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Sugar Free Sunday & Sugar’s Impact On The Environment

Welcome to one of the sweetest weekly virtual potluck get-together ever! Yes indeed — it is Sugar Free Sunday! We host it every Sunday to exchange incredible sugar free recipes. Inspiration to start the week right? You bet!

Sugar has plenty of detrimental effects on our health. But have you ever wondered about the effects of sugar on the environment? I recently came across a study published by WWF that addressed just this issue.

I was really surprised at the wide ranging impact of sugar. Here are some of their findings:

“The sugar industry in Australia has been a significant player in major infrastructural projects, including damming of the Burdekin, Tully and Barron Rivers, which has altered the pattern of freshwater flow into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Cane growing has shown to increase sediment and nutrient loads, particularly following heavy rainfall, which can carry these materials into the sea, reducing water quality and impacting on inshore reefs.”

The runoff pollution has caused many problems to the reef including an increase in the outbreak of the coral-eating Crown of Thorns Starfish which contributed to a loss of 66% of live coral cover on sampled reefs in 2000. Sediments also affect coral by smothering them, reducing light availability and potentially reducing photosynthesis and growth.

“Phosphorus-rich runoff from sugar cane fields in Florida is held largely responsible for the decline of the Everglades.”

It has been a common practice to fertilize the cane fields in the Everglades with phosphorus. Although phosphorus promotes agricultural goals, when it is present in run-off that reaches streams and other water bodies, it can promote eutrophication. Eutrophication is the excessive enrichment of waterbodies that leads to a growth in plant life and death of animal life due to reduction in oxygen. In the Everglades it has lead to an increase of cattails which has crowded out sawgrass and many fish.

“Sugarcane cultivation is consuming significantly more water per unit area than any other crop grown in the Indus Basin. Of the 260,000 hectares of mangrove forest recorded in 1997, only an estimated 65 percent remains. The endangered Blind River Dolphin (Platanista minor), found throughout the Indus and its tributaries 100 years ago, now exists in six totally isolated sub-populations.”


Besides impacting the environment, the reduction in water reaching the Indus delta also has affected the livelihood of millions of people who once relied on earning a living from fishing or river boat work in Pakistan.

“Sugar beet irrigation in Andalucia, Spain, is contributing to lowered water levels in rivers such as the Guadalquivir, limiting the water reaching important wetlands during the summer.”

This has a domino effect of endangering the habitat of several bird species such as the griffon vulture, booted eagle, red and black kites, short-toed eagle, Baillon’s crake, purple gallinule, great spotted cuckoo, scops owl, red necked nightjar, bee eater, hoopoe, calandra, short-toed and thekla larks, golden oriole, azure winged magpie, Cetti’s and Savi’s warblers, tawny pipit, great grey shrike, woodchat shrike and serin.

“The production of sugarcane has probably caused a greater loss of biodiversity on the planet that any other single crop. Fifteen countries around the world devote between ten and 50 percent of their land area to cane cultivation and in seven countries sugarcane covers more than 50 percent of the land. Substantial areas of biodiversity-rich habitat have been cleared for cane cultivation, such as tropical rain forest and tropical seasonal forest.”

Clearing land in such epic proportions not only destroys the habitats of many species leading to significant reduction in their population but also affects the flow of water and leads to an increase in soil erosion due to factors such as water and wind.

“In the Indian state of Maharashtra, sugar cane covers just three percent of the land yet corners around 60 percent of the state irrigation supply and is a cause of substantial groundwater withdrawals; the water table in places has dropped from 15 meters to around 65 metres in the past 20 years.”

Groundwater is a large source of fresh water. A drop in the water table means that the water is beyond the reach of existing wells requiring them to be deepened. A lowered water table may cause other problems such as sinking of the ground as well as intrusion of saltwater (which means a further reduction in fresh water).

“In many sugar producing countries, the cane fields are burnt immediately before harvesting for easier cutting, post harvest cultivation and pest control.”

This leads to an increase in air pollution, soil degradation and loss in productivity. Soil degradation occurs due to a decline in microbial activity and the chemical properties of the soil such as reduction in nitrogen. Loss of productivity is due to the fact that the burning reduces the quality of the sugar and the cane harvested.

We can do our part to help reduce these negative effects by promoting a little less sugar in our diets. One way is to share a sugar free recipe! What do you have to share this week?

How do you participate in the virtual potluck?

  • Link your recipe post (NOT your homepage) if it does not use refined sugar. Your blog does not have to be entirely sugar free, just the dish you’re sharing!
  • Please link back to this get-together somewhere in your post’s text. It’s a great way to invite your readers to the fun!
  • Want to make something sweet without using refined sugar? Just check out all the ways to satisfy your sweet tooth without refined sugar here.
  • Your link doesn’t have to be to a sweet dish! We love to see your sugar free appetizers, entrees, soups, snacks — well — you get the idea!
  • Please don’t link to carnivals or giveaways. This is a party; bring a dish to share!
  • In the ‘Name’ field, please enter who you are and what you’re linking. For example Sonia would put: Bean Kale Pasta Soup [Sonia @ Flip Cookbook]
  • It’s not a party if no one chats! Please join the conversation by leaving a message in the comments section below. Also make sure you have the ‘Notify Me’ checkbox selected so that you can listen as well!
  • Sign up for free to our new venture Velvet Aroma. It’s a visual way to read the blogs you love and really bring their recipes into your kitchen.

We’re so excited to see what you’re cooking….. Sugar Free!

Click on the ‘Add your link’ button below to share.



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12 Responses to Sugar Free Sunday & Sugar’s Impact On The Environment

  1. Vicky says:

    The growing of soy also has a similar negative effect on the environment, one of the many reasons I don’t eat soy! I wasn’t aware how much damage was being caused by the growing of sugar, though I can’t say I’m surprised! Great information…thanks for sharing!

    • Raj says:

      You’re welcome! It seem like a lot of agricultural development have similar negative effects especially due to run-off with fertilization compounds. Sugar sounds like it’s the king of causing these problems though because the amount of water it requires is huge and also there is massive soil loss even while just harvesting sugar beets.

  2. Pingback: Recipe: Grain-Free Pizza Crust (SCD/GAPS) — Real Food Forager

  3. jill says:

    HI,
    Great article! I shared my GF DF pizza crust and a video for making GF crepes as well as an article about the Rodale Institute’s research on organic ag.

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  5. Pingback: 12 Reasons Why Organic Agriculture CAN Feed the World — Real Food Forager

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  7. This is my first time linking up. So glad to have checked out your site! I know we’ve connected a few times on Twitter. I’ve linked up my Butternut Squash and Apple Salad. Thanks for such an informative article!

  8. Tracee says:

    this is an amazing site! Thank you!

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