Saturday, January 18, 2014

Redefining GMOs

When General Mills announced that it is changing the production of its original Cheerios to eliminate all Genetically Modified Organisms, it propelled GMOs into the forefront of health controversies in the U.S.

GMOs are biological entities that have been tinkered with scientifically to enhance growth, spur resistance to disease, or otherwise improve the viable yield of crops. DNA material that has been genetically altered is inserted into these organisms with the approval of the FDA.

Newsflash! The GMOs that we really need are Geriatrically Modified Organisms—ones tweaked to maximize compatibility with the constitutions and lifestyles of today’s seniors. Companies that hop on this will make a truckload of money. Here are some tips to help them get started.

The elderly are counseled to cut down on red meat and eat more fruits and vegetables. The first part of that prescription isn’t too difficult to follow. Older teeth have a harder time chewing the sinews of red meat anyway. Our challenge is eating more vegetables, especially the frequently touted nightshades.

Imagine if cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, broccoli and even mushrooms had their DNA reconfigured to reduce the gas buildup in our GI tracts! As long as they’re in the lab anyway, could scientists maybe give us some lettuce we can chew without having to cut it with a knife?

Geriatrics have a laundry list of beloved foods that could have their salt reduced. Top of my list would be the wonderful hard cheeses that I crave every afternoon. And most evenings. And occasionally late mornings. It would be a plus if the chemists could also reduce their fat level without compromising on flavor.

Here’s one that could present a challenge even to Nobel-prize-winning biologists. Get rid of the acid in tomatoes. I’m half Italian, so I love my sauce. Or as my aunts used to call it: gravy. (My mother married a non-Italian, so in our household, gravy was brown. If it was red, it was sauce.) I’ll steam cauliflower and drown in it sauce-gravy as a healthy pasta substitute if I’m guaranteed a gas and reflux-free evening. Especially if I can top it with low-salt grated Parmesan.

Those of us with what I’ll lump into the category of “architectural enhancements” to our teeth have other issues. My personal bugaboo is caps, but I’m sure that bridges and dentures behave the same, if not worse. All types of food get stuck in the crevices and under the edges. Sesame seeds aren’t the only culprits that lurk there.

Take nuts, for instance. I love nuts and they’re relatively healthy. But I’m picking and flossing the pieces for days after I eat them. Ditto for broiled chicken. Genetically modify to address this, and I will be putty in your non-latex gloved hands, Mr. Biochemist.

Every week I hear about some new health problem that’s linked to inflammation and the foods that cause it. It’s not just the joint pain that comes with arthritis, an almost-inevitable consequence of aging. Heart disease is now reputed to be aggravated by foods that cause inflammation. These are frequently the same ones that contribute to high blood pressure and high cholesterol. By GMOing the inflammation inducers, we can knock off multiple geriatric ailments.

Since we can’t fix all of those at once, let researchers focus on this manageable list: sugar and refined carbs, egg yolks, bacon, shrimp, butter, and the most popular cheeses. For the record, I’ve never liked bacon and I rarely eat mac and cheese. But I know these are comfort foods for the rest of the world, and I’m nothing if not considerate of my fellow retirees.

Finally, no post that touches on things that pass my lips would be complete without addressing wine. From my vantage point, there are two ways that GMOs could improve my vino experience. The first would be to alter the DNA of the sulfites that are used as preservatives in less expensive wines. It’s not that I’m such a wine snob that I appreciate only the pricier vintages. OK. Maybe it is a little bit that. But it’s more that sulfites make me sneeze and give me headaches.

While scientists are massaging the grapes, I’d appreciate whatever they can do to address one other senior pitfall of imbibing. That is, the alcohol-induced snooze. I’m not asking for much—just two glasses without having my eyelids start to droop.

Those who are adamantly opposed to having Genetically Modified Organisms in our food supply are probably cringing right now. But we of a certain age believe that Geriatrically Modified Organisms should earn their developers a “Noble” Prize. I’ll drink to that.

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