by Shicana Allen
In order to be classified as being free and clear of genetically engineered ingredients, sweeteners must be certified in at least one of the following categories:
Organic (by an approved certification board such as the USDA, Oregon Tilth, or CCOF—California Certified Organic Farmers)
Non-GMO Project Certified
If a food product is neither of the above, its manufacturer may still be able to vouch for its non-GMO status by providing credible documentation collected from each source of its ingredients. Smaller, newer, or family-owned companies might not have the resources to become officially certified right away. Sometimes they may apply for such status but be on a waiting list, since demand for non-GMO certification is growing by leaps and bounds!
Unfortunately, the majority of sugar beet and corn crops in the United States are grown from seeds genetically engineered for herbicide resistance. Not only has the plants’ DNA been dangerously altered or contaminated, but they can survive being sprayed with exceedingly high amounts of Monsanto’s Roundup, which remains in the food until it is consumed. Therefore, the most common sweeteners used in candy, chocolate, and other sweets today—beet sugar and corn syrup—are most likely transgenic unless organic or Non-GMO Project Certified. The artificial sweetener Aspartame (brand names: Nutrasweet or Equal) is derived from transgenic microorganisms. Even the alternative natural sweetener Erythritol may be a culprit, as it can be produced from GMO corn. Conscious companies are making sure to only use Erythritol fermented from non-GMO corn.
On the bright side, a whole wave of natural, unprocessed, unfiltered, raw, highly nutritious, and often low-glycemic sweeteners have become available on the market. These include: Maple Syrup, Coconut Palm Sugar, Bee-Friendly Honey, Stevia, Yacon, Lucuma, Jerusalem Artichoke Nectar, Sweet Almond Flour, Xylitol, and *Agave, all of which are alternatives used by health-conscious manufacturers in desserts, chocolate, candies, and beverages. They come available in different forms: powders, crystals, and/or an original syrup (ie. the sap of a plant or tree). Keep in mind that the less processing, the better. For example, buying “green leaf Stevia” is more nutritious than the white granulated version. Yacon is more pure in its original form—a dark, thick syrup—since additives are used to convert it to powder. (*A credible source recommends avoiding Agave syrup–derived from Mexican cactus and a by-product of Tequila–as it has often been found to be adulterated or mixed with corn syrup, probably GMO.)
All of the above sweeteners can also be purchased in bulk, whether for adding to raw cacao hot chocolate, smoothies, or for use in preparing or baking your own homemade desserts. Raw food enthusiasts would recommend that the uncooked, nutrient-dense sweeteners are best consumed in their raw form in order to gain the most value for your dollar….especially since some of them can be pricey.
Shicana Allen has been a health, environmental, and food safety advocate, writer, reporter, and public speaker for over 20 years.