Is sugar vegan? The short answer is yes and no. It depends on what sugar we are referring to and the interpretation of animal cruelty by individual vegans. Many totally ban it from their diet. Others permit it.
First, the sugar of concern is refined, white cane sugar. What most people refer to as plain old table sugar. About half of this sugar is made from sugar cane and half from sugar beets. While there is no animal ingredient in sugar, cane sugar is filtered with bone char which may be made from animal bones. Sugar made from beets does not require the same process involving bone char. Therefore, only cane sugar is of concern. All other sweeteners are generally considered vegan (even though they may not be very healthy).
Some vegans consider this use of bone char to be so far removed from the original cause of the animals slaughter that it should not be considered animal cruelty (somewhat like the honey issue). Others believe the use of animals or animal by-products in any manner for human consumption is unacceptable. So, the decision to use cane sugar or not is an individual choice.
If you object to the use of bone char, it would seem the answer is simply not to buy refined cane sugar. But, unfortunately, all sugar available at your local supermarket does not state on the package if it is cane sugar or beet sugar. If the package clearly says "beet" sugar then it is vegan. If the package says "cane" sugar it should be considered to be filtered with bone char.
This being said, there is another reason for anyone, vegan or not, to avoid refined white table sugar. This sugar has been processed to the point of totally removing all nutritional value. It is nothing but empty calories and has been linked to a host of disease and illnesses. It is not our purpose here to prove or document this. Take five minutes and do some research on the internet (Google "is sugar bad for you") and find out for yourself.
So what are we to do? We all love our sweets. The answer is to use any of a multitude of other sweeteners. Natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, granular fruit sweeteners, molasses, agave syrup and brown rice syrup are vegan and retain their nutrients. There is also Stevia (made from a natural herb) that is nearly 300 time sweeter than cane sugar. Many of these sweeteners are available in major supermarkets today.
Buying prepared sweets (pies, cakes, cookies, ice cream) is more difficult. Try to avoid products containing high fructose corn syrup (it is in nearly everything today). This chemically altered ingredient has no nutritional value and our bodies are unable to break it down. It is suspect as contributing to our high obesity rate and diabetes.
Possibly the best answer for vegans is to make your own sweets. When cooked in your own kitchen you will know exactly what is in the food you eat. For some this may be a daunting task if they are new to cooking.. But with the wealth of easy vegan recipes available today practically anyone can make a few really yummy desserts.
K.A. Miller is a freelance writer and webmaster for http://www.veganshome.com/ where you will find vegan recipes and discussion of the vegan lifestyle, especially helpful to the new vegan.
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