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Agave Syrup – Not a Healthy Sugar Replacement

Agave Syrup – Not a Healthy Sugar Replacement

If we start looking for articles about sugar or about any other sweetener like agave syrup, we can transform this blog a sugar-dedicated one. Every day form the bus station to the office, in every corner, in shopping malls and restaurants, 70-80% percents of the food and drinks you see are full of sugar.

By now most of us know how to avoid it as much as we can, some found alternatives and some are still fighting the addiction. We can take one small exemple, the coffee that 1 of 3 Americans is buying every day.

Caramel Macchiato sounds familiar? I am sure it does. The well-known beverage from Starbucks has so much sugar that it really can blow your mind. 32 grams for one cup of coffee.

Yes, 32 and this is Grande. If you don’t know how much this means I will tell you: 8 teaspoons. EIGHT.

Now, there are people that drink Starbucks every day. For some it’s pure habit, for some may be the prestige of walking into the office with a Starbucks coffee that has their name on it. For some it’s a trend and that’s the way they see their mornings. For others it’a form of socialization. Try and go into a Starbucks long enough and they will learn your order. Sometimes I wonder if for some people the only ones that know their names are the ones that write it on their cup of coffee.

If sugar is so bad, why they use it?

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In fact, we all consume a lot more this sweet poison then our body needs. According to data from the U.S. in 2008, people are consuming over 60 pounds (28 kg) of added sugar per year and this does not include fruit juices. A lot of people can say that it’s just sugar. But I’m sure that you know that excess added sugar is tremendously bad for your health.

The Harvard University Health Blog mentioned a 15-year study where researchers analyzed those that consumed just 25% or more of their calories from sugar. These participants were two times, or 100%, more likely to die from heart disease when compared to those who had diets with 10% or more calories from sugar. This was regardless of a person’s sex, age, fitness, or body mass.

And that’s pretty scary stuff.

So what’s the deal?

Why do products contain so much sugar if it’s so bad for our health? Read the add in the left to see how sugar companies promoted this sugar white poison. It’s all about addiction.

And addiction sells.

Like it or lump it, few of us get through the day without adding sugar to our daily diet. We are somehow a Pavlovian population made up of sugar, treacle and toffee addicts, drawn to the taste of sweetness like bees to honey. Some studies reported that rats chose sugar over cocaine(even when they were addicted to cocaine) and speculated that no mammals’ sweet receptors are naturally adapted to the high concentrations of sweet tastes on offer in modern times. So these rats were addicted to cocaine, but still preferred sugar. Cool stuff, ha?

So what do we do?

Agave Syrup to the Rescue

A lot of nutritionists found in this crusade against sugar a new Champion – the agave syrup. All educated people and those aiming for a healthy diet have shied away from foods with high amounts of sugar or HFCS. In this migration the industry brought a new sweetener on the scene – the agave syrup or agave nectar.

This new product is aimed for all the health-conscious consumer and is advertised as a diabetic friendly, raw and 100% natural sweetener. But it is none of these. You can find it on the shelves of health food, near the foods labeled as organic or raw close to ketchup, chocolate or health food bars.

What is agave?

The implication of its name, along with the pictures and descriptions on the product labels, create the impression that agave is an unrefined sweetener that has been used for thousands of years by native people in central Mexico.

A common misconception is that agave plants are related to cacti and aloe, probably because of their similar appearance. However, agave is more closely related to lilies and yucca, a starchy potato-like veggie. Indigenous people of these regions used agave for centuries because they believed it had healing properties. The Mexicans used to boil the sap (sugary circulating plant fluid) to produce a sweetener known as miel de agave.

But, as one agave seller explains, the agave nectar purchased in stores is neither of these traditional foods:

Agave syrup is a newly created sweetener, having been developed during the 1990’s.

But the most common use of the Agave plant is fermenting the sugars in it to produce the alcoholic beverage called tequila. In fact, tequila is the most common commercial use of Agave today and one of Mexico’s best known export products.

The secret, the nectar, the syrup

In spite of manufacturers’ claims, agave “nectar” is not made from the sap of the yucca or agave plant but from the starch of the giant pineapple-like root bulb. The principal constituent of the agave root is starch, similar to the starch in corn or rice, and a complex carbohydrate called inulin, which is made up of chains of fructose molecules.

The process by which agave glucose and inulin are converted into agave syrup is similar to the process by which corn starch is converted into HFCS.  The agave starch is subject to an enzymatic and chemical process that converts the starch into a fructose-rich syrup—anywhere from 70 percent fructose and higher according to the agave nectar chemical profiles posted on agave nectar websites.

Manufacturers age agave plants for 7-14 years. When the plants reach maturity, the leaves are cut off so the starchy part of the plant, which is the core and roots, is easily harvested. The juice is squeezed from the pulp of the agave, filtered and heated to separate into simple sugars. What most of the peoples don’t know is that in this process enzymes are used.

agave_plant

The refined fructose in agave nectar is much more concentrated than the fructose in HFCS. For comparison, the high fructose corn syrup used in sodas is 55 percent refined fructose.

A natural agave product does exist in Mexico, but it is expensive to produce. Click To Tweet

According to Bianchi, agave syrup and HFCS are made the same way, using a highly chemical process dependent on genetically modified enzymes. The manufacturing process also calls for caustic acids, clarifiers, filtration chemicals and so forth in the conversion of agave starches. The result is a high level of highly refined fructose in the remaining syrup, along with some remaining inulin.

In a confidential FDA letter, Dr. Martin Stutsman of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Labeling Enforcement, explains the FDA’s food labeling laws related to agave nectar:

“Corn syrup treated with enzymes to enhance the fructose levels is to be labeled “High Fructose Corn Syrup”. According to Mr. Stutsman, agave requires the label “hydrolyzed inulin syrup.” Even though, like corn, agave is a starch and fiber food processed with enzymes, it does not require the label “High Fructose Agave Syrup”.

Since the FDA makes no effort to enforce food-labeling laws, consumers cannot be certain that what they are eating is what the label says it is. New sweeteners like agave syrup were introduced into the market to make a profit, not to make consumers healthy. Clever marketing has led many consumers to believe that the high level of fructose in agave syrup makes it a safe and a natural sweetener. Agave syrup labels do not conform to FDA labeling requirements, thus deepening the illusion of an unprocessed product. As we have demonstrated here, if a sweetener contains manufactured fructose, it is neither safe nor natural, especially at levels up to 70 percent.

Agave syrup is a manmade sweetener which has been through a complicated chemical refining process of enzymatic digestion, which converts the starch and fiber into the unbound, manmade chemical fructose. While high fructose agave syrup won’t spike your blood glucose levels, the fructose in it may cause mineral depletion, liver inflammation, hardening of the arteries, insulin resistance leading to diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

In the year 2000,  federal agents from the Office of Criminal Investigations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came banging on the door of North America’s largest agave nectar distributor, Western Commerce Corporation in California. In an extremely rare case of the FDA protecting consumer interests they discovered that Western Commerce Corporation was adulterating their agave syrup with high fructose corn syrup (to lower the cost even more and increase profit margins). While the federal agents confiscated material in the warehouse, the owners of Western Commerce Corporation were nowhere to be found.

How the agave syrup affects your health?

Fructose doesn’t raise blood sugar levels because it doesn’t go directly into the bloodstream like glucose, or regular sugar. This fact is why agave has been promoted to diabetics and has been included in new low-sugar products.

Glucose is able to be absorbed and used by every cell in our bodies. Our bodies even produce glucose because we need it for our bodies to function properly.

However, our livers are the only organ that can metabolize fructose. And as you can imagine, your liver can only handle so much fructose before it becomes overworked. When it can’t process the sugar, it turns the fructose directly into fat.

So while fructose doesn’t raise the insulin level, it increases the insulin resistance. Now which of this two is worse I will let you decide.

It doesn’t take that much fructose to become insulin resistant. In fact, it only takes a little over 25 g of fructose per day.

When you consume excessive amounts of fructose, your body will:

  • Raise triglycerides
  • Increase LDL levels and increase HDL ones
  • Raise your blood pressure
  • Rapidly gain weight in your abdomen

A lot of nutritionists like to argue that you can find naturally occurring fructose in fruits and starchy veggies, so fructose can’t be that bad for you. Well, this is somehow wrong.

Why?

Because consuming fructose from fruits and veggies means that fibers, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants also come along for the digestion ride. Our bodies can handle processing the small amounts of fructose typically found in natural food sources like fruits and veggies because it’s not that much. And fibers and antioxidants have a HUGE role in this process.

But synthetic fructose created in labs does not have the same molecules as the natural fructose, plus it lacks any of the fibers, vitamins and antioxidants that the body needs for the nutritional process.

In the end

Fructose is hiding in nearly all processed modern foods nowadays, so you really need to pay attention to make sure you’re not eating that 25 g every day and ruining your health.

Our bodies were never designed to process the concentrated amounts of fructose found in high fructose corn syrup and agave. However, sugar and fructose are both highly addictive and very destructive at the same time.

Well, it’s very difficult to quit sugar. I know this from my own experience, but some how there is a solution. You can fight the sweet crave and decrease your body’s addiction. There are some various symptoms at first, but it’s the normal way your body fights addiction. But, you will soon notice that they will go and you will have an overall health benefits. In the mean time you can try some other sweeteners that are much safer than agave: stevia and raw honey.

What do you feel about the agave syrup lies and its impact on your health? Tell me what you think in the comments!

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2 Comments

  1. […] kinds of diets regimes, people started looking for calorie-free sugar substitutes. In this battle, agave syrup, aspartame or high fructose corn syrup were seen as saviors. The worst part is that, as we stated […]

    Reply

  2. […] Me as millennial I have also a tough time believing the whole crap that cereals are a great source of whole-grains. Mainly because they contain 40 percent more sugar by weight  in the case of kids cereals. We already now that sugary foods are not a healthy food, even if producers pump them with proteins or alternative sugar sources. […]

    Reply

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