Kale: It’s GMO

Recently standing in line at a grocery store, I overheard 2 women discussing their diets. One insisted that eating “whole food” is better than eating fortified food. She also said she was following the ‘Paleo diet’ as best she could.

By now you’ve probably read on your Facebook stream that “natural foods” are better than any altered foods. These beliefs are elitist, and incorrect. The vast majority of our food has been genetically modified over the years by our ancestors, and most of them since the Paleolithic era. These modifications were necessary both to feed a hungry body as well as a hungry planet.

 Paleo Foods that are GMO’s

Corn progression

Thousands of years of selective breeding changed how corn looks. Photo from Robert S Peabody Museum of Archeology, Andover MASS – all rights reservedCORN


Corn is a grass, as you can see from the photo how much it has changed over 10,000 years. The original grass , cannot be consumed by people because the pods of the seeds (now the soft husks of corn) are just too hard on the teeth. How this was modified over time was addressed in the first part of our series about GMO (click here).

Corn continues to be modified both by breeding and by genetic engineering (the same process). So if your thinking is that you have to eat things that were eaten 10,000 years ago then don’t eat corn. If you are worried about GMO don’t eat corn.

The problem with that thinking is this: corn provides an inexpensive, easily grown crop that feeds our planet. Without corn we  would be unable to provide feed for many meats such as beef , and would have a famine that would make the Irish potato famine look like small potatoes.

While some have equated corn with a major conspiracy of our food supply, or as a major danger to our planet- this grass is responsible for providing the vast amount of feed for cattle, pigs, and farm raised salmon. The high-fructose corn syrup, which a danger in itself – is still the least expensive sweetener we have (in small doses it is just fine).


Kale salad from one of the local restaurants: the quinoa, cheese, and grapes provide a nice balance – and a complete GMO good

Kale is the new hip ingredient in salads. Quite bitter – it is often made palatable in salads by adding some sweetness, such as grapes, raisins, and a touch of fat- such as Parmesan cheese. Many raw-foodies love to add this to their blenders to provide the “magic potion” for health.

Kale comes from Brassica oleracea, or the wild cabbage.  The cross breeding (genetic modification) came from early gardeners wanting longer and curly leaves, as well as a less bitter flavor. Other genetically modified organisms from wild cabbage include broccoli and cauliflower.

So when you think of being a good raw foodie, eating those great greens of kale, broccoli, and even cauliflower- consider this- they are all genetically modified – but that does not mean they are not nutritious.

The ancient Greeks had a version of Kale growing in their gardens for centuries- and those plants continued to be cultivated in the gardens of the Romans. The Greek form was called Sabellian kale,  the ancestor to the modern Kale. Sabellian kale was planted throughout the Roman Empire, and made its way to  what is now Russia.

The Russians further modified the kale plant. Kale was introduced to the United States and Canada by Russian traders (hence the name Russian Kale). It became popular in Great Britain during World War 2 because it was felt that Kale would provide nutrients and was easily grown in British soil (a part of the victory garden).

While Kale contains plenty of nutritional value- it also has another value to its consumers. Kale contains an ingredient that blocks the absorption of fat in the guts- providing a natural fat blocker.

In spite of that Kale is simply another plant that did not exist 10,000 years ago- genetics made it better.


What is better than the tomato? A fruit (although by law it is called a vegetable) first produced somewhere in Central America, introduced to Italy where they cultivated and changed it and then reintroduced into North America.

The GMO scare years ago was when someone speculated about genetically modifying a tomato so it would survive in the cold by crossing it with the fish, Arctic char (it was called the Arctic Char tomato). That genetic modification didn’t work, and in spite of urban legend is not available anywhere in the world. But still people fear this Frankenfood represents the worst of GMO – after all, who wants tomato on their fish?

Tomatoes today are all genetically modified from the original to the 7500 varieties known. Some are bred for shelf life, some are bred for size, some are bred for color. But they all came from the highly toxic nightshade family – and the early tomatoes in the colonial US were only grown and used for decoration. It wasn’t the tomato that was poison- but the tomato being mildly acidic would leach lead from the wealthy person’s lead plates – leading to lead poisoning.  The poor in Italy used wood for plates so the tomato became a favorite fruit of the poor.


Papayas became nearly extinct because of a virus in the 1990’s, but genetic engineering of the plant allowed for a rebirth of the papaya industry in Hawaii. A portion of the virus that infected the papaya was introduced into the plant, allowing the papaya to reject the virus.  While Papaya exports are still less than half of what they were in the 1980’s – the industry is growing, and the vast majority of papaya sold in the United States is the genetically modified (transgenic) papaya – called the Rainbow papaya. Japan will still not import genetically modified papaya, and some non GMO papaya is exported to Japan.

The transgenic papaya has been thoroughly tested  for nutrition and allergens. The transgenic and non-transgenic fruit were found to be “substantially equivalent” in terms of nutritional value according to a 2011 study by  the University of Hawaii.

Other Non-Animals

Almonds, peanuts, apples, oranges, grapefruits, and melons are all common foods that have been genetically modified by man over time and were not available in the paleolithic era, nor would they be considered “whole” by the elitist foodies.


Cows were domesticated around 10,00 years ago probably in the area that is now Iraq. Since that time they have been continually bred for either milk, or increased bulk for food. While vegans point out that cattle require large amounts of feed, the cows are able to eat grasses that are not able to be consumed by humans. The domestication of cattle provided a stable source of milk, blood, meat, and a form of currency. Still in third world countries obtaining a small calf and caring for it provides the most common form of wealth and banking. Cows, therefore, would not be considered a “paleolithic” form of meat.

Today people avoid “red meat” however there is little evidence to back this assertion. The largest, and most carefully monitored study shows that red meat does not contribute to heart disease or cancer, and the previous studies that showed a minute difference were plagued with bad data. For a review of that see here. Hormones used in cattle are deactivated with the cooking process. Careful stewardship of cattle provide a healthy source of bioavailable iron, one of the better sources of proteins, as well as Vitamin B12.


Domestication of sheep occurred about the same time as cattle. In addition chickens, most domestic deer, and other meats have been genetically modified since the paleolithic era.


Whether genetic modification occurs from breeding, or in a laboratory, the vast majority of food produced to feed the planet has been modified genetically. While some wish to only eat non-genetically modified food, and wish to provide a labeling, the facts are simple: in order to feed a hungry planet both plants and animals need to be genetically modified. If people are concerned about genetic engineering – they need to realize that technology is available to anyone and can be done in a garage. Those who are able to secure “whole” and all “natural” food –  will be the wealthy and the elite.

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.

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