Friday, June 3, 2011

Food Fact Friday: Is Agave better?

Is Agave Nectar healthy?

Whole foods have fiber, vitamins, and nutrients that enrich the body and in some cases slow down the sugar hit that comes  from glucose and fructose. When a naturally sugary food like an apple or a generous hunk of agave cactus is processed into a syrup or nectar, everything good about the whole food is lost in the production vat.       
In the specific case of agave, the debate comes down to whether glucose or fructose is more harmful to the body. Natural agave, the plant from which tequila is derived, is approximately half and half glucose to fructose. The nectar or syrup appears primarily to be all fructose, according to published statistics from agave distributors.

Now, is fructose better for you than glucose or sucrose? If you listen to the fructose manufacturers and some diabetes experts, then yes, fructose is better for you. Fructose doesn’t raise glucose levels in the bloodstream, which means there is less of an insulin response and a consequent benefit to diabetics because insulin management is the name of the game.

But is spiking up on fructose any better for anyone whether diabetic or not? We say No! And we’re not alone. Fructose has been linked to raised triglycerides, fatty liver disease, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and more belly fat, which can all be collected together as Metabolic Syndrome.
Agave Nectar

Agave seems to have other drawbacks as well. The first one that sets our teeth on edge is the fact that agave nectar you buy might not actually be agave nectar. According to the Chicago Tribune, products labeled as being from the blue agave plant ...may in fact be mostly corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup may, in fact, be mostly corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup. Tequila manufacturers get first call on the expensive  blue agave cactus that grows in Mexico. There are strict requirements for tequila to come from the blue agave in the same way the German Beer Purity Law says beer must be made from wheat or barley, hops, water, and fermenting yeast. So, when supply did not meet demand, some nectar producers cut what agave they had with similar corn-based fructose.

“Agave is really chemically refined hydrolyzed high-fructose syrup and not from the blue agave plant, organic or raw, asclaimed,” says Russ Bianchi, a food and beverage formulator.

So far the Food and Drug Administration sees no reason to regulate agave for any safety concerns, but admits that agave products may have been “economically adulterated and misbranded by adding corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup.”

Limit yourself to less than two teaspoons a day for any refined sweetener to avoid the many related health effects. We live in the same world you do, and we understand about occasionally falling off the wagon. But remember that any sweetener removed from its natural state is a refined sweetener that should be avoided as much as possible. Agave is no different. Now you know.

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