While doing some research for a completely unrelated article, I discovered the little known fact that food manufacturers are not required to specify on a food label whether the “sugar” or “sucrose” in their products is derived from cane sugar or beet sugar.
Why is this a big deal? There’s nothing wrong with beet sugar, right?
Since its introduction to the market in 2008, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GMO sugar beets have completely taken over the market. At least 95% of the sugar beets grown in the United States are now genetically modified and the FDA encouraged this trend to continue with complete deregulation of GMO sugar beets in July 2012.
Here’s the critical point: approximately 50 percent of white sugar sold in the US is made from GMO sugar beets and consumers don’t even know it – most erroneously assume it is nonGMO cane sugar. Again, there is no requirement to distinguish on a food label whether “sugar” or “sucrose” is derived from beet sugar, cane sugar, or a mix of the two.
The bottom line is that any product you buy that says “sugar” or “sucrose” is almost certainly at least partially if not completely GMO beet sugar unless it is certified organic or labeled as 100% cane sugar.
What does this mean for those so called “throwback” sodas that use “old fashioned”, “real sugar” instead of high fructose corn syrup?
Nothing more than a marketing ploy. Throwback or “natural” sodas are not the healthier, old fashioned choice that food manufacturers would have you believe.
PepsiCo, manufacturer of Naked Juice and Sierra Mist has already been sued once for abusing the “natural” label. The company recently settled a lawsuit for $9 million that alleged that some of the ingredients in Naked Juice, a brand of fruit and veggie drinks, aren’t “natural” at all, with the vitamins synthetic, an artificial fiber manufactured by Archer Daniels Midland, and GMOs.
PepsiCo confirmed to me in a telephone conversation that the sugar in its “natural” sodas are in fact made with a mixture of cane sugar and GMO beet sugar.
In essence, if you are trying to avoid GMO high fructose corn syrup at the supermarket, your choice of products containing “sugar” are without a doubt GMO as well no matter what the item may be – candy, breakfast cereal or even “healthy” granola bars.
Buying bags of white sugar for making homemade kombucha? Better switch to organic sugar or nonorganic sugar specifically labeled as 100% cane sugar or you’ve been brewing a GMO drink for your family.
Use a pack of white sugar in your morning tea or coffee at Starbucks? Yes, that’s almost certainly at least partially GMO too.
Be careful when seeking out natural sodas like Blue Sky Sodas from Hansen’s at the healthfood store as this can be especially confusing. For example, the sugar used in the Blue Sky Organic soda line is pure cane sugar. In addition, four of the nonorganic sodas are listed on the Hansen’s Natural website as containing pure cane sugar as well.
However, for the majority of the Blue Sky sodas, the label does not say organic or pure cane sugar. It simply says “real sugar” which when I inquired, does indeed mean at least part of the sweetener is GMO beet sugar derived. Here is the exact wording of the email response to my telephone inquiry to customer service:
Thanks for taking the time to contact our company directly with your inquiry.
The sugar in Blue Sky Sodas is either sourced from cane and or beet and is refined as normal table top sugar is. Real refers to the fact it is not a chemically derived sweetener like High Fructose Corn Syrup, Glucose Syrup, etc.
Sugar from GMO beets is not considered chemically derived? Not sure how that conclusion could be made given that GMOs are created in a lab and are clearly not natural. Buyer beware indeed!
Why Products Containing GMO Beet Sugar are So Unhealthy
Besides the completely unknown effects of consuming GMOs which have never been adequately tested, the activist organization Citizens for Health reports that GMO sugar beets in the food supply are of particular concern because the sugar is extracted from the beet’s root rather than the part of the plant growing above the ground with the result being more glyphosate pesticide residues in the sugar.
Another problem is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to increase the allowable levels of glyphosate on sugar beet roots, seemingly ad infinitum as superweed resistance continues to grow.
Inexplicably, the EPA continues to allow ever higher levels of glyphosate on GMO crops despite the release of a study showing that glyphosate inhibits the growth of beneficial gut bacteria in humans and leads to the overgrowth of pathogenic intestinal bacteria resulting in a slow, insidious increase in systemic inflammation over months and years.
Sodas That Really ARE Natural
When I discovered this information, I made a point to inform my children that what they had been doing at parties and whatnot – seeking drinks with plain sugar instead of GMO high fructose corn syrup – was no longer a safe strategy.
They must now choose water, 100% fruit juice, or sodas like Virgil’s (see picture above) that use only cane sugar and specify it as such on the label. These are the only “natural” sodas you can trust to be truly GMO free.
What shopping habits will you change now that you are aware of the sugar labeling scam that is causing even health conscious people to be lured into consuming GMO beet sugar? Will you discuss this with your children to help them avoid these foods and make wiser selections at parties and other events?
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist