You probably already know that some types of sugar aren’t vegan, because they’re processed with bone char from animal bones. But what about artificial sweeteners?
Are there any plant based sweeteners, or are they all made in a laboratory? And are artificially produced vegan sweeteners healthy?
All these questions answered and more.
Artificial Sweeteners: Vegan or Not?
For many vegans, avoiding animal ingredients is just the beginning. Many vegans also avoid products that are tested on animals, or which rely on other types of animal exploitation.
Here’s the lowdown on the most common artificial sweeteners.
Is Saccharin Vegan?
Saccharin dates back to 1879, when it was discovered by American chemist Constantin Fahlberg. Fahlberg noticed a sweet taste on his hand one evening after working with benzoic sulfamide. In 1884, Fahlberg patented the compound, which he named saccharin (from “saccharine,” which means “overly sweet.”)
Saccharin is 550 times sweeter than sugar, and has no calories. You might find saccharin in prepared foods, or as an ingredient of Sweet & Low powdered sweetener (pink packets).
Saccharin doesn’t contain animal ingredients, and the Sweet & Low brand doesn’t test on animals. However, saccharin itself has undergone long term, large scale animal testing throughout its development.
Is Aspartame Vegan?
Aspartame, or Nutrasweet, was synthesized in 1965, but didn’t come on the market until 1981. At this time, saccharin was coming under fire for potential cancer risks, and people were eager for a new, safer sweetener with zero calories.
Today, you’ll find aspartame sold as aspartame, Nutrasweet, or Candarel. You’ll also find it as an ingredient of Equal. Equal is a powder containing aspartame, dextrose, and maltodextrin, and is sold in blue packets.
Aspartame doesn’t contain any animal ingredients, but aspartame itself has undergone large scale, long term animal testing. The producers of Equal make no statement on animal testing.
Is Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K) Vegan?
Acesulfame Potassium is a zero calorie artificial sweetener sold under the names Sunett, Sweet One, and Ace-K. It’s about 200 times sweeter than sugar. Because of its bitter aftertaste, it’s often mixed with other sweeteners.
Acesulfame Potassium doesn’t contain any animal ingredients. What about animal testing? That’s a bit more complicated.
The chemical itself was tested on animals by university researchers. However, Medesca, the company that produces Ace-K, does not currently test that product on animals. (1)
Is Sucralose Vegan?
Sucralose, which you may recognize as Splenda (in the yellow packet) is a plant based artificial sweetener. It’s made from sucrose that has gone through a series of chemical processes. It’s used to sweeten prepared foods, and you can also cook with it.
Sucralose is plant based and vegan. However, both sucralose and Splenda have been heavily tested on animals.
Is Neotame Vegan?
Neotame, or Newtame, is an artificial sweetener that is 8000 times sweeter than sucrose. Its most common uses include sweetening soft drinks, cakes, yogurts, drink powders, and as a tabletop sweetener.
Structurally, it’s very close to aspartame. Neotame doesn’t contain any animal ingredients, but it has been tested on animals.
Is Advantame Vegan?
Advantame, like Neotame, is an aspartame analog. It’s 20,000 times sweeter than sugar. You’ll find it in gums and candy, sweetened drinks, jams, and as a tabletop sweetener.
Advantame contains no animal ingredients, but has been heavily tested on animals.
Is Sorbitol Vegan?
Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol. It’s derived from a reduction of glucose. Most sorbitol is made from potato starch, but you might also find it made from different types of fruits. It’s most commonly found in candies, chewing gum, cough syrup, and dietetic ice cream. It’s also used as a thickener in some cosmetics.
Sorbitol contains no animal ingredients, but has been heavily tested on animals.
Is Xylitol Vegan?
Xylitol is another sugar alcohol. It’s naturally occuring in plums, strawberries, cauliflower, and pumpkin. It’s not considered a natural sweetener, however, as it undergoes heavy chemical processing.
Xylitol contains no animal ingredients, but it has been extensively tested on animals.
Is Stevia Vegan?
Stevia is a plant based sweetener that comes from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana plant. It’s marketed as a natural sweetener, but some argue that it’s not completely natural, because of the chemical processing it undergoes. (2)
You might have seen it sold as Stevia, Truvia, or PureVia. Stevia is used in soft drinks, in cooking and baking, baked goods, and more.
Stevia is a plant based sweetener, and is amongst the vegan sweeteners on our list. Stevia has been tested on animals in the past, however, as of 2008, the FDA has declared that no more animal testing is necessary. (3)
The Prevalence of Sweeteners
Sweeteners, natural and otherwise, are everywhere. Even where you might least expect it.
For example, an Irish court recently declared that because of its sugar content, bread used by the sandwich chain Subway is not bread, but cake. (4)
And in the United States, labelling regulations require ingredients to be listed, but not their purpose. As a result, a product may be chock full of artificial sweeteners, and the consumer might not know it, if they don’t know what to look for.
Indeed, “reduced sugar” products sometimes accomplish this not simply by reducing sugar, but also by adding artificial sweeteners.
You might find sweeteners in breads, jams and jellies, yogurts, milks and plant milks, toothpaste, medicines, processed foods, cereals, canned foods, and other places where not even a true sweet tooth might think to put them. (5)
Natural Plant-Based Sugar Substitutes
White sugar, cane sugar, and some other types of refined sugar are not vegan. Fortunately, there are a variety of truly natural and truly vegan plant based sugar alternatives available.
If you’re looking for a vegan sweetener that wasn’t made in a lab, check out some of these vegan sugars and vegan sugar substitute options.
Pure maple syrup is a favorite for pancakes, but its uses go way beyond the breakfast table.
You can brush maple syrup onto vegetables for roasting, for example. It’s also a great sweetener for baking. It goes well in a marinade, and it adds a unique taste to cocktails, too. Use it to candy your nuts or sweeten coffee or tea.
Pure maple syrup is an all natural, thoroughly vegan and cruelty free sweetener with practically limitless uses!
And if you live in an area with maple trees, maple syrup harvesting can be a fun springtime activity for the whole family.
Coconut sugar is a natural vegan sugar made from coconut palm sap.
Coconut sugar made through a two-step process: collecting the sap, then boiling it until it crystallizes. This allows coconut sugar, unlike refined sugar, to retain more nutrients, including calcium, zinc, iron, and potassium.
Coconut sugar also contains a fiber called inulin, which gives it a lower glycemic index than regular cane sugar.
The taste isn’t quite as sweet as that of refined sugar, but many people find it to be an acceptable substitute in cooking and baking. It is absolutely cruelty free and vegan.
Natural Brown Sugar
Natural brown sugar is cane sugar with some of the molasses left in. Natural brown sugar is less refined than regular table sugar. Some varieties are unrefined.
There are different types with different flavors, including:
Natural brown sugar is different from regular brown sugar, which is refined. After refining, some of the molasses is added back in.
Though less refined than white table sugar, these sugars have been spun in a centrifuge and may or may not have molasses added back in.
Agave nectar comes from the sap of the agave plant A. Americana. Its close cousin A. Tequiliana gives us tequila!
Agave syrup is about one and a half times sweeter than cane sugar, so you can use less of it for the same effect. At the same time, it’s a low GI (glycemic index) food, which means that it doesn’t spike your blood sugar.
Unfortunately, agave nectar is extremely high in fructose, which can raise blood triglycerides and contribute to heart disease, metabolic problems, and more. (6)
It’s a natural sugar, and it’s vegan, but it probably shouldn’t be your first choice.
Molasses (or blackstrap, sorghum, or treacle) is a by-product of cane sugar and beet sugar production. It’s dark brown and has a strong, subtly sweet flavor. It’s a common ingredient in certain types of baking.
Molasses is vegan; it’s made before the sugar cane is treated with bone char. It also has a high concentration of nutrients, including vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, iron, and manganese.
One tablespoon of molasses provides 20 percent of your recommended daily allowance for each of these! It’s also a good source of potassium.
High fructose corn syrup has a terrible reputation, and it’s well deserved. The fructose in HFCS, like the fructose in agave nectar, can contribute to a range of health problems. Unfortunately, HFCS seems to be everywhere.
Corn syrup, such as you might find in bottles on your grocery store shelves, is different from HFCS. It’s not chemically altered to increase the fructose content.
Both are vegan sweeteners, though you might want to be cautious about products containing HFCS.
Yacon Root Syrup
Yacon is a tuberous plant that grows in the Andes. Yacon root syrup is a sweet syrup made from the tubers.
Yacon root syrup is a low GI food with a taste similar to that of molasses. It’s a good source of antioxidants, and in one study, was shown to contribute to weight loss in obese pre-menopausal women. (7)
You may have to search for this one, but the search may be very worthwhile indeed.
Dates, Date Sugar, and Date Syrup
The fruit of the date palm is a sweet treat enjoyed the world over. Date sugar and date syrup (aka date honey, Debes, date molasses) are sweeteners derived from dates. They’re vegan and high in magnesium and potassium.
Raw fruit is an easy and healthy way to sweeten foods. Try adding pureed bananas, apples, or pears to add subtle, natural, and vegan sweetness to your baked goods.
What’s the Healthiest Way to Sweeten Food and Drink?
Here at HHV, we’re big believers in a whole foods plant-based diet. This means minimally processed foods over laboratory cultivated ingredients.
Although the natural sweeteners on our list will add calories, many will add health benefits, as well. And none require years and years of animal testing.
Sweet treats should be just that — treats. So why not treat yourself to something that’s nutritious as well as delicious?
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About The Author:
Jess Faraday is a vegetarian from a family of vegetarians. A recent vegan, she wants to spread the word about the benefits of plant-based eating for health, for animals, and for the planet.
- Medesca | Statement on Animal Testing |https://www.medisca.com/ProductFiles/3171/Medisca%20Document/Animal%20Testing/Animal%20testing%20Statement_3171.pdf
- Consumer Reports | Is Stevia an Artificial Sweetener? |https://www.consumerreports.org/sugar-sweeteners/is-stevia-an-artificial-sweetener/
- PETA | FDA Agrees with PETA: No More Animal Tests Needed on Stevia |https://www.peta.org/about-peta/victories/fda-agrees-peta-animal-tests-needed-stevia/
- Yahoo News | Subway Bread Classed as Cake |https://uk.news.yahoo.com/subway-bread-classed-cakes-due-105050917.html
- FDA | High Intensity Sweeteners |https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/high-intensity-sweeteners
- Healthline | Agave Nectar: A Sweetener That’s Even Worse Than Sugar? |https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/agave-nectar-is-even-worse-than-sugar#production
- Genta, S. et ali | Yacon Syrup: Beneficial Effects On Obesity and Insulin Resistance in Humans |https://www.clinicalnutritionjournal.com/article/S0261-5614(09)00030-2/fulltext