Earth Talk

Are sugar substitutes really that bad for you?


There has been considerable talk of how dangerous synthetic sugar substitutes may be for our health, but little evidence of harm has actually come forth and their environmental impacts may be more reason for concern.
Photo credit: abbyladybug, courtesy Flickr

Dear EarthTalk: I saw an article on sugar's effects on the environment. Has anyone compared different sweeteners (artificial or natural) for their environmental impacts?
-- Terri Oelrich, via e-mail

The production of sugar has indeed taken a huge environmental toll. "Sugar has arguably had as great an impact on the environment as any other agricultural commodity," reports the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), citing biodiversity loss as a result of the "wholesale conversion of habitat on tropical islands and on coastal areas" to grow sugar. WWF adds that the cultivation of sugar has also resulted in considerable soil erosion and degradation and the use of large amounts of chemicals across the tropics and beyond.

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Are Plastics a Good Idea for Food Preservation?


Freezing foods in plastic containers isn't as worrisome as heating them, but if you're leery of plastic, glass containers designed to withstand large temperature extremes, such as Ball Jars (aka Mason jars), like the one pictured here, or anything made by Pyrex, can be a sensible alternative. Just be sure not to load them to the brim as some foods expand when frozen.
Photo credit: Johnathunder, Wikipedia.

Dear EarthTalk: I love to cook and when I have the time I make soups, stews and pasta meals in large batches and freeze them. I use leftover plastic containers, but I know this is not good. What kinds of containers are safe for freezer food storage?
-- Kathy Roberto, via e-mail

Reusing leftover plastic food containers to store items in the freezer may be noble environmentally, but it might not be wise from the perspective of keeping food safely frozen and tasting its best when later heated up and served. Many such containers are designed for one-time use and then recycling, so it’s not worth risking using them over and over. Likewise, wax paper, bread wrappers and cardboard cartons should not be used to store frozen foods; these types of containers don’t provide enough of a barrier to moisture and odors and also may not keep food fresh when frozen.

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