The Sweet Sting of Agave…

agave_avellanidens160agave bottle

Well folks, Veda Health just touched upon the high fructose content and heavy processing of Agave syrup, but here are some great articles to delve further into the issue. I’ve included some highlights with excerpts from each article to help understand the basics of why most manufactured (but not all) agave is not a good part of a Holistic lifestyle. #4 has a link to Wholesome Sweeteners Fact vs. Fiction for Agave processing. Wholesome is often a trusted source for organic, fair trad foods. With respect to agave, they point out how agave has 75% fructose content that is derived from hydrolyzing agave sap and breaking down inulin fiber. Meaning, it’s still a high fructose content without adequate natural fiber as a Whole Food source.

For now, experts recommend organic, raw, coconut palm sugar instead of agave. Stevia is also a current option, but there may be hidden news about its manufacturing on the horizon. Of course, the best way to obtain natural sugar is through healthy fruits with balancing fiber in our diets. A food list of fruits with fructose content is provide from Dr. Mercola in the second article excerpt.

I have to say that this post has been coming for a long time and the initial news busted my bubble on this sweetener. It seems to me that false marketing is everywhere and its up to us to be investigative journalists to provide adequate food safety for ourselves and our families. Thanks for listening. =)

Namaste,

Julie

1. http://realfoodforager.com/why-i-never-use-agave/

Agave is not natural

Agave was developed in the 1990′s and is made primarily in Mexico. There is really no such thing as agave nectar. The sweetener is made from the starchy part of the yucca or agave plant — the roots. Inulin, also a complex carbohydrate, makes up about 50% of the carbohydrate content of agave.

To produce so called agave nectar from the Agave Americana and Tequiliana plants, the leaves are cut off the plant after it has aged 7 to 14 years. Then the juice is expressed from the core of the agave. The juice is filtered, then heated, in order to hydrolyze the polysaccharides into simple sugars. The filtered, hydrolyzed juice is concentrated to a syrupy liquid, slightly thinner than honey, from light colored to dark amber, depending on the degree of processing. (source)

It is a highly processed operation to convert the carbohydrates into a liquid nectar. This is done using caustic acids, clarifiers and filtration chemicals and results in a syrup that is from 70% – 92% pure fructose — even higher than high fructose corn syrup (which is 55%).  This is certainly not a raw product and this entire method can’t be good.

Sally Fallon Morell and Rami Nagel, authors of “Agave Nectar: Worse Than We Thought,” write that obese people who drank fructose sweetened drinks with a meal had blood triglyceride levels 200 times higher than equally obese people who drank glucose-sweetened drinks. Clearly, this indicates that synthesized fructose is very bad for you. Agave nectar is packed with it.

Concentrated fructose is a burden

Research suggests that fructose actually promotes disease more readily than glucose.  This is because glucose is metabolized by every cell in the body, but fructose must be metabolized by the liver. Animals studies show that the livers of animals fed large amounts of fructose develop fatty deposits and cirrhosis of the liver.  This is similar to the livers of alcoholics.

These studies show that fructose consumption induces insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, hyperinsulinemia, hypertriglycerolemia, and hypertension in animal models.

2. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/03/30/beware-of-the-agave-nectar-health-food.aspx

How Agave is Grown and Produced Proves it is Unnatural

Agaves grow primarily in Mexico, but you can also find them in the southern and western United States, as well as in South America. Agaves are not cacti, but succulents of the yucca family, more closely related to amaryllis and other lilies. Edible parts of the agave are the flowers, leaves, stalks and the sap.

A mature agave is 7 to 12 feet in diameter with leaves that are 5 to 8 feet tall — an impressive plant in stature, to be sure. There are over 100 species of agave, in a wide variety of sizes and colors.

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.

In spite of manufacturer’s claims, most agave “nectar” is not made from the sap of the yucca or agave plant but from its pineapple-like root bulb[i]. The root has a complex carbohydrate called inulin, which is made up of fructose molecules.

The process which many, if not most, agave producers use to convert this inulin into “nectar” is VERY similar to the process by which cornstarch is converted into HFCS1.

Though processing methods can differ among manufacturers, most commercially available agave is converted into fructose-rich syrup using genetically modified enzymes and a chemically intensive process involving caustic acids, clarifiers, and filtration chemicals[ii]. Here is a partial list of the chemicals many producers use:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Cationic and ionic resins
  • Sulfuric and/or hydrofluoric acid
  • Dicalite
  • Clarimex
  • Inulin enzymes
  • Fructozyme

How natural does this sound?

The result is highly refined fructose syrup, along with some remaining inulin.

Most agave “nectar” is neither safe nor natural with laboratory-generated fructose levels of more than 80 percent!

Is There Really a “Safe” Organic Agave?

Part of the problem leading to the confusion is that there are some natural food companies that are indeed committed to excellence and in providing the best product possible. But let me assure you that in the agave industry, this is the minority of companies. 

Nevertheless, these ethical companies seek to provide an outstanding product. There are a few companies who commit to and actually achieve these criteria 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
  • Produce a final agave product that is closer to 50% fructose instead of over 90%
  • Fructose is bonded or conjugated to other sugars and not floating around as “free” fructose, like HFCS, which is far more damaging.

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.

Even a hundred years ago, long prior to modern day food processing, the average person consumed 15 grams a day.

What are Acceptable Alternatives to Agave?

If you are craving something sweet, your best bet is to reach for an apple or a pear. And if you give yourself a sugar holiday for even a couple of weeks, you will be amazed at how much those cravings will decrease. But be sure and count the grams of fructose and keep your total fructose from fruit below 15 grams per day as you are sure to consume plenty of “hidden” fructose in the other foods you will be eating.

You can use the table below to help you count your fructose grams.

Fruit Serving Size Grams of Fructose
Limes 1 medium 0
Lemons 1 medium 0.6
Cranberries 1 cup 0.7
Passion fruit 1 medium 0.9
Prune 1 medium 1.2
Apricot 1 medium 1.3
Guava 2 medium 2.2
Date (Deglet Noor style) 1 medium 2.6
Cantaloupe 1/8 of med. melon 2.8
Raspberries 1 cup 3.0
Clementine 1 medium 3.4
Kiwifruit 1 medium 3.4
Blackberries 1 cup 3.5
Star fruit 1 medium 3.6
Cherries, sweet 10 3.8
Strawberries 1 cup 3.8
Cherries, sour 1 cup 4.0
Pineapple 1 slice
(3.5″ x .75″)
4.0
Grapefruit, pink or red 1/2 medium 4.3
Fruit Serving Size Grams of Fructose
Boysenberries 1 cup 4.6
Tangerine/mandarin orange 1 medium 4.8
Nectarine 1 medium 5.4
Peach 1 medium 5.9
Orange (navel) 1 medium 6.1
Papaya 1/2 medium 6.3
Honeydew 1/8 of med. melon 6.7
Banana 1 medium 7.1
Blueberries 1 cup 7.4
Date (Medjool) 1 medium 7.7
Apple (composite) 1 medium 9.5
Persimmon 1 medium 10.6
Watermelon 1/16 med. melon 11.3
Pear 1 medium 11.8
Raisins 1/4 cup 12.3
Grapes, seedless (green or red) 1 cup 12.4
Mango 1/2 medium 16.2
Apricots, dried 1 cup 16.4
Figs, dried 1 cup 23.0

3. http://www.living-foods.com/articles/agave.html

The Truth about Agave Syrup:
Not as Healthy as You May Think

by John Kohler

A relatively recent trend in raw food preparation is the use of agave syrup (also called agave nectar) as sweetener is called for in raw recipes.  I am often asked about my views on this sweetener.

When I first switched to a raw food diet in 1995, agave syrup was unknown and was NOT USED IN RAW FOODS!  I first learned about agave syrup back in 1999 or 2000 at a trade show for the health food industry, which I attend regularly to keep up with the latest in the health and nutrition field.  I asked several questions, got some samples, and inquired on how the company processed the agave syrup.  At that time, I learned that it was processed at roughly 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit11, so I certainly didn’t consider it a raw food by any means.  Just like agave, some people consider maple syrup a raw food, but all maple syrup is heat-treated and is therefore not raw at all. 

Unfortunately, there are no “raw labeling laws.”  Anyone, anywhere, at any time can put “RAW” on their label and to them it can be supposedly raw since it is made from a “raw” material or simply not roasted. Just because it says “RAW” doesn’t necessarily mean that it was processed at a temperature under 118 degrees and still has all its enzymes, nutrients, and “life force” intact.  For example, when you notice the difference between raw carob powder and roasted carob powder in the store, it is my understanding that the “raw” carob powder has been heated to about 250 degrees, whereas the “roasted” carob powder has been heated to about 450 degrees.  The additional heat applied to the “roasted” carob powder causes the carob to “carmelize,” thus making it darker in appearance and different in taste as compared to the “raw” carob powder.  Some stores sell “truly raw” carob powder, it has a more chalkier texture than supposedly “raw” carob powder.  Jaffe Bros in Valley Center, California is a source of the “truly raw” carob powder.  There are several raw food snack bars that say “RAW” but have ingredients such as cooked cocoa powder (that can’t be raw) and cashew nuts (most of which are not truly raw).

An except on how Agave is processed

…Agave plants are crushed, and the sap collected into tanks. The sap is then heated to about 140°F for about 36 hours not only to concentrate the liquid into a syrup, but to develop the sweetness. The main carbohydrates in the agave sap are complex forms of fructose called fructosans, one of which is inulin, a straight-chain fructose polymer about ten eight to 10 fructose sugar units long. In this state, the sap is not very sweet.

When the agave sap is heated, the complex fructosans are hydrolyzed, or broken into their constituent fructose units. The fructose-rich solution is then filtered to obtain the desired products that range from dark syrup with a characteristic vanilla aroma, to a light amber liquid with more neutral characteristics. Excerpt from: FoodProcessing.com  

So agave needs to be hydrolyzed so that the complex fructosans are “broken down” into fructose units or it won’t be sweet!!  Great now im eating hydrolyzed raw agave syrup!

 4. http://www.wholesomesweeteners.com/agavefactsvsfiction.html


Making Wholesome Sweeteners Blue Agaves

In the field:

After growing for 5 to 7 years, a mature blue agave stands 6 to 8 feet tall and its carbohydrates, or “sugars,” are at their peak.[ii] The blue agave stores carbohydrates in the plant’s core or pina (so-called because it resembles a pineapple after the leaves have been trimmed away). Farmers hand-harvest blue agave with a simple razor-sharp blade, leave the field trimmings behind to restore the soil and reduce erosion, and take the pinas to the mill for crushing.

 

At the mill:

Once at the mill, the blue agave pina is crushed and its carbohydrate- and inulin-rich juice is collected. Inulin is a difficult-to-digest plant fiber, so to make it digestible, it must be changed into something our bodies can comfortably manage–in this case, fructose and glucose. Because Wholesome holds to USDA Organic Standards, we use a relatively simple method to change the agave from a plant fiber to a sweetener:

 

  • ·        In a process called “thermal hydrolysis,” the agave juice is exposed to different levels of heat. It is simply the application of heat to convert the inulin into a natural combination of the common sugars fructose and glucose. (We do the same thing when we reduce a sauce.) [iii]
  • ·        Wholesome’s Organic (Light) Blue Agave is heated quickly to a high temperature, then cooled.
  • ·        Raw Blue Agave is hydrolyzed at a much lower temperature for a much longer time.
  • ·        After gentle heating, the juice is physically filtered to remove extraneous materials, lower the color and lessen the mineral content, as all these can affect the flavor profile. National Organic Program-approved diatomaceous earth is used as a filtering agent. (The raw syrup is minimally filtered so it maintains a rich amber color and richer flavor.)
  • ·        The filtered syrup is then cooled in sealed tanks using cold water pumped through spiral tubes.

 

Under the microscope:

Every batch of Wholesome Sweeteners Blue Agave must pass lab tests at the mill, and before it is bottled. As produced, Wholesome’s Blue Agave is 75% fructose, 20% glucose (also called dextrose), with small amounts of inulin and mannitol. (According to the Glycemic Index, a scientific standard used for measuring foods’ effect on blood sugars, agaves’ combination of sugars make them low glycemic sweeteners.)

 

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