{Foodie Friday: Agave Nectar…Buyer Beware}

19 Feb

Pronounced-ah-GAH-vay-

 

Agave nectar is extracted from the Agave plant (one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, FLOOR!), which grows mainly in Mexico, and also the Southwestern U.S.  It is used as a substitute for many sweeteners, like white sugar, maple syrup, and honey.  It is very popular with vegans, because it does not come from animal sources, and has even made its way into the Raw foodist movement.  Many claim that a simple substitution of Agave nectar for other types of sweeteners results in overall healthier baked goods, foods, and drinks. 

 

It sounded good…so I tried it.  And, it tasted good.  So, I did some more research.  Because honestly, if something tastes that good, and has such good claims, it’s probably too good to be true.

First, let me share the claims that led me to try it in the first place.

1. It’s natural and organic.

2. It’s very low on the Glycemic Index.

3. It’s low calorie.

4. It’s used by Raw foodists.

5. It’s natural and safe for consumption.

Now, let me share why these are all completely bogus claims.

1. Agave nectar is natural and organic. 

 The main component of agave is starch, such as what is found in corn or rice. Agave starch is converted into refined fructose, and then sold as the sweetener Agave nectar.  It is made through an enzymatic and chemical conversion that refines, clarifies, heats, chemically alters, centrifuges, and filters the non-sweet starch into a highly refined sweetener, fructose. Listen closely… Fructose is not what is found in fruit. Commonly, fructose is compared with its opposite and truly organic sweetener, known as ‘levulose’. There are some chemical similarities between fructose (man-made) and levulose (organic), and so the synthetically refined sugar fructose was labeled in a way to make one believe it comes from fruit. Levulose is not fructose even though people will claim it is.  It is a highly processed form of sugar.  Depending on the processing, Agave nectar can contain between 55 to 90% fructose, the rest is glucose.  This processing heats the nectar to turn it into more of a syrup.  So, now you have:

Processed
High-fructose
Syrup

High-Fructose Agave Syrup.  Same as High-Fructose Corn Syrup, which is now widely accepted as being horrible junk.  Actually, Agave syrup is more concentrated than the high fructose corn syrup used in sodas.

Also, there is the strong possibility that manufacturers are adding things like high fructose corn syrup into the mix in order to cut costs. The Food and Drug Administration says that the manufacturers of Agave nectar may not be labeling their product correctly, either. The FDA says that unless a container of Agave syrup (even the FDA calls is syrup!) is labeled as “hydrolyzed inulin syrup,” the contents cannot be considered unadulterated and genuine.  You KNOW it’s bad when even the FDA is making a statement about false claims and mispackaged products…

And this is essentially a “dead” food, not organic.  If it were organic, that is all of its enzymes and “healthy parts” still intact, it would ferment into tequila, albeit not for about 4 years (so don’t go starting a tequila business)…

2. Agave syrup has a low Glycemic Index. 

Because fructose is not converted to blood glucose, refined fructose doesn’t raise or “crash” human blood glucose levels — hence the claim that it is safe for diabetics. Supposedly, refined fructose has a low Glycemic Index, and won’t affect your blood sugar negatively. But the food labels are deceptive. Refined fructose is not really safe for diabetics. High fructose from agave or corn will kill a diabetic or hypoglycemic much faster than refined white sugar.  By eating high fructose syrups, you are clogging the veins, creating inflammation, and increasing body fat, while stressing your heart. This is in part because refined fructose is foreign to the body, and is not recognized by it.

Also, it may not be as low on the glycemic scale as some claim, depending on how it’s processed.

3. Agave nectar is low calorie. 

Actually, it contains 16 calories/teaspoon, about the same as white sugar.  This claim can be traced to a kernel of truth, but it is still a somewhat unethical claim.  Because Agave nectar tastes so sweet, many recommend using 1:.75 ratio.  That is, if the recipe calls for a cup of sugar, use ¾ cup of Agave nectar.  Because there is less sugar overall, there are less calories in the recipe.  Hmmm…

4. It’s used by Raw foodists. 

 Again, this claim was based on a kernel of truth, which started because of a lie.  So, 2 lies make a truth?  This product was marketed to Raw foodists, with a promise that it was not processed beyond 118 degrees.  VERY, not true.  So Agave nectar is no longer used by Raw foodists, but because they did support it for a short period of time, claims of their support are still being spewed.

5. It’s safe for consumption.

While high fructose Agave syrup won’t spike your blood sugar levels, the extremely high levels of fructose in it will cause mineral depletion, liver inflammation, hardening of the arteries, insulin resistance leading to diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, obesity, and may be toxic for use during pregnancy.  There are some concerns about the use of Agave nectar by pregnant women, because some agave species contain natural steroids that could lead to miscarriage. In addition, these steroids act as contraceptives, causing unattributed sterility in women. 

These stimulants have adverse effects on non-pregnant people as well. They are known to contribute to internal hemorrhaging by destroying red blood cells, and they may gravely, negatively harm people taking statin and high blood pressure drugs. Once eaten, refined fructose appears as triglycerides in the blood stream, or as stored body fat. Elevated triglyceride levels, caused by consumption of refined fructose, are building blocks for hardening human arteries. Metabolic studies have proven the relationship between refined fructose and obesity.

Refined fructose is processed in the body through the liver, rather than digested in the intestine. Refined fructose robs the body of many micronutrients while trying to “make it through” the body. While naturally occurring fruit sugars contain levulose (digested in the intestine. ) which are bound to other sugars, high fructose corn syrup contains “free” (unbound), chemically-refined fructose. Research indicates that free refined fructose interferes with the heart’s use of key minerals like magnesium, copper and chromium.

I’ve included two interesting quotes that I wrote down, sorry, I forgot to get the name of one, and can’t read the other…research FAIL.

“If fructose were natural, I would be able to go out to corn field and get a bucket of sweetener. I can go to a beehive and get honey that I can eat without processing it. I can go to an apple tree and pick an apple and eat it. I cannot go out into a cornfield, squeeze corn, and get fructose syrup, and I cannot go into an agave field, and get the product sold on retail shelves, as agave nectar.

“There is something ethically worse about a company pretending to sell something all natural to people seeking health, than a mainstream company not pretending that their food is healthier (sic: unless you’re Taco Bell, what is up with that?!). For example, nobody selling fast and junk foods is advocating it is health food. When you are in a natural health food store, you expect to pay extra money for something that is good for you.”

The moral of the story.  Trust no one.  No, really.  Don’t even trust this.  Research for yourself.  And then share it with me.  Since when did eating become such a hard task?!

I'd love to hear what you think! Leave a comment below.

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