Sunday, April 1, 2012

Yogis with a Sweet Tooth: Alternatives to Sugar

We are a culture addicted to sweet things. We love all that is unnaturally sweet. Interestingly, I credit my regular yoga practice for decreasing my cravings for sugar. Instead of satisfying some sweet need, more often now I end up feeling nauseous and sweetly sick.

I've grown up believing wholeheartedly that "Aspartame=Bad". Recently a colleague asked me what artificial sweetener was "safe" to use. What a great blog post idea!

Now, trying to decipher the paranoid from the conspiracies my mind is swirling. How complicated!

A quick recap of the Aspartame debacle: Introduced in the 1970's, it's an artificial sweetener that's made by combining two amino acids and is 200 times sweeter without the calories of sugar. Due to a ridiculous amount of controversy (take a quick look at wiki's entry and then HuffPo's recent article to see a drastic difference in opinion) it feels as though the regular consumer is spinning in circles as to who to believe. Although, after some reading, and the recent release by the European Food and Safety Association regarding a full discloser review of over 600 scientific datasets of the 30+ years of research on Aspartame, I would have to tentatively conclude that it is most likely safe.

A lot of Dr. Mercola's aggressive stance on Aspartame takes the stance of bias in research during the early 1970's and 1980's research and the involvement of Monsanto. Interestingly, Monsanto sold the rights to NutraSweet (Aspartame) in 2000, 12 years ago. In any case, take a quick peak at wiki's extensive and up to date research list as keep an eye out for when EFSA releases it's review of the 600 datasets (which will include independent scientific studies) in September 2012.

Beyond all this debate and controversy I feel as if a point has been missed. The environmental impact of processed and artificial sweeteners.

In 2002, NutraSweet was responsible for over 500,000 pounds of methanol pollution in Georgia's wastewater (Ecoholic 2006). Creating artificial sweetener's requires energy- as the further away from the original product you must journey, the more energy required to create the product.

Splenda, although made from sugar, still requires manipulation (ie energy= pollution) in order to reveal it's new form- sucralose cut with maltodextrin. Splenda has been accused of animal testing, from rabbits to beagles and have been the source of rising cyclohexane emissions in Alabama.

Stevia is derived from an herb in tropical and subtropical regions in western North America and South America. The EFSA have found stevia to be safe to ingest within certain intake parameters. In 2006 the World Health Organization also found no safety concerns in stevia (as per cited in Wiki and The WHO article 2006- p117). We Canadians can buy it freely- should be available in your Health Food Stores.

There's also organic agave syrup, which is tapped from a cactus plant. However, it's more of a honey substitute.

Xylitol is traditionally extracted from birch bark but can be extracted from all kinds of plants and is a sugar alcohol sweetener. According to wiki, it can result in temporary discomfort of bloating and diarrhea... ick. You also need to be aware of how the sweetener was harvested- chopping down forests of birch just for a kick of sweetener really isn't worth it. Look for pesticide, GMO-free corn husk derived Xylitol.

Yogis who don't care about the calories:
Sugar has been deemed one of the worlds most environmentally and socially damaging "food" product. Sugarcane crops have been deemed by the WHO to destroy more wetlands and biodiversity than any other along (as per cited in Ecoholic 2006).

  • Choose as unrefined and organic as you can. Fair or Direct Trade is better as it assures no child or slave labour for your sugar (we get ours from JustUs!).
  • Try some honey for a change. It can be local and sustainably produced. You get used to the flavour in coffee too!

For those wanting to reduce calories try following these guidelines while choosing a sweetener:

  • The least amount of processing steps away from the original product the better. If you can identify a "real food/plant" item in a few short steps, you're automatically decreasing your environmental impact.
  • Purchase locally when you can.
  • Assure that the herb/product is cultivated sustainably. Wildcrafting isn't actually a good thing as it can damage fragile ecologies. A quick google search on the company can help.
  • Organic and Fair/Direct Trade helps assure no damaging chemicals were used to grow your sweetener and the people who worked hard to cultivate it were treated and paid fairly.

Finally- try a few other types of substitutes like yogurt, applesauce, beets or honey to sweeten baked goods.

Do you have a fabulous yogurt, applesauce, beet or honey sweetener recipe? Please share!! I'm woefully lacking in that department :)

article copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. You know what else drives me nuts? All those little disposable packages the sugar subs come in! :\ Too much waste!

  2. Eco:

    Long time. Please visit me again. I mentioned you in my latest post, about blogging.

    Your post caught my eye, as I eliminated refined sugar from my diet two years ago. My taste buds have transformed and I don't miss the taste of "sweet" beyond fruit! Stay tuned for a related post at Yoga Spy.

    Re xylitol: II was just planning to buy some for tooth enamel protection. See I should forward this post to one of my yoga students who's a UBC dental school faculty.

    I also loved your post on Andrew's weightlifting! I"ll trackback to that when I post on a similar topic.

    Life has been too busy to check others' blogs. But, when I do, I'm always glad I did.

    Best from Vancouver,

  3. Like the poster above, I can't stand the disposable packets the sugar substitutes come in. Plus, they all taste gross to me.

    I am experimenting with ways to incorporate (local, bulk) honey as a sugar substitute into my food and baking as much as possible.

  4. do you consider honey a healthy alternative to sugar?

  5. Over in Australia, my sugar substitute of choice is Rice Malt Syrup. I'm not sure how entirely eco-friendly it is, but it IS possibly the best sweet-tasting sugar replacement out there.

    Also, it is low in fructose and from a health perspective, that's really important. Especially if you have a health condition that is exacerbated by sugar, but in general most people need to eat MUCH LESS sugar, and especially fructose...


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