Friday, May 4, 2012

Agave Addendum

Agave Nectar

  A couple months ago, I wrote an entry about sugar, artificial sweeteners, and possible alternatives to refined white sugar. My message in that particular blog was that real sugar isn't as evil as it's made out to be. It's how much of it we're consuming (many times, unknowingly). And it's too much of the fake stuff -- the processed sugars and sweeteners -- that get us into trouble. 

  That message hasn't changed, but I have an update on one of the possible alternatives.

  Almost immediately after pushing the 'publish' button on that blog in February, I received feedback about one of the alternatives: Agave (or Agave Nectar). 

  Even though I was a somewhat skeptical, I had started using Agave this Fall to sweeten my morning coffee. When I received feedback to look further into Agave, I did just that. And what I found resulted in immediately stopping my usage of Agave.

What is Agave Nectar?

  Agave is relatively new to mainstream markets, but it is definitely becoming more and more well-known. It's often touted as a 'health food' because it doesn't raise blood glucose levels in the same way refined white sugar does. I've also seen it advertised as natural and organic. Marketers call Agave a health food because it's considered a low-glycemic sweetener. Since Agave is very high in fructose (most consist of 70-80% fructose), it does not get absorbed into the blood stream as quickly as white sugar does.

  However, with further research, it seems that Agave Nectar is just as processed as High Fructose Corn Syrup (which is 55% fructose by comparison). So that debunks the claim that Agave is organic, natural or traditional.

  In fact, Agave and HFCS are made in the same manner: 
"using a highly chemical process with genetically modified enzymes. They are also using caustic acids, clarifiers, filtration chemicals and so forth in the conversion of agave starches into highly refined fructose inulin that is even higher in fructose content than high fructose corn syrup."
 What's the problem with fructose?

  Concentrated fructose isn't found anywhere in nature. Not even the sweetest of fruits. Fructose is a man-made sugar created by the refining process. Refined fructose doesn't contain any amino acids, vitamins, minerals, pectin, or fiber. As a result, the body doesn’t recognize refined fructose.

  Levulose is the naturally occurring sugar in fruits. It contains enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fruit pectin.

  Refined fructose is processed in the body through the liver, and not digested in the intestine. Whereas levulose is digested in the intestine. This is a crucial factor to our bodies and digestive systems. Because fructose is digested in the liver, it is immediately turned into triglycerides or stored body fat. Since it doesn’t get converted to blood glucose like other sugars do, it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels in the same manner either. Hence the claim that it is safe for diabetics, and is a low-glycemic sweetener.

Who do we believe?

Agave plant
  But still, here's the problem with Agave. The information within public reach is extremely inconsistent.

  One place you might read that it IS indeed a health food, and a solid alternative to white sugar. That it takes your body longer to break Agave down.

  While other sources claim that it is no better than High Fructose Corn Syrup (or possibly worse), and the excess fructose in Agave increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, which can lead to brain shrinkage and mood instability.

  Google it quickly, and see the varying stories you get.

  With all the differing stories about Agave at our disposal, I wanted to pass along the new information I had become aware of. As always, knowledge is power! And since I had previously written that I used Agave, I wanted to issue an addendum of sorts. I don't want to provide bad information to my readers! 

What now?

  With Agave seemingly thrown out the window, I was back at square one. If I want to avoid refined white sugar, what is my best option?

  The best bet I have come across is Organic Cane Sugar. Again, I really only use sugar to sweeten my coffee. So if you are baking and are looking for another alternative, there might be a better solution.

  I have also come across people who rave about Beet Sugar. I personally have not used beet sugar, so I cannot speak of it one way or the other.

  If anything, we need to realize that no sweetener or sugar is a 'health food'! There is no magical sweetener that has zero calories, and won't harm our bodies in other ways. Sugar and other sweeteners should always be consumed in moderation, and is something we should always be mindful of. If you want something sweet, choose the calories NOT the chemicals!

Rodale: The 4 Best, and 3 Worst Sweeteners
Rodale: Food and Depression
Agave Nectar by Dr. Paul Gannon
Why is White Refined Sugar Unhealthy?
Agave Nectar: Good or Bad?

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