The Truth About Brown Sugar

A few years back when I was about ankle-deep in healthful eating knowledge (I may just be up to my neck in it now…) I was surprised and disgusted to discover that the brown sugar I thought was so much better for my family was really just highly-refined white sugar with some molasses put back into it. So I started buying Demerara sugar. I had heard that demerara sugar was a less-refined cane sugar and better for you. THEN I discovered that the sugar I was using was actually just Demerara-STYLE (note the word style was not in bold on the packaging) and was, once again, just white sugar with more molasses and a coarser grain. It wasn’t until then that I really started looking at packaging, researching sugars, and realising that there is more to sugar than I thought.

Brown Sugar: Common brown sugar is really highly processed and refined white sugar that has had the surface molasses syrup added back in, which imparts its characteristic flavor. -Small Footprint Family

When looking for a healthier alternative to white sugar, look beyond the “brown sugar” label and go for the less refined, “raw” sugars such as demerara, turbinado, muscavado and rapadura.

For years I have heard that less refined sugar is better for you but I didn’t really know why. Sugar is sugar, and less refined sugar does not contain enough extra nutrients compared to refined sugar to make that matter. I had to spend some time finding out WHY there is some truth to it being less healthy.

Refined sugar has had a number of things done to it during the refining process. White sugar is bleached with sulphuric acid, is spun through a centrifuge to remove the outer coating, and has phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide added to it which is absorbed and traps impurities. It is then put through a carbon filter to remove impurities, then crystallised by vacuum and dried.

Raw sugar is pressed, and the juice is mixed with lime to remove impurities. It is then evaporated and put through a centrifuge to separate the crystals. It is then dried.

See the difference? Much less has been done to it or added to it.

From a green perspective, the production of raw sugar uses much less energy, creates much less waste, and uses fewer chemicals.

Shall we make it greener? 80% of USA sugar is grown domestically. The sugar that is grown out of North America, however, is often grown in poor countries by impoverished farmers. Fair Trade Certified sugar must be grown and purchased following strict guidelines including fair wages, strict pesticide regulations and environmental regulations including ecosystem care and waste control. Don’t buy non-domestic sugar that is not certified fair trade.

And even greener? Buy organic sugar. Most sugar fields have a high rate of pesticide usage. Pesticide use on certified organic sugar is strictly controlled. Sugar cane and sugar beet crops are now often from genetically modified seeds. Certified organic products are not genetically-modified, by regulation.

Honey in a honeycomb.

And of course there are other less-refined sugars that are even better for you such as honey and maple syrup.  Honey is arguably the least refined available.  It is not only delicious, locally-available and pure, but it offers antiseptic, antioxidant and cleaning properties.  Maple syrup is also very lightly refined.  Nothing is added or removed, and it is high in minerals and antioxidants.  Local maple syrup is also easily available. 

So now that I am self-proclaimed “up-to-my-neck in healthy food”,  you will only find in my pantry organic raw sugar, fair trade turbinado brown sugar,  maple syrup and honey.  Quality, eco-friendly, organic and safe.  We just ordered our first batch of honey bees this spring and we hope to someday provide ourselves with our own sweetener on our little homestead. But that is a story for another day. 

This post has been shared on Homestead Barn Hop #53Real Food Forager’s Fat Tuesday, Green and Natural Thursdays LinkupFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways and Natural Parenting Group Linky.

Surprise! Monsanto et al. Likely Own Your Seed Companies.

Where do you buy your seeds or seedlings from?  I was not aware until very recently that much of our garden seeds are now produced by companies owned by large pharmaceutical/chemical companies such as Monsanto, Dow and Bayer etc. These aren’t seeds that are genetically modified.  These are the plain old garden seeds you see in many grocery stores and nurseries.   What in the world are bio-tech companies doing buying up seed companies?  One can only speculate.  Control is a big word.  What they own they can potentially genetically modify?  Or, what they own they can eliminate, thereby supplying their own GMO seeds to the farmers who can no longer buy the seeds they used to use?

This chart shows us what seed companies are owned by which of the Big Six companies, the largest being Monsanto.  These seeds are NOT genetically modified.  But the patented seed (for example  Big Beef tomato seeds or plants) come from companies owned by these giants.

An article called Forewarned is Forearmed: Veggies owned by Monsanto by A Garden For The House provides a list of seeds and seedlings that are owned by Monsanto.  Take a look: you will be amazed at the plant names you recognise.  You can also assured that the majority of big box stores will be buying their seeds from these guys.

What can you do?  There are still some smaller seed companies around that are not owned by the Big Six.

Ask you seed supplier.  Do they buy from any of these seed companies?  Look for small, local seed companies who collect and sell their own seed.  I am buying from Salt Spring Seeds.  They grow and collect their own seeds.  Unfortunately they can’t ship to the USA because of customs regulations.  They do ship internationally.   Here is a link to a list of companies that do not buy seeds from any of these companies.  I didn’t make the list so I can’t verify it but it looks like a good place to start.

Look for local seed exchanges.  Don’t buy your seeds at all!  Trade them with other gardeners in your area.  Here is an article with a lot of links to seed exchanges.

Start collecting your own seeds.  Cheapest, safest way, hands down.

Where do YOU buy your seeds?  Can you recommend any seed companies that grow and collect their own seeds or buy only from companies that have no ties to bio tech companies?

This post has been linked up to Natural Parenting Group Blog Hop, Patchwork Living Blog Hop,  Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #16, Our Simple Farm link up, Living Well Blog Hop 31, Real Food Forager’s Fat Tuesday and  Hometead Barn Hop #51.

Fish in your strawberries? What you don’t know about GMOs.

A stunningly beautiful canola crop. 
80% of Canadian canola crops are GMO.

You hear about it on the news.  You know it is controversial.  You feel strongly that it is bad… but do you really know why?   And do you know who the Monsanto Company is?  I didn’t for years.  I chose products that were labelled “non-GMO” but I didn’t really know what it meant and I certainly didn’t know how diverse the GMO product list was.  I also didn’t know what Monsanto produced and how it dominates the GMO industry.

A GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) is an organism that has had its genetics modified by adding a gene from a different organism to its genetics.  Often the gene is not from the same species.  The most common example is a GMO-patented food crop whose genetics have been altered by adding a gene that is resistant to herbicides.  Much of the commercially-grown corn in the USA is now genetically modified.

The Monsanto Company is, world-wide, the largest company that creates and sells GMO seeds.  They are also the producer of Round Up, an herbicide.  A Monsanto GMO seed will grow in a field that has had every living thing killed off of it with Round Up.  Nothing else will grow in it.  These seeds have had a gene added that is resistant to Round Up and creates a “fantastic” opportunity for farmers.  Kill off all the weeds and then plant the GMO seed!  Nothing will grow in the toxic soil except the GMO seed.  Does this not set off alarm bells? 

GMO seeds are sterile.  The farmer cannot collect the seeds and replant them the next year.  The farmer must return to Monsanto and purchase new seeds from the company.  Talk about monopoly!

What seems more fantastic to me is that Monsanto Company is the creator of Round Up.  How perfect a relationship is that??  First, sell the farmer the Round Up, then sell the farmer the seeds. 

I haven’t had herbicides near my property for years.  Weeds thrive in my lawn.  My garden grows weeds as well as (or better than) vegetables.  There is a constant battle between myself and weeds but I will not use an herbicide.  Naturally, this means less production and more work for me.  It would mean that to a farmer too.  So you can see why a farmer would choose to use Round Up and GMO seeds. 

What other great things has Monsanto been involved in?

  • For a time was a leading manufacturer of plastics including polystyrene and synthetic fabrics
  • Produced DDT and Agent Orange
  • Manufactured Nutra Sweet, (aspartame)
  • Created the Bovine Growth Hormone (BST)
  • Was influential in the development of the first nuclear weapons
  • Created PCBs
  • Filed and won lawsuits against their neighbouring Canadian and American Farmers who sold seed that was contaminated by GMO patented seeds, spread to neighbouring farms by the wind.  It is now officially a farmer’s fault if his neighbour’s GMO crop pollinates his adjacent field via the wind.  He is then illegally selling GMO-patented seeds.
  • Has successfully shut down organic farms because of wind cross contamination.

Is this a friend and neighbour you would like to have?  Not on your life! 

Corn takes much of the bad rap for being genetically modified.  But many other things we eat on a regular basis are GMO.  Check out this list provided by Disabled World.  Among others, honey, cotton, rice, soybean, tomatoes, corn, canola, potatoes, flax, papaya, squash, tobacco, meat, peas, vegetable oil, sugar beets, pineapple, strawberries, dairy products and vitamins, are now commonly GMO.

There is no law at present in Canada or the USA that forces companies to label their products that contain GMOs.  So don’t assume that reading a label will tell you anything.  Some companies are proud of the fact that their food is non-GMO and will label it as such.  Japan, the European Union, Australia and Malaysia have all made it law to label GMO products so that the consumer can make a choice.  Not so in North America though.  Why not?  Maybe because so much of our crops are already GMO that labelling GMOs would destroy our current system. 

What are the potential risks associated with GMO products?  Better Health gives examples:

  • New allergens
  • Antibiotic resistance may develop
  • Cross breeding
  • Herbicide-tolerant crops
  • Pesticide-tolerant insects
  • Biodiversity
  • Cross contamination
  • Pesticide use
  • Lack of research on health effects
  • Social and ethical concerns
  • Monopolization of food crops  
So how can you avoid GMO products?   
  • Buy certified organic.  Certified organic products, by regulation, cannot contain GMOs. 
  • Grow your own vegetables.  Most local seed companies are not large enough to be able to afford GMO seeds. 
  • Prepare and eat whole foods rather than prepared foods.  That way, you can choose the organic ingredients that are in your food.
  • Buy meat produced without growth hormones. Certified organic meat will not have been fed GMO feed and will contain no growth hormones.
What can you do:
Check out Organic Consumers who have all the information you could ever need including boycotts, petitions and protests. 

And just for the fun of it, did you know that some goats have been genetically modified to produce silk?  And genes from a cold water fish can be added to strawberry genes to create a cold-resistant strawberry plant. Now you know.  Care to take a stance? 


This post has been linked up with Live Renewed, Little Natural Cottage, I Thought I Knew Mama, Whole New Mom: Traditional Tuesdays and Common Sense Homesteading: Live Well Blog Hop.