My son is no different than many 7-year-olds. He can eat candy, sugar, or any derivative of the two, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack. He asked me once, ‘Mom, why can’t I just brush my teeth with candy, my toothpaste tastes like bubblegum anyway, so it’s the same thing.”
I think many things are unavoidable for any parent just trying to get by. The occasional Happy-meals at McDonald’s or BurgerKing, the over spoiling by Grandparents, or the screen/TV time you give them to get any proper adulting done!
But, as a mom who cares deeply about what my children consume - I draw the line when it comes to organic vs non-organic food. We know the benefits of organic farming and why it is important to buy organic whenever possible (especially with produce and proteins), but you might be wondering why to choose organic sugar vs. regular sugar.
Before going into it, I need to point out the difference between refined, raw, and unrefined sugar. Refined sugar is a sugar that has gone through some type of refining process, or chemical process, to remove the molasses that’s naturally found in it. Raw and refined sugars are both refined. Unrefined sugars and sweeteners include products like honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, sulfured molasses, brown rice syrup and so many more.
Growing up, we rarely had white sugar laying around the house, but we did have blocks of ‘panela’’ in our pantry. Panela is an unrefined and unprocessed sugar, popular across Latin America. It is sweet, flavorful, aromatic, sustainable, environmentally friendly, and organic. Almost all of the available agricultural land available in the Cauca river valley in Colombia is dedicated to the cultivation and growth of sugar cane.
Sugarcane itself turns into almost forty types of sugars! All cane sugars go through steps to remove impurities (ie..refining). Those sugars like panela, brown sugars, muscovado, etc...are least refined and retain the most amount of their original cane molasses. Their darker brown colors and strong flavors are due to the fact they retain anywhere from 8-14% of their molasses content. While raw sugar is refined, much like panela, it comes straight from freshly harvested cane and is less refined than white sugar, helping it retain some of its molasses.
Now, I recognize that you might not have easy access to panela, and some of these sugars can be quite expensive when compared to typical white sugar. So it’s important that if you have no other option, you choose organic over conventional sugars.
The term ‘Organic’ in food labels is strictly regulated by the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture). All Sweeteners labeled with the organic claim must comply not only with the USDA’s organic standards but also with the FDA’s regulations for labeling. There is also a common misconception that organic sugar is less or unrefined and minimally processed, which is not the case at all so you might be wondering why it’s better for you. A few notes:
- Organic sugars do not contain pesticides: sugarcane is highly susceptible to parasitic attacks by grasshoppers, termites, and other insects. For this reason, farmers douse their crops with dangerous amounts of pesticides and chemicals. As these toxins make their way into the sugarcane juice (refining process), they create harmful concentrations of these toxins in your sugar.
- More flavorful. Regular refined sugar goes through several refining steps, including chemical treatments. Some of these include sulfur dioxide, phosphoric acid, calcium hydroxide, and activated carbon. The lack of these chemicals makes for a more flavorful sweetener.
- Low carbon footprint. Farmers that practice organic farming not only produce healthier crops but also achieve it through eco-friendly practices. Organic farming reduces pollution and helps prevent soil erosion/water waste.
Look, cutting sugar entirely might not be a realistic choice for most parents with small sugar-addicted children. As a mom, all I can do is be as informed as possible about my next supermarket trip. My best advice is to try and incorporate better quality sugar into your kid’s diets and as with everything...moderation is key!