|Photo by Kecia O'Sullivan|
Refined white sugar is bad. Artificial sweeteners are bad. High fructose corn syrup is bad. That's all we seem to be hearing lately. Thank God for agave syrup, right? Wrong. Some smart marketers along the way convinced a bunch of consumers that agave syrup was the way to go if they wanted to sweeten their diets "naturally." Unfortunately, despite the labeling, agave syrup is not "natural." Neither is it "raw."
In actuality, a natural sweetener can be made from the agave plant. That is what some people do in Mexico. They boil the sap of the plant for hours until it becomes syrupy; much like genuine maple syrup. Unfortunately, that syrup is not what you will find in your local health food stores or supermarkets. Commercial agave syrup isn't made from the sap at all. It's made from the starchy root bulb. According to Russ Bianchi, Managing Director and CEO of Adept Solutions, Inc., in order to create the hyped-up syrup health-conscious folks are buying up, the starch goes through "a highly chemical process dependent on genetically modified enzymes," just like ... gasp ... high fructose corn syrup! As a matter of fact, there is little difference between the two ... except perhaps the cost! Agave syrup contains at least 70% fructose!!
But don't take my word for it. Read more in a report called, Agave Nectar: Worse Than We Thought by Ramiel Nagel and Sally Fallon Morell. This report delves into the whole HFCS debate, so if you're not sure what that's all about, I highly recommend that you read it.
Later in the report, they expose the truth about agave nectar. Here's how they begin:
As the educated public has shied away from foods containing HFCS, the industry has brought a new sweetener on the scene, one used especially in foods aimed at the health-conscious consumer: agave “nectar.” Agave nectar is advertised as a “diabetic friendly,” raw, and “100% natural sweetener.” Yet it is none of these.
Agave nectar is found on the shelves of health food stores primarily under the labels, “Agave Nectar 100% Natural Sweetener,” and “Organic Raw Blue Agave Nectar.” In addition, it can be found in foods labeled as organic or raw, including ketchup, ice cream, chocolate and health food bars.
Dr. Ingrid Kohlstadt, a fellow of the American College of Nutrition and an associate faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, had this to say about agave nectar:
"[Agave is] almost all fructose, highly processed sugar with great marketing.”
Unfortunately, we've all fallen victim to great marketing from time to time.
Even more disturbing is this little bit of often overlooked information (also from the report by Nagel and Morell):
"However, the truth is that the saponins found in many varieties of agave plants are toxic steroid derivatives, capable of disrupting red blood cells and producing diarrhea and vomiting, to be avoided during pregnancy because they might cause or contribute to miscarriage by stimulating blood flow to the uterus. At the very least, agave products should carry a warning label indicating that the product may cause a miscarriage."
Let me repeat that: Agave products should carry a warning label indicating that the product may cause a miscarriage!!!
Lesson learned: Just because it's in a health food store or in the nutrition section of the grocery store does not mean it is healthy! Or safe.
My take on agave nectar/syrup? Avoid it. It is not good for you. It does not deliver on the manufacturers' claims. And if you're buying it because you want to keep your family away from high fructose corn syrup, I hate to tell you this, but you've been duped. Like thousands of others. And here is where Dr. Oz and I part ways once again. Ever since he touted the benefits of agave syrup on Oprah, sales went through the roof. And, admittedly, I'm quite confused as to why he's promoting it. Yes, it is lower on the glycemic index than many other sweeteners. But so is aspartame (with a 0 GI). And you can find countless websites and "experts" extolling the virtues of aspartame. But you and I know it's poison, right?
I'm anxious to see if Dr. Oz reverses his stand on agave syrup. High fructose is high fructose, right? Whether it's corn or agave, it's simply not good for you. And if you're trying to lose weight by eliminating sugar, guess what? Spoonful by spoonful, sugar and agave syrup are the same -- 16 calories per teaspoon.
One of the members of our community switched to agave syrup recently, in her quest to break the sugar habit. A short while later, she started getting headaches. Baffled by the cause, she made a doctor's appointment. But then she discovered the truth about agave and stopped using it. Guess what? Her headaches went away. Coincidence? I doubt it.
Unless you're vegan, the best choice for sweetening is locally produced raw organic honey. It's been called one of nature's miracle foods for good reason.
I'm sorry to be the bearer of more bad news about something many of you thought was good for you. But, as always, I just want to keep you informed.
And, on that note, I want to share one more thing another community member shared yesterday. It's a really handy-dandy tool we should all print out and keep on hand -- The Cooking Oil Comparison Chart.
I hope this will guide you into making healthier choices for you and your family!
Trying to keep it healthy,