If someone were to ask you where white sugar comes from, your first thought would probably be sugar cane. The reality is that most sugar in the U.S. comes from sugar beets.
Normally that would be fine, because regardless of whether the sugar comes from cane or beets, the final sugar product looks and tastes exactly the same. The problem is that the vast majority of sugar beets in the U.S. are genetically modified.
Candy and food manufacturers in the U.S. are only required to list “sugar” on the ingredients label. They are not required to tell us which kind of sugar they’ve used or (as of this writing) whether it has been genetically modified.
For example, if the candy maker had used brown sugar, sugar cane, non-GMO beet sugar or an organic sugar of any variety, you can be pretty sure they’d let you know. So when you’re reading an ingredients label and you see just the word “sugar” without any descriptor that explains WHAT KIND of sugar, there is a very good chance that it’s white sugar from genetically modified sugar beets.
Avoid genetically engineered sugars
- Skip packaged sugar, candy, tomato sauces and other foods that list just “sugar” as the ingredient.
- Avoid any candies, foods and drinks that have been sweetened with corn syrup or any form of dextrose (a corn derivative). Corn is one of the most highly genetically modified foods in the U.S.
- Opt for products whose labels specifically call out their sugar ingredients as non-GMO. For example, you might see “non-GMO beet sugar” or “non-GMO [tooltip tip=”Molasses is a byproduct of sugar processing that may also come from GMO beets.”]molasses[/tooltip].
- Look for the non-GMO project verified seal.
- Opt for products whose labels specifically call out their sugar or sugar ingredients as organic. For example, the label would say “organic beet sugar” or “organic molasses”.
- Look for the certified organic seal. Organic foods are not genetically modified.
- Until we find GMO cane sugar on store shelves, opt for sugar or sugar ingredients listed specifically as cane sugar or evaporated cane juice.
Choose alternative sweeteners
While no sweetener is considered healthy, the following sweeteners are healthier alternatives to white sugar and are not genetically modified.
- Honey (sustainably harvested)
- Coconut palm sugar (may be listed as coconut sugar)
- Palm sugar
- Date sugar
- Coconut nectar
- Maple syrup
- Brown rice syrup (organic)
- Barley malt
- Organic stevia (liquid stevia tends to be less processed than powdered)
Good To Know
It’s worth noting that (as far as my research indicates) GMO sugar cane is not yet sold in markets. However, bioengineers are working on genetically modifying sugar cane and it may be just a matter of time.