My friend recently tuned me into the fact that natural sweeteners, such as agave nectar, may not be quite as “natural” as their claims make them out to be. I came across an article written by Yvona Fast called “The Sticky Truth” in the March/April 2010 edition of E Magazine soon after she and I talked. The article discussed the truth about the different sweeteners and sugar substitutes that “healthy” (or diabetic!) people frequently use in place of good old refined (and most often not vegan, and absolutely not, through no stretch of the imagination, healthy or nutritious) white sugar.
The article reads that organic honey is the most “eco-friendly sweetener”, but maple and sorghum syrups are also suitable substitutes. I don’t really like honey, so when I became a vegan, it wasn’t too difficult for me to remove it from my diet (it being an animal product and all), but I can see how, if you purchase it from a local, sustainable farm, it could work in your kitchen. I prefer to use maple syrup instead, and because it’s fairly minimally processed, I rest assured that my decision is still healthy. I’ve never seen sorghum syrup, and would be interested in trying that.
Palm sugar is a crumbly sugar that’s “organic, unbleached, contains amino acids, B vitamins and minerals, and has a low glycemic index”. It also sounds like its crops are less destructive on the environment than sugar cane.
Related to the sunflower, Yacon’s sweet roots are juiced and then boiled into a concentrate. This produces a “low-calorie, low-glycemic sweetener”.
The Japanese use Stevia more frequently than sugar. It’s an herb native to Paraguay, and it is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar, but has no calories or carbohydrates, and a low glycemic index. It also contains many vitamins and minerals as well as fiber. Unfortunately, it may also interfere with metabolism and cause other health problems, and as a result, it’s not approved for use in Europe or Canada. It only became approved in the United States in December 2008. Use with caution, I would say!
Finally, the article notes that agave nectar is no more than “high fructose syrup with great marketing”. The process of converting the plant’s sap into the syrup utilizes chemicals, heat and enzymes that cause the syrup to become “hydrolyzed high-fructose inulin syrup devoid of nutrients”. Yuck. No thanks. I think I’ll stick with my maple syrup, thankyouverymuch.
I’m surprised to not see date sugar or any sort of fruit concentrates on this list. Of course, there are many more sweeteners on the shelves (Nutra-Sweet, Xlitol, etc.), but I guess this article just couldn’t cover them all. I think it’s safe to say that if you stick with a lower-sugar diet in general, you will not have to worry quite so much about the associated health risks and effects on the environment these other sweeteners may cause. As a result of my cleanse, I’m trying to limit (or completely restrict, if possible) my sugar intake and only eat natural sweeteners. Of course, if I’m at a friend’s house or a bakery, that may be difficult, but because I seem to develop a headache every time I have a food containing sugar, I think it’s safe to say that I should stay away from it indefinitely. Oh joy, yet another food to add to the DO NOT EAT list.