A growing amount of the global population is reducing their meat intake. Whether it is for health, religious, environmental, or moral reasons, plant-based diets are on the rise. However, eating a cruelty-free diet may not be as easy as you’d think. I stopped eating meat about four years ago, and since then, I’ve learned that many animal products are often hidden in consumer items. From gummy bears to pharmaceuticals, animal products are so heavily embedded into society that they’re no longer always easily recognizable. One item that is often mistaken as vegan is refined sugar.
How Sugar Is Refined Using Animal Bones
Refined sugar can be made from either sugar cane or sugar beets, both common in North America. Although they taste identical to one another, there is a significant difference between the refining processes. The pulp from sugar cane stalks is separated from the juice, then the juice is processed and heated until it crystallizes. The next step involved is where animal lovers may shudder: to obtain the sugar’s bright white colour, it must be filtered and bleached using bone char, a de-ashing and whitening agent made from the skull or spine of a cow. The bones are heated at a high temperature and reduced to carbon. The cattle is usually slaughtered in foreign countries, sold to traders, and then sold to American sugar companies (source).
Though the sugar you buy may not actually contain animal bones, they are still often involved in the production process. Some white sugar made from sugar cane is considered vegan, as processing alternatives to bone char exist, such as granular carbon. To be safe, you’re better off using sugar made from beets or sugar that is certified organic, because they cannot be filtered using bone char. Don’t be fooled by brown sugar, either; it’s simply white sugar with molasses added to it, so the refining process is the same. And confectioner’s sugar, otherwise known as “powdered sugar,” is just white sugar that has been pulverized into a very fine powder and sifted.
It’s important to note that there are still numerous health risks associated with consuming refined sugar, including cancer and obesity, so I am in no way advocating you eat refined sugar of any kind. If you’re interested in reading about the harmful effects sugar has on the body, you can read our article here.
According to PETA, the following sugar companies do not use bone-char filters:
- Michigan Sugar Company
- Florida Crystals Corporation
- Western Sugar
- C&H Sugar Company
- Savannah Foods
- Tate & Lyle North American Sugars Inc.
- Imperial Sugar
- Refined Sugars Inc. (source)
Alternatives to White Sugar
Refined sugar has been associated with numerous health issues including cancer, heart and brain damage, obesity, and more. Instead of using refined white sugar, try substituting it with these healthier alternatives (preferably all organic):
- Coconut sugar
- Pure maple syrup
- Raw honey (not vegan-friendly)
- Organic sugars (raw cane sugar, real brown sugar, etc.)
- Unsweetened applesauce
I don’t think a concrete definition of veganism exists. What I do know is that being vegan isn’t about achieving perfection; it’s just about making compassionate choices. Regardless of your stance on refined sugar and whether or not it’s considered vegan, by doing your best to follow a plant-based lifestyle, you’re still saving numerous animals’ lives and reducing your environmental footprint. Even if you’re not vegan or this article didn’t resonate with you, refined white sugar is still terrible for your body and you should do your best to avoid consuming it!
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