out

When I told a friend recently that my next post was going to be on avoiding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) at restaurants, he responded “good f*&*ing luck!”…It’s nearly impossible to avoid GMOs if you are eating out and the reaction from my friend illustrates exactly how dire the situation has become here in America.

Considering I only found two restaurants in my hometown of Charlotte, NC that are 100% GMO free, I thought it would be prudent to share the best tips to minimize your exposure to GMOs when eating out, especially until the government listens to the overwhelming majority of us and puts labels on GMOs.

How to avoid consuming GMO’s when eating out:

  1. Unless labeled or listed organic (or from a reputable local farm the restaurant can verify doesn’t use GMO seeds or feed), I suggest avoiding these 8 genetically modified (GM) foods when dining out:
    • Corn
    • Soy
    • Sugar (beet sugar – i.e. refined sugar)
    • Papayas (from Hawaii)
    • Canola
    • Cotton (cottonseed oil)
    • Dairy (conventional American cow’s milk and cheese)
    • Zucchini/Yellow Squash
    • Conventional Meat (They are fed GM corn & soy)
  2. GM corn, soy and canola oil are the cheapest for restaurants to purchase. Ask your server about the oils they use to make your food – this is where GMOs are hidden in almost everything from salad dressings to soups to pan or deep fried items.
  3. Know the exceptions: Ask if the cheese is imported. A cheese from France means you are safe from rbGH – genetically engineered growth hormone and genetically modified ingredients, as this country has banned GMOs all together.
  4. Look out for these hidden GM ingredients: Amino Acids, Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrins, Molasses, Monosodium Glutamate, Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), Xanthan Gum, Vitamins, Yeast Products.
  5. Unless the sugar they use to make desserts is 100% pure cane, it’s likely from GM sugar beets
  6. Consider having the Non-GMO Shopping Guide in your purse or pocket that has a list of GM ingredients that you want to avoid and give it to your waiter or even call ahead. If more people did this, maybe restaurants would start to pay more attention to the products they buy.

Since it’s a serious feat to avoid genetically modified foods, I investigated all of my favorite restaurants here in Charlotte and of course I found GMOs being used at almost every single one. There were only two eateries that were 100% clean of GMO’s – Luna’s Living Kitchen, and Viva Raw.

As I was echoed in the NY Times this week – Luna’s Living Kitchen is one of my favorite restaurants – it’s the most truly organic place in Charlotte and if you are visiting in town this week for the Democratic National Convention (DNC), having breakfast there is a must.  My favorite option is the organic coconut milk iced coffee (the ice cubes are handily made from coffee, so your caffeine buzz doesn’t get watered down) and the raw bagel with cashew cream cheese pictured below.  They also have a coconut yogurt parfait that is to die for if you are looking for something sweet to start your day.

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Viva Raw which is located in 7th Street Public Market is not an actual restaurant, however they do have an awesome bar you can sit at and sip their fresh local and organic pressed juice. They also sell some pretty incredible raw snacks that are free of genetically modified ingredients. You can definitely get your fill of nutrients here and it’s a place I’ve been frequenting a lot lately. For me the “Pure Green” juice and their Goji Berry Granola make a really terrific meal on the go. This week they are running a special menu item in honor of the DNC that I am dying to try – it’s called the “Barackly” named after President Obama. It’s got broccoli, cucumber, apple, green pepper, celery, onion, lemon, rosemary, garlic, and jalapeño. What a combo of ingredients, right?!


There are two places, also in 7th Street Public Market that deserve an honorable mention, as they are ALMOST GMO free.

The local and mostly organic Pure Pizza is INCREDIBLE. I usually make my own pizza on their sprouted grain crust (they have a gluten free one too), leave off the cheese, add all their fresh farm veggies, then add lots of their green palermo sauce and arugula on top. After I wrote about them using a soy based oil on the bottom of their dough – they changed it to pure olive oil! It was the only ingredient on their vegetarian menu that wasn’t GMO free. Now I can go there on #GMOfreeFriday in pure bliss!

Not Just Coffee is hands down the cleanest place to get a cup of organic coffee in Charlotte. They use homeland creamery for their milk which I wasn’t able to verify if the soy/corn feed they mix with the hay & grass to feed the cows was GM or not. They also have almond milk available which I LOVE. Their coffee presentation is so beautiful – you don’t want to drink it right away – but stare in awe instead!

In the meantime, I’ve got a busy week ahead here in Charlotte.  As I mentioned, the DNC is in town and I’m not just partying. I am an elected delegate to the convention representing the 12th Congressional District of North Carolina. I plan on spending every waking moment talking to the political leaders who influence food policy here in America – especially Secretary Tom Vilsack, the head of the USDA. I’ll be tweeting real time updates all week and reporting back here when the week is over.

I thought it would be fun to share the menu and pics from the biggest party in town last night below. The DNC welcomed the media (and special guests like me) with a ridiculous amount of choices from several restaurants in Charlotte…which I didn’t even have time to taste, because I was incredibly pre-occupied with one goal in mind: Labeling GMOs


Food Babe

9/20 Update: To find out what happened at the DNC (protesting in front of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack) – check this post for a play by play.



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Earlier this week, I asked CNN on Twitter if they were serving GM corn at the mexican restaurant turned “CNN Grill”…they sadly didn’t respond.


I caught up with the Mayor of Charlotte – Anthony Foxx. I’ve known him since 2006, and served with him as a delegate in 2008 in Denver. What he has brought to Charlotte in just 3 years of being Mayor has been incredible.

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150 responses to “How to Avoid Genetically Modified Ingredients When You Eat Out

  1. Have you heard of It is a great site that list restaurants, grocery stores, butcher shops, etc. in your area. It tells you if the restaurant serves local food, organic or offers vegetarian etc. I love using this site when I travel!

    1. Thanks for posting about, Rebekah! This would have come in handy last year. I have bookmarked it for future reference. Thanks again!

    2. This is so helpful and useful! Wish I had read this last week when in Vegas. We really struggled to find something. I will be using this regularly. Thank you

  2. Food Babe – i just signed up for your meal plan and am so excited to get my materials. What do you think about the new restaurant Freshii that just opened up in the overstreet mall in uptown?

  3. So, you put a lot of effort into avoiding GMO food [so do I] but you appear to support the genetically modified organism now in the WH? He’s NOT one of US! For starters, hes’ a LIAR. Second, he’s a shape-shifting destroyer creature. He’s certainly NOT a human. Thanks for your site: You are doing a wonderful thing, which I and others have been doing for a long time: Educating people on how to avoid the crap our government tries to feed us every moment of every day we allow it to be anything but our servant! You’ll get there because you claim to value the truth! Look further: You need to be willing to see him for what he and his agenda really are.

    Peace and Love,
    [email protected]
    retired physicist
    Believer in our God-given rights

    look up: living man Montana 2013

    1. I agree. My first thought was: Great!…I’d love tips on making healthier choices while eating out. My next thought was: I will not have anything to do with anything named after our presidential disaster. In fact, I may decide not to patronize an establishment that would name something in his “honor.”

    2. Glad someone said it. 🙂 Our current POTUS, just like the one before, supports the agenda and the protection of these bio-tech companies we’re all fighting so hard against. It’s like a revolving door of Monsanto employees and politicians. One after another.
      I think it’s important to note that for those that think you’re “pushing your own agenda”. Lol.

    3. Ha ha ha! Retired physicist, indeed! The gratuitous exclamations, the capitalization of words for emphasis, and especially the multiple statements of opinion (none of which is accompanied by correlated facts) displayed in the few lines posted indicate that you have never seen the inside of a Physics book and certainly do not possess a doctorate in the subject, which you would need to be a working scientist; no one who has ever completed a doctorate would ever choose not to post their academic credentials, and typing “retired physicist” just doesn’t cut it. 😀 Here’s a tip for you, if you wish to mislead people about your intellect: claim to be an expert in, literally, any other science-related subject not rooted in logic, critical thinking, philosophy, and mathematics.

  4. Glad to hear that rBGH is not used in France. Are the other EU countries taking the same approach? For example, imported Italian cheeses? Or Irish butter?

    Thank you!

    1. The only veggies that are GMO are the ones that she listed in her article… corn, soy, papaya, zucchini, yellow squash. This is if you buy produce. When it comes to processed products just make sure that they don’t have the ingredients she listed. I say just buy as much organic as you can.

    2. The whole point of not eating GMO produce is because it is modified to withstand heavy pesticide use. Even produce that IS non-GMO is sprayed with pesticides. You should always eat ORGANIC food, that is the only way to not consume these nasty pesticides.

      Look up the dirty dozen. It is a list of the top fruits and veggies that contain the most pesticides. Strawberries are sadly on that list. 🙁


    3. if the numbers on the produce start with a 4 it is conventional, 9 is organic and i believe 5 is GMO.

  5. the only way to avoid bad food is go vegan and stop eating innocent animals they are not hear for you to murder.

      1. It’s not a “philosophy” anymore than being morally opposed to rape or child abuse is a “philosophy.” It’s amoral stance. Humans are frugivores, we learned to survive harsh climates by cooking meat at some point in history and it has become an accepted but nonetheless terrible habit, subsidized heavily in the last 70 years by the meat and dairy industry. Time to make a change and stop artificially raising animals and cutting their lives short (that’s NOT natural) simply because we like the taste of flesh. Most pigs and cows are treated horribly. Raising livestock is extremely harsh on the environment. Most people cannot stomach killing animals themselves. Are you OK with having your pet” humanely killed”? Give a baby an apple and a rabbit, do you really think it’s going to eat the rabbit and play with the apple?

    1. I’m fairly sure if you take someone from Eskimo heritage and throw them on a vegan diet, they probably won’t do very well.

      Not everyone is suited to eat an ALL vegan diet. It depends greatly on where on this blue planet your ancestors descend from. Those from warmer, more tropical climates will be, obviously, best suited for a vegetarian diet, as there would be an abundance of plant materials available.
      To the opposite, those from colder regions would have no choice but to hunt animals as a means for sustenance, and have the physiology to break down animal proteins.

      That’s what you vegans just don’t understand. You go around shaming people, boasting about your moral highroad, but you don’t get that you’re shooting yourself in the foot. We should focus our efforts on ENDING FACTORY FARMING practices. Just because people eat meat does not mean the animals need to live in hellish conditions. Period.

      1. We’ll said Sheri! My daughter is a vegetarian and I am not. It’s just personal choice.

      2. What kind of logic is it that you ear what your ancestors eat? Humans started or scavenging meat off of animal carcasses, that’s how they got the idea of eating meat when they needed food. We don’t have instincts or the biology to eat meat, look at our herbivore teeth. Doing something because our ancestors did is like saying we should have slaves and wear little clothes and not use technology. We’ve moved on from those times. People who eat meat use that reasoning but ultimately they just can’t give up the stuff. Try it out, if not for the animals for your own health.

  6. How does one easily stir clear of GMOs as a Vegan when going to any Mexican restaurant and has no choice bc of a company event or family gathering? What about just veggies and guacamole there?

    1. I’d feel like I was ingesting pesticides & fertilizers since most , if not all, non-organic restaurants buy the cheapest ingredients they possibly can in order to increase their profit margin. I’ve cut eating at restaurants out of my life as much as possible. Also, beware of restaurants that supposedly sell both organic & non-organic foods.
      I went to an expensive steak house that gave a choice of a rib-eye steak for $30.00 or an organic rib-eye steak for $50.00. There is no way for me to know that I am actually getting an organic steak when it is brought to my table. They could be giving me whatever they have on hand & I would never know the difference.

  7. Just looking at your beautiful glowing skin and hair is enough to make one want to eat as healthy as you! Thanks for sharing, great tips!

  8. Hi, this summer I will be travelling with my American husband to visit his family in pa and to visit New York. Being English and not having to worry as much about where our food comes from I’m worried about eating out. As he hasn’t been home for a few years he’s unsure of where any healthy places are. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

    1. Best thing to do is google organic restaurants and natural, healthy restaurants for the towns you’ll be in. NYC will have many. You didn’t say where in PA you’ll be but most larger towns have organic items on their menus. Some of our favorite restaurants in NYC are not 100% organic but will ofer many items that are. There is the app mentioned above called and an app called happy cow that lists organic and healthy spots. You may want to google other apps which help you find organic resources while Stateside. Grocery stores like Whole Foods, Wegmans and Trader Joes carry organic fruits, veggies, and other non-gmo items. Check labels. Good luck.

  9. I wish your posts included DATES . . . this post on eating out without GMOs appeared on FB today (5/2/2014) like it was a new post . . . but the mention of DNC and older comments makes it clear that it is not new. Please find a way to incorporate date of post somewhere in the site controls or include in the post itself. When was this originally posted?

    1. The date is in the full link to the blog post. This was originally posted on 9/2/12.

  10. I had the pleasure of finding Luna’s Living Kitchen the last time I was in Charlotte. It was amazing. So thankful for restaurants like that when I travel. Eating out while on the road is very difficult. Thanks for the great info.

  11. I am a fairly new follower…enjoying your posts! On this one though, I don’t quite understand how you look out for the hidden ingredients you mentioned ie sodium citrate, maltodextrin when ordering off a restaurant ‘s menu…the reality is that most of us are going to eat out occasionally at standard restaurants, especially when traveling on family vacations and this does not seem very realistic.

  12. I didn’t really find this helpful, the restaurants listed are not chains. So, when traveling I will not find these. How about expanding on this and added coast to coast restaurants.

  13. hello
    Great info you provide. I use it very much especially wehn it comes to buying stuff for my kids. I try my level best to avoid.
    cereals are hard to find.. maybe you can suggest which cereals are best for kids.
    My kids love lucky charms and Cinaminon toast.. but i have bought few organic cereal which are not much of good taste so hard to get them to eat.
    second thing is — how do we know if veggie and fruits are gmo free. i can’t even find good app on iphone that can scan to let us know if fruits and veggie are gmo free. my kids don’t eat junk food so thats good thing but they love fruits and veggie.. i’m trying to see whats best for them. can you help in that.
    thank you

  14. Funny you mentioned asking if the cheese is imported. Whenever I travel out of the country, I find I feel great eating the local food. When I return to the states, I start feeling like crap again. I buy as much imported food as I can. I shop at latino, asian and indian grocery stores that import their food products, I buy butter , cheese and yogurt imported from Europe, and grow my own produce. I find it works. The food that is sold here seems to be killing me. (and probably a lot of others, but I only speak for myself.)

    1. I agree. 95% of the foods sold in the USA are geared towards big business profitability & population control. It is too expensive for the government to have too many healthy senior citizens enjoying life collecting pensions & social security.

      1. Agreed. I suspect the government allows our food to be tainted so they get to keep our social security.

  15. Just remember to tip your server accordingly for how much time you take up by asking all these health questions. You could be taking time away from the other guests in the restaurant which could decrease the tip received from the other guest. Or do online research before going out and choose wisely. Calling will not help as you will be taking time away from the bartenders, servers, and managers while they are trying to run a restaurant. If the information is not online, it is most likely not in the restaurant. If it is a franchise or corporate restaurant, call the main office, not the restaurant.

  16. No mention of chocolate? All non organic chocolate is GMO (it all has GMO Soy lecithin). So never eat chocolate unless it is organic (especially restaurant desserts).

    1. Cocoa powder used in a cake, for example, will not have lecithin. Lecithin is used in chocolate bars. An organic bar can have regular lecithin because the organic definitions allow a certain percent to be not organic. They are starting to make lecithin from sunflower seeds. And by the way, Ken Roseboro, non-GMO, told us at Theheirloomexpo that sunflowers seeds cannot be genetically modified.

  17. Congratulations, very helpful information.
    If you’d like to see, there is a great app called Clean Plates that also does the same.

  18. It is so difficult to eat outside ! It is good to know about the GMO s in the food and being a vegetarian , i guess its impossible to eat outside!

  19. Hi I love all of your posts and information! I’m wondering if you know of a list of restaurants in NYC (where I live) that are safe from GMOs? I live with chronic immune disease and eating clean really helps, but I don’t always have the energy to cook! Thanks good babe! For all that you do!!!

  20. Hi FoodBabe! I’m 95% organic (especially dirty dozen), but one thing I can never find organic is PAPAYA, and I’m always afraid to buy non-organic since it could be GMO. You’re saying that GMO papaya ONLY comes from Hawaii??? This is important for me to know because I always see tons of really large papaya (especially in asian markets) from Mexico. Is Mexican papaya safe to buy? Could you please confirm? I really miss it – it happens to be my favorite fruit after watermelon. 🙂
    Thank you for your response!!!

  21. Thank you Vani for all your work. I just called the Wesson oil company to see if they use GMO’s in their oil. The girl said yes . I spent an hour staring at a menu tonight at a restaurant with my family. There was nothing except a dry salad. I watched my son eat chicken strips that I knew were made with GMO oil. It makes me sad. There was just no other option. I feel defeated. I’ve been trying to eat organic at home, but it’s so expensive.

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