Published Wednesday, August 1st, 2012
by Alex Ortner
Whether you’re a raw vegan, vegan, vegetarian, or simply a conscious, careful eater, you’ve had to give up certain guilty pleasures, be they salty, greasy, meaty or sweet. Of course, there are always substitutes that help you get your fix, but in some cases, they’re just as bad or even worse than what you’re trying to avoid.
Need an example? Sadly, you don’t need to look any further than agave syrup.
A best-selling item in health food stores and groceries for almost two decades now, organic raw agave syrup or nectar has been touted as a natural, processing-free, miracle sweetener, perfect for raw vegans, vegetarians, and even diabetics thanks to its low glycemic index. It truly is everywhere, from the raw cakes and lemonades at your favorite vegan restaurant to all sorts of “healthy” goodies at your grocery of choice.
Here’s the shocking and downright disappointing truth, however: organic raw agave syrup isn’t what it’s said to be, and it’s actually not that good for you! Surprised? Convinced that agave is a healthy sweetener? Let’s debunk this persistent, aggravating myth.
Agave Syrup is Not Raw
Never mind what you see on the label; despite being labeled as “raw”, agave syrup is most certainly not. You can blame this on lax regulation and enforcement of raw food labeling by the FDA. The truth is, agave syrup is manufactured by processing the pineapple-like bulb of the agave plant with heat, enzymes and various chemicals until a sweet concentrate is produced. It’s far from raw, and not at all natural.
Furthermore, it’s not a traditional sweetener that has been used in Mexico for generations as is commonly believed. Although the agave cactus has historically been used to make tequila, agave “nectar” is a laboratory creation that was developed merely two decades ago in the 1990s.
Agave Syrup is Actually Quite Similar to High Fructose Corn Syrup
The syrup created by this process, which is bottled and sold to you as a healthy sweetener is delivery mechanism for extreme amounts of fructose. If you’re not familiar with fructose, it’s a simple sugar which is found in nearly anything sweet that comes in a box, can, bottle or bag at your supermarket, and it plays a huge role in the ballooning rate of obesity in this country.
Although fructose is found in fruits in vegetables, it’s often a very small amount, and it comes “packaged” with a whole host vitamins, fiber and minerals – good stuff that your body needs.The problem lies with refined sugars, be they simple table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. These extremely fructose-dense sugars are shoveled into the prepared and processed foods we eat every day and create all kinds of long-term health problems. Here’s why you should limit your fructose intake:
· Fructose is digested in your liver and is converted into visceral fat, the kind of fat that your body stores around your internal organs. Excess amounts of visceral fat have been linked to everything from cardiovascular disease to Type II diabetes.
· An excessive amount of fructose has been linked to imbalances in gut microflora, which can seriously harm your digestion and contribute to everything from unhealthy skin to mental diseases.
· It can wreck your appetite… literally. High fructose consumption can make your body resistant to leptin, a hormone that tells your body when you’re full. As such, a common result of diet high in fructose is a larger appetite that can lead to weight gain.
· An increase in fructose also means an increase in uric acid, which can result in high blood pressure.
These are just a few unhealthy side effects of fructose; the truth is, a diet high in fructose has been linked to everything from cancer growth, memory loss and inflammation, which can lead to all kinds of minor and chronic diseases.
Here’s where it gets truly scary: High fructose corn syrup has become one of the chief villains in the Standard American Diet (S.A.D. for short) in recent years thanks to its high fructose content of about 55%. Because it’s in so many of the store-bought foods around us, it means we’re all exposed to a lot more fructose than our parents ever were.
Are you ready for the shocker?
Agave syrup has a fructose content hovering somewhere around 70%, if not higher! That’s almost 20% more fructose than high fructose corn syrup.
What that means is that this “healthy”, “natural” sweetener is more likely to make you fat and sick, not only because of its high fructose content, but also because you’re likely to use quite a bit of it because think it’s safe.
Furthermore, although agave syrup classifies as a low glycemic sweetener, that’s entirely because of its high fructose content. The glycemic index measures how quickly a food will increase our blood sugar, and this information is crucial to those with diabetes. Because fructose is processed by the liver and doesn’t enter the bloodstream, fructose-rich agave syrup doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar. Although that may be a good thing, the high fructose content of agave syrup can impact your health in so many other negative ways.
It’s a shame that this kind of fraudulent labeling has misled so many people who are making a concerted effort to live a healthier life and help others do the same. It’s time for this to change.
What You Can Do
For starters, stop buying agave syrup or agave nectar, which are really the same thing. It doesn’t matter if the bottle is labeled raw, organic, or both. It’s not good for you.
Instead, consider whole leaf stevia, or sweetening your foods with dates or freshly squeezed fruit juice. The truth is, if you eat more whole organic vegetables and fruits, your cravings for sweets will steadily decrease. Fruits will become the sweet, natural, juicy treats they’re meant to be. It’s a strong motivator for not needing added sweeteners at all.
Next, spread the word! If you go to a friend’s house or vegan or vegetarian restaurant where agave nectar is being used, let them know this ugly truth about their sweetener of choice. It might be a bit uncomfortable, but you don’t have to be obnoxious about it. Let your genuine concern help you find the right moment and the right words to share this info. In the long run, it’ll result in happier, healthier families and customers.
I imagine you’re a bit surprised, and that’s understandable. The most important thing is that you don’t allow yourself to be misled by this fraudulent product anymore. Life is sweet enough without it!
To your health,
Do you currently use agave? If so, did this article change your perspective on agave? Leave your comments below.