Glyphosates and Carbs: What’s the Harm?

Glyphosates and Carbs: What’s the Harm?

The latest on carb intake and the health risks of glyphosates in cereals.

Q: I read that the weed killer glyphosate—the one found responsible for causing cancer in that groundskeeper in California—is showing up in breakfast cereals. How do I keep this out of my house? —Anthony B., Brownsville, TX

A: First of all, Anthony, don’t panic just because glyphosate is a controversial subject. Many organizations, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and of course the manufacturer Monsanto, believe glyphosate and its branded weed killer Roundup are safe. In 2001, the Agricultural Health Study found “no statistically significant associations with glyphosate use and cancer.” Currently, the Food and Drug Administration allows a “fair amount” of glyphosate in several processed foods because they don’t think it’s harmful.

However, there’s that verdict in the $289 million dollar lawsuit leveled against Monsanto and, according to the New York Times, more than 5,200 additional suits are in the pipeline. They’re telling a different story—one echoed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the World Health Organization), which classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Recently, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found elevated levels of glyphosate in 31 of 45 test samples of conventionally grown oats in granola, oat breakfast cereals and snack bars. Even if levels in one sampled product are not necessarily going to cause you harm, the EWG warns that repeated exposure to glyphosate starting in childhood and lasting for decades could be harmful.

Roundup is the most-used herbicide in the US. It’s on neighborhood lawns and genetically modified (GMO) crops that have been made “Roundup-ready” to resist glyphosate. Everything it’s sprayed on, such as weeds that haven’t been genetically altered, dies. Glyphosate is also sprayed on non-GMO crops so they die, dry out and get harvested sooner.

To read the EWG’s report—and see what foods tested positive and negative for glyphosate—go to and search for glyphosate. Then you can see what products you might want to avoid. But remember, a lot more research needs to be done.

Q: My sister just finished a month of a very low carb diet and lost about 15 pounds. She looks great but says she is pretty worn out. There’s nothing wrong with a diet like that, is there? —Betty L., Ronkonkoma, NY

A: Well, not knowing more about your sister’s health, we can’t really say how it affected her for good or bad. What we can tell you is that recently a large, long-term study done by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston looked at the dietary carbohydrate intake of 15,428 adults between 45 and 64 years old. The participants self-reported their carb intakes between 1987 and 1989. Researchers then followed-up 25 years later.

The study found that people whose carbohydrate intakes made up less than 40 percent of their diets and those whose diets were 70 percent or more carbohydrate-based were at the greatest risk of dying over that time period. A total of 6,283 of the 15,428 participants had died after 25 years, so the researchers had quite a group to analyze. The least risk of dying was among those folks whose diets were made up of 50 to 55 percent carbohydrates.

Still, the real story for longevity may be about where the carbs come from—and what people eat in place of carbs when they restrict their intake. The researchers found that mortality risks increased when dietary carbs were replaced with (and increased intake of) animal fats and proteins. On the other hand, mortality rates decreased when the carbs were plant-based instead of from processed foods like white breads, pastas, snacks and sweets.

So whether you are trying to lose weight or stay healthy, stick with 7 to 9 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily; and eat 100 percent whole grains, nuts (walnuts and almonds) and legumes. You’ll get the right amount of fiber and other carbohydrates, and protein too.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

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