The Hidden Environmental Price of Added Sugars


The environmental impression of the teaspoon of sugar in your morning espresso pales subsequent to the impression of the espresso itself and even the electrical energy required to brew it. However it’s not only a teaspoon of sugar. Individuals eat extra sugar than another nation on this planet. At over 126 grams of sugar per day, that’s greater than twice the typical amongst industrialized nations. And we don’t even notice it, due to processed meals. There’s sugar in every thing you purchase, from sandwich bread to protein bars, and in addition to the well being impression, the environmental impression of all these sweeteners could depart a bitter style in your mouth. What’s the environmental footprint of your candy tooth?

Cane Sugar

Sugar is the most-grown crop on this planet, however a variety of it goes to creating biofuels and bioplastics as a substitute of sweetening food. The impacts of sugar cultivation fluctuate by location, however producing 1 kilogram (about 2.2 kilos) of refined sugar requires on common 1,782 liters of water (that’s greater than 470 gallons). In locations the place crop residues are nonetheless burned, a ton of sugar produces round 241 kg of carbon dioxide equal. Sugarcane monocropping requires vital chemical inputs that contribute to water air pollution. The cultivation of sugar can be labor-intensive; sugar plantations from Central America to Southeast Asia are accused of labor violations and human trafficking.

A world consortium known as Bonsucro certifies sustainable sugarcane for firms however doesn’t present a consumer-facing label. Organically grown sugar reduces carbon emissions and, by soil-enhancing farming strategies, improves carbon sequestration. However most USDA Natural licensed sugar is grown in nations with poor labor practices. Fairtrade licensed merchandise could also be a a more sensible choice, since that label has requirements for each labor and sustainability.

Sugar Beets

Sugar beets share most of the identical points as cane sugar, however beets are much less water-intensive. On common, 1 kg of sugar from beets requires 920 liters of water. For the reason that Nineties, many of the sugar produced within the U.S. has come from Roundup Prepared GMO beets and is utilized in processed meals. Though many shoppers mistrust GMO food crops, the trade-off is that these beets can develop with fewer chemical inputs. Nonetheless, by definition, GMO crops can’t meet natural requirements. One Dutch examine discovered that domestically grown sugar beets had 1 / 4 the local weather impression of sugar imported from India, used half as a lot land, and minimize erosion by almost two-thirds. The knowledge out there within the U.S. is much less encouraging: Beet processing services are discovered among the many nation’s high 20 polluters alongside oil refineries, mining firms, and chemical producers.

white bread sandwich of sugar cubes and a beverage bottle filled with sugar
There’s sugar in all the packaged, processed meals you purchase, however figuring out the supply of that sugar is sort of not possible.

Corn Syrup

Practically a 3rd of America’s cropland is dedicated to corn, a crop that makes use of extra chemical inputs and leads to extra erosion and water air pollution than another. About half of it goes to animal feed, so if you happen to’re seeking to scale back environmental impression, slicing down on meat and dairy will go additional than avoiding corn syrups.

However the 7% of America’s corn transformed to sweeteners nonetheless leaves a giant footprint. Producing 1 kg of corn syrup takes much more water than an equal quantity of cane sugar. And like beets, almost all corn grown within the U.S. is genetically modified. (The estimated carbon footprint of corn syrup, one-third kg carbon equal per kg, is so low in comparison with sugar that it most likely displays the completely different parameters of the research greater than any distinction between crops; one other examine concluded corn syrup had the best greenhouse fuel emissions amongst Australian cane, U.Okay. beets, and American corn.)

Reduce It Out

There isn’t any clear winner amongst these sweeteners, however cane sugar, beet sugar, and corn syrup are only the start. There are at the very least 61 completely different names for sugar listed on food labels, and most merchandise include a number of varieties of sugar. You would possibly attempt baking with more healthy sweeteners and changing the sugar in your tea with honey. And making a degree of studying labels will let you know two issues: how a lot and how much sugar is within the food you eat.

However in terms of packaged merchandise, figuring out the supply of these sugars is sort of not possible. And the choices for selecting your individual added sugars are restricted. It is going to be simpler and more healthy to chop your carbon footprint if you happen to substitute high-sugar meals with more healthy options. So, search for merchandise with the bottom quantity of added sugar, no matter kind. And each time potential, eat contemporary, entire meals as a substitute of packaged, processed food merchandise. You’re attempting to do this anyway, proper?

Function picture courtesy of Haley Owens, Unsplash. This text was initially printed on July 8, 2021. We up to date some hyperlinks in August 2022.