We've all heard, at one time or another, what eating too much sugar can do to our health: obesity, kidney stones, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cavities, etc. But public service ads fail to tell us that sugarcane has probably contributed more to the loss of worldwide biodiversity than any other single crop. A World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) report says that in order to plant sugarcane, many rainforests have been felled and important wetland habitats destroyed. In addition, unwanted foliage on cane stalks is burned in greenhouse gas-emitting fires, and the annual cleaning of sugar mills pollutes neighboring waterways and kills millions of fish.
Chemical sweeteners aren't any better for the environment, unfortunately. NutraSweet's aspartame factory is ranked as one of the most polluting facilities in the US. According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) files and Adria Vasil's book Ecoholic: When You're Addicted to the Planet , the facility released nearly 329,595 pounds of polluting methanol into Georgia's waterway system in 2004 and pumped over 13,000 pounds of methanol into the air. And sucralose, a chlorinated sugar compound (a.k.a. Splenda), can last up to 7 years in waterways, where it impacts aquatic life.
SUGAR ALTERNATIVES THAT ARE BETTER FOR THE PLANET
While efforts are underway to green sugar production around the globe, there are numerous sustainable alternatives to the destructively farmed sugar and chemical sweeteners.
- Fair trade organic sugar is always best. Wholesome Sweeteners Fair Trade Organic Sugar is made from certified organic sugar cane grown in South America without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The fair trade certification guarantees that Wholesome Sweeteners farmers' cooperatives are paid directly for the cane grown and milled.
- Stevia is a calorie-free natural sweetener that comes from the leaves of a Paraguayan and Brazilian shrub. Products like NuStevia and OnlySweet eliminate some of the bitterness of stevia by mixing it with corn-based maltodextrin, which makes it better for baking. Stevia is said to fend off cavities and is suitable for diabetics.
- Xylitol USA, Inc. extracts a diabetic-safe, low-calorie sugar alcohol from North American birch trees. Their xylitol products range from granulated sugar substitutes to lollipops and their website even includes recipes.
- The natural sugar alcohol erythritol is another baking option and comes in organic form from Organic Zero. According to the Wholesome Sweeteners website, Organic Zero is 70 percent as sweet as table sugar, but it has zero calories and ranks at zero on the glycemic index.
- Honey is also a healthy, natural sugar alternative. And it's an even more environmentally friendly option if you choose locally grown honey! Purchasing local honey helps protect bees and their habitats, which are under threat from pesticides, non-native parasitic mites, and disappearing woodlands and fields.
- Other sweet alternatives include pure maple syrup, agave nectar, date sugar, and Sucanat, the brand name for organically grown, dehydrated cane juice, which has no added chemicals.