Live Total Wellness

Friday, January 21, 2011

What exactly is Agave?

As I continue to search for the best way to sweeten food, drinks, and other worldly passions, I came across this information about Agave syrup.  Now I was one who thought that this would be a great sugar alternative.  Here again, it does help to do your homework and not believe everything you read or hear.  So, after looking further, I found out that Agave is actually just as bad a corn syrup, well maybe not as bad but bad enough.  So, it's back to the drawing board.  This really does beg the question, "Is there a good way to sweeten food?"  or do we just need to grin and bear the sour, bitter tastes of delicious delights without the sweetener?  Let me know what you think.  At least for now, I'm still searching.  Stevia is an option but now I'm afraid THAT will be found to be as bad as everything else?!  
What exactly is Agave?

Agave Nectar (or sometimes also called Agave Syrup) is most often produced from the Blue Agaves that thrive in the volcanic soils of Southern Mexico. Agaves are large, spikey plants that resemble cactus, but they are actually more moist and tender similar to the Aloe Vera plant.

There are over 100 species of agaves, varying greatly in size and color. The Blue Agave species contains a particular high carbohydrate content (which results in a high percentage of fructose in the final nectar), making Blue Agave the preferred species for producing nectar. Though there are other species used to produce agave nectars, such as the Maguey Agave, the premium nectars are produced from 100% Weber Blue Agave.

How is Agave Nectar/Syrup made?

To make the agave nectar, sap is extracted from the core of the plant, filtered, and heated at a low temperature, which breaks down the carbohydrates into sugars (mainly in the form of fructose). It was once believed that Agave was only produced using temperatures lower than 118 degrees F (qualifying it as a raw food), but it has now been shown that in most manufacturing processes of Agave Syrup, temperatures well above 145 degrees F are being used, making it a highly processed and heated food and eliminating many of its healthy healing properties. Without this heating process, Agave Syrup would not be sweet at all. Agave will also turn into Tequila if allowed to ferment and many companies that produce Agave Syrup are also manufacturers of Tequila.

Good or Bad?

Agave was once believed to be a great alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners. Now, more extensive research and knowledge about the processing, manufacturing and components of Agave have proven otherwise.

I, personally, no longer recommend Agave as a healthy sweetener alternative and here’s exactly why:

First, Agave contains an unusually high amount of fructose (90% in some varieties, leaving 10% glucose). Nowhere in nature does this ratio of fructose to glucose occur naturally. One of the next closest foods that contains almost this concentration of glucose to fructose is high fructose corn syrup used in making soda(HFCS 55), which only contains 55% fructose.

Even though fructose is low on the glycemic index (which is why Agave was previously recommended to Diabetics), there are numerous problems associated with the consumption of fructose in such highly concentrated amounts. Fructose does not increase insulin levels per se, but what it does do is radically increase insulin resistance, which is FAR more dangerous (and one of the greatest causes of diabetes and an inability to lose excess fat from the body). You see, it’s okay for your insulin levels to rise, that is normal. You just don’t want these insulin levels to remain elevated, which is what insulin resistance causes. The key to weight loss and avoiding diabetes is keeping your blood sugar levels regulated and avoiding high levels of insulin for extended periods of time.

So, if consuming such highly concentrated amounts of fructose is going to disrupt your body’s ability to control its own insulin and glucose levels, I highly recommend you stay away from anything that will cause that (Agave and High Fructose Corn Syrup).

Second, research suggests that fructose actually promotes disease more readily than glucose. This is because glucose is metabolized by every cell in the body, and fructose must be metabolized by the liver. Tests on animals 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.

Based on the fact that so many people’s livers (especially those who are overweight) are already clogged due to chemicals in processed foods, you do not need anything that is going to “overwhelm” and clog your liver even further. Remember that one of the other most important keys to weight loss (besides insulin control) is to clean out the toxins from your liver and allow it to focus on its job of fat burning, not spending the whole day detoxifying chemicals (and processing through tons of fructose).

And lastly, fructose can make you fat! (need I add anything else?) It is metabolized by the liver and converts to fat more easily than any other sugar. Fructose has also been found to elevate serum triglycerides (blood fats) significantly (making for some bad news at your next doctor’s visit).

There you have it…my take on Agave Nectar/Syrup…once thought of as a wonderful and healthy alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners, but now being compared to sweeteners as dangerous as High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Like I mentioned yesterday, stick to Raw Honey and 100% pure Stevia as your sweeteners of choice for healthy sugar alternatives and also begin to enjoy foods in their natural states.

I wish you a happy, safe and SWEET New Year!

In health and happiness,

Isabel De Los Rios
Certified Nutritionist
Certified Exercise Specialist
Author of The Diet Solution Program

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Four reasons to avoid high fructose corn syrup

With all the of the information about High Fructose Corn Syrup,  I was someone who wanted to know the truth.  After some research, I found what I needed to make the choice to avoid this ingredient.  What made it so easy?  I started buying foods that weren't processed.  It's a tough choice but I knew that if I was going to get away from some of the ingredients that I wasn't happy about, I had to make a drastic change.  The more I read about HFCS, the more I wanted to steer clear of it.  What do you think?  Is this an ingredient that has been picked on or do you really see it as a "food" ingredient that people have now been able to see the light and avoid?  Read the article and let me know.  

By Sara Novak, Planet Green
By now, you've more than likely seen one of the ads put out by the Corn Refiners Association. The ads tell the story of a "natural" sweetener made from corn. They go on to insinuate that high fructose corn syrup has been unfairly portrayed and that this truly American ingredient is fine in moderation.
Lloyd wrote about this massive $30 million ad campaign last year. The campaign claims that high fructose corn syrup has the "same natural sweeteners as table sugar and honey." Since then, the association has released a number of ads with the same message.
But when push comes to shove, what are the facts about high fructose corn syrup? How is it made? Is it healthy in moderation to the body and the planet? Here are the facts, so that the next time you're asked, you can confidently dispel any high fructose corn syrup rumors.

1. The process of making high fructose corn syrup is pretty weird
First of all, there's nothing natural about high fructose corn syrup, and it most certainly does not exist in nature.
The process starts off with corn kernels, yes, but then that corn is spun at a high velocity and combined with three other enzymes: alpha-amylase, glucoamylase, and xylose isomerase, so that it forms a thick syrup that's way sweeter than sugar and super cheap to produce.
That's why it's poured into a huge majority of mass pproduced processed foods.

2. High fructose corn syrup does weird stuff to your body
While the commercials claim that it's fine in moderation, the truth is that the whole problem with high fructose corn syrup in the first place, is that moderation is seemingly impossible.
The syrup interferes with the body's metabolism so that a person can't stop eating. It's truly hard to control cravings because high fructose corn syrup slows down the secretion of leptin in the body. Leptin is a crucial hormone in the body that tells you that you're full and to stop eating.
That's why it's so closely associated with obesity in this country. It's like an addictive drug.

3. There might be mercury in your corn syrup
And what about the rumors of mercury being found in corn syrup?
I wrote last year that according to MSNBC in one study, published in the Journal of Environmental Health, former Food and Drug Administration scientist Renee Dufault and colleagues tested 20 samples of high fructose corn syrup and found detectable mercury in nine of the 20 samples.
"We went and looked at supermarket samples where high fructose corn syrup was the first or second ingredient on the label," Dr. David Wallinga, a food safety researcher and activist at the nonprofit Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy said. These 55 different foods included barbecue sauce, jam, yogurt, and chocolate syrup. "We found about one out of three had mercury above the detection limit," Wallinga said.

4. The environmental impact of high fructose corn syrup is huge
Most corn is grown as a monoculture, meaning that the land is used solely for corn, not rotated among crops.Large monocultures, which are usually genetically modified, can be riddled with pests.
As a result, monocultures are often dressed with a toxic cocktail of pesticides so that they can survive. Monocultures can deplete the nutrients in soil and lead to erosion.
In addition, the pesticides used to grow them pollute our soil and ground water.

Our advice: Skip the high fructose corn syrup
Luckily, we have a lot more options when it comes to avoiding this frightening ingredient. The Corn Refiners Association wouldn't spend $30 million on advertisements if they didn't feel threatened and that's because more and more alternatives are becoming available.
Read labels on every processed food that you buy. Stores like Whole Foods and Earth Fare carry tons of foods without it.

Make your own snack foods
Also consider making your own snack foods instead of buying the prepackaged variety. This way you can control your ingredients and use safer sweeteners. You can also save some major dough and reduce the amount of packaging that your family throws away.


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