The lowdown on vegan sugar, sweeteners and alternatives
What is vegan sugar made of? How do I know if my sugar is vegan? And what is a vegan substitute for sugar?
Yep, we hear you, getting your head around the world of vegan sugar and vegan sweeteners can seem like a bit of a minefield, can’t it?
But once you know what’s what, you can go on to enjoy vegan sugar, sweeteners and alternatives in all their glory because you know about them.
This article is designed to help get you to get to that point, by answering some of the niggling, but key, vegan sugar and sweetener-related questions.
What is vegan sugar made of?
Vegan sugar isn’t refined sugar that’s made from sugar cane. You know, the stuff you usually pop in your tea, sprinkle over your cereal or bake with. Vegan sugar is beet sugar though. This is because beet sugar isn’t made from bone char, AKA burnt-up animal bones. The refined sugar-making process involves taking sugar cane stalks and crushing them to separate the juice from the pulp. Then, the juice is processed, filtered and bleached with bone char (it’s the bone char that gives sugar its pure white colour).1 It’s worth nothing here that while most white cane sugar does come into contact with animal bones (char), none of this char ends up in the final product we then take home with us.2
Before we move on to the next point, we just wanted to flag one more equally important and interesting thing with you in relation to – brown sugar.
This type of sugar is typically made by adding molasses to refined (cane) sugar, which usually means that the manufacturers that use bone char to produce their white sugar will do the same to their brown sugar. So don’t assume that brown is any different because it’s brown, it’s most probably come into contact with animal bones at some point too.3
How do I know if my sugar is vegan?
What’s the best and easiest way to check if your sugar is vegan or not? That’s right, you’ve got it, check the ingredients list.
If it’s labelled as being organic, this means that it hasn’t been made with bone char. And if it isn’t organic, check to see if it’s unrefined or made from beets. Because any type of beet or coconut sugar is vegan-friendly.4
What is a vegan substitute for sugar?
There a few different vegan sugar alternatives, they include:
- Stevia – is a natural sweetener that comes from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana plant, which is a herb. One of the biggest pluses of swapping refine sugar for Stevia, is that it’s really low in calories.
- Fructose – is sugar that’s naturally found in some fruit and veg. It’s also found in fruit juice concentrate, which is commonly used to make baked vegan products.
- Agave nectar – also goes by the name of agave syrup, and is a liquid sweetener that comes from the sap of the blue agave plant, which hails from Mexico. It’s been described as being a cross between honey and pure maple syrup, which is the next vegan sugar substitute on the list…
- Maple syrup – as the name suggests, maple syrup comes from sugar maple trees, the sap in particular. There’s also maple syrup too, which is a granulated sweetener that’s made from evaporated maple syrup and is a common replacement for granulated white sugar.
- Barley malt syrup – another syrup, this one is the product of evaporated corn mash and sprouted barley. It’s not as sweet as sugar, tastes like molasses and is often used to replace honey or sugar in recipes.
The benefits of swapping sugar for vegan sugar and vegan sweeteners
- They’re kinder on our waistline and teeth
Unfortunately, eating too much sugar can make people gain weight. It can also cause tooth decay too. ‘Free sugars’ shouldn’t make up more than 5% of the calories we get from our daily diet.6
Meanwhile, sugar that naturally occurs in food, such as fruit, vegetables and milk, isn’t something we have to worry about cutting down on. Switching to vegan products that contain natural forms of sugar can therefore potentially help with calorie control, weight loss/gain and be better for our teeth.
- They contain more natural nutrients
Sugar that’s naturally occurring or hasn’t been processed very much is healthier because it contains more nutrients from source that are used by our body to prevent insulin spikes from taking place.7 Coconut sugar is a fabulous example of this. It contains potassium, magnesium and sodium, which are all essential for regulating your body’s water content, as well as many heart, nerve and muscle functions. It contains 400 times more potassium than regular sugar.8
- They can have antioxidant powers
Again, coconut sugar is renowned for this. Due to the fact it’s made from dehydrated coconut sap, it’s classed as being a raw food, which means it doesn’t lose any of its valuable antioxidants in the manufacturing process. These antioxidants are responsible for helping prevent body cells from oxidising which, in turn, helps prevent ageing.9