Thursday, April 1, 2010

No Added Sugar + The Agave Fraud


No Added Sugar is one of my most treasured discoveries I made while living in Europe. Head over to Nursery Notations to see the cute boy/girl spring outfits I put together from their new Spring collection.

Speaking of sugar, one thing I get asked about often by friends and family is Agave Nectar and my thoughts on it. Many people interested in making a healthy decision have switched to agave nectar in an attempt to consume a "safer" sweetener. I can sum up my feelings about agave in one word though: fraud. Agave nectar and/or agave syrup is WORSE for you than high fructose corn syrup, which is one of the absolute most horrible "ingredients" on the market. I put ingredients in quotes as it is nothing more than a chemical. So how could agave nectar possibly be worse? Below is a summary of one of the best articles I have ever read on the topic (and I have read a lot!) entitled Beware of the Agave Health Food Fraud by Dr. Joseph Mercola. Click the link for the article in its entirety.

If you knew the truth about what’s really in it, you’d be dumping it down the drain -- and that would certainly be bad for sales. Agave "nectar" or agave "syrup" is nothing more than a laboratory-generated super-condensed fructose syrup, devoid of virtually all nutrient value, offering you metabolic misfortune. Unfortunately, masterful marketing has resulted in the astronomical popularity of agave syrup among people who believe they are doing their health a favor by avoiding refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup, and dangerous artificial sweeteners.

While agave syrup does have a low-glycemic index, so does antifreeze -- that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Agave syrup has the highest fructose content of any commercial sweetener -- ranging from 70 to 97 percent, depending on the brand, which is FAR HIGHER than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which averages 55 percent. This makes agave actually WORSE than HFCS. It is important to understand that fructose does not increase insulin levels, which is not necessarily good as what it does do is radically increase insulin resistance, which is FAR more dangerous. You see, it’s okay for your insulin levels to rise, that is normal. You just don’t want these insulin levels to remain elevated, which is what insulin resistance causes.

Although the industry wants you to believe that agave nectar runs straight from the plant and into your jar, nothing could not be farther from the truth. The agave starch is converted into fructose-rich syrup using genetically modified enzymes and a chemically intensive process involving caustic acids, clarifiers, and filtration chemicals. Here is a partial list of the chemicals involved: activated charcoal, cationic and ionic resins, sulfuric and/or hydrofluoric acid, dicalite, clarimex, inulin enzymes, and fructozyme. How natural does this sound? The result is highly refined fructose syrup, along with some remaining inulin.

There are some ethical companies seek to provide an outstanding product and actually work with the indigenous people, use organic agave as the raw material, free of pesticides, process it at low temperatures to preserve all the natural enzymes, and produce a final agave product that is closer to 70% fructose instead of over 90%. The VAST majority of companies however do not apply these principles and essentially produce a product that is, as this articles states, FAR worse than HFCS. If you are going to use agave you will certainly want to seek out one of the companies that adhere to the principles above. However you will still need to exert caution in using it.

Just like fruit it is quantity issue. Fructose only becomes a metabolic poison when you consume it in quantities greater than 25 grams a day. If you consume one of the typical agave preparations that is one tablespoon, assuming you consume ZERO additional fructose in your diet, which is VERY unlikely since the average person consumes 70 grams per day.

Growing consumer resistance to HFCS has been a hole-in-one for the agave industry. Need a healthy alternative to those evil HFS products? Agave syrup to the rescue! In case you doubt the influence of marketing in setting trends and consumer buying habits, look at these statistics: new agave products more than tripled in number between 2003 and 2007, from 56 to 176. Agave syrup is now appearing in products such as energy bars, cereals and organic ice creams, and revenues for the category "other liquid sweeteners," which includes agave, rose to more than $10.3 million in 2007, which was a 50 percent jump from 2006. Agave is also quickly crossing over from the health food market to mainstream grocery chains, restaurants and taverns, and consumers (especially vegans and raw food enthusiasts) are replacing their honey and maple syrup with bottles of agave after being duped into believing it’s a more healthful alternative.

It’s important for you and your family’s health to remember that agave syrup is neither healthy nor natural. As reported by Dr. Ingrid Kohlstadt, a fellow of the American College of Nutrition and an associate faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health: "Agave is almost all fructose, a highly processed sugar with great marketing." Agave syrup is not low calorie -- it has about 16 calories per teaspoon, the same as sucrose (table sugar). The glycemic index is immaterial, once you understand the full extent of the risk this product poses to your health. The consumption of high amounts of sugar is what is inflating America’s waistline, as well as escalating rates of diabetes, blood pressure and heart disease. Although overall sugar consumption is definitely something to be concerned about, even more problematic is one type of sugar that wreaks extraordinary havoc on your body: FRUCTOSE. And if you want fructose, agave products next to pure fructose, have the highest percentage of fructose of any sweeteners on the market, over 50 percent more fructose than high fructose corn syrup.

It is also important to understand that the fructose in fruits and vegetables is not the same fructose molecule you’ll find in synthetic high-fructose corn syrup, which is manufactured in the lab. Naturally occurring fructose comes along with fiber, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, whereas fructose sweeteners have no nutritional value at all.

If you feel you must have a sweetener, here are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Avoid ALL artificial sweeteners.
  • Avoid agave like the plague.
  • Limit sugar of all types as much as possible. You can buy pure glucose (dextrose) as a sweetener for about $1 per pound, which has none of the adverse effects of fructose if used moderately. It is only 70 percent as sweet as sucrose, so you’ll end up using a bit more of it for the same amount of sweetness, making it slightly more expensive than sucrose -- but still well worth it for your health.
  • Use raw, organic honey in moderation or avoid it completely as it is 70 percent fructose which is higher than HFCS. However the fructose is not in its free from so that moderates the damage. But each teaspoon of honey has nearly four grams of fructose so you will want to carefully add the total grams of fructose (including fruits) and keep them under 15 grams per day.
  • Use regular stevia in moderation, but avoid stevia-based sweeteners like Truvia and PureVia because they have undergone more processing.
  • Lo Han is another excellent natural herbal sweetener.
  • Exercise can be a very powerful tool to help control fructose in a number of ways. If you are going to consume fructose it is BEST to do so immediately before, during or after INTENSE exercise as your body will tend to use it directly as fuel and not convert it to fat Additionally exercise will increase your insulin receptor sensitivity and help modulate the negative effects of fructose. Lastly exercise will also help to blunt your appetite and control your sweet tooth.

If you have insulin issues, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or if you’re overweight, I suggest you avoid all sweeteners, including stevia, since any sweetener can decrease your insulin sensitivity.

So, lesson of the day: Check your pantry and chunk anything with agave in it! When you're at the store, READ THE INGREDIENTS and don't buy anything with agave or high fructose corn syrup in it to help protect the health of you and your family.

3 comments:

  1. organic honey?...really? how do they tell the bees which plants are the organic ones....who's being fooled now

    ReplyDelete
  2. I assume organic honey is drawn from hives that have not been in contact with chemicals and/or honey that has not been processed with chemicals. Don't think the bees need to be told anything, but I could be wrong ;)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I find agave to be unedible. Awful. I avoid it.

    ReplyDelete

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