Getting Healthy, Sweet, Sweet Sunday

Agave Nectar

Once I learned that my husband had been diagnosed as having type 2 diabetes, my first thought…well, not my first…but anyway…I immediately felt like adding agave nectar to my instacart order from Sprouts…

But what I’ve been reading lately has made me wonder about adding this agave nectar to my Muffins and Magnolias Master Grocery List altogether…and to get consume any agave through tequila instead.

 

What is agave nectar anyway?!

The agave plant is native to the hot and arid regions of Mexico and the Southwestern United States, and some tropical areas of South America. The plant is sometimes referred to as the “century plant” because the plants must grow to heights of about thirty feet before ever blooming. But once an agave plant does bloom, it will produce several pounds of edible flowers. After this, the plant will die.

When an agave plant has been growing from seven to ten years old, the leaves of the plant are cut off, revealing the core of the plant (called the “pina”). When harvested, the pina resembles a giant pineapple and can weigh in at 50 to 150 pounds.

There are many different species of agave, but the most common one is the blue agave. Blue agave is the species of agage used to make tequila. In order for a tequila to be classified as a 100% blue agave tequila, the tequila must be made only from the Agave tequilana ‘Weber’s Blue’ agave plant and only in certain Mexican states, according to an agreement made in 2001 between the Mexican Government and European Union.

The Aztecs prized the agave as a gift from the gods. The Aztecs and Navajo Indians have used every part of the agave plant—including the flowers, the leaves, the stalks, and the sap for just about everything–including meat, drink, clothing, and writing materials.

  • Flowers…The flower head can be baked and then boiled to make an edible paste used by itself or made into soup. The flower heads can be baked and sundried to extend the shelf life. Dried slices of the flower stem can be used to make all-natural razor strops.
  • Leaves…The leaves may be collected in winter and spring, when the plants are rich in sap, for eating and making sisal or hemp. The expressed juice of the leaves lathers in water like soap. The leaves are also used to make a tea that is used specificaxlly for treating constipation and arthritis.
  • Stalks…The stalks can be roasted and chewed right before the flower blooms to extract the sweet sap, called argamiel, much like sugarcane. The stalks can also be dried out and used to make didgeridoos.
  • Sap…The sap from the flower shoot is often collected, fermented, and distilled to make alcholic drinks called mezcal, which we Americans mostly know  in the shot glasses called tequila. The sap can also be boiled to make a sweetener that the Mexicans refer to as miel de agave.

Agave nectar is a sweetener derived from the sap of the agave plant

 

Agave Nectar—The Why or Why Not?!

Agave sweeteners come from the blue agave plant, the same plant that you get tequile from. Agave nectar is said to be about 1.5 times sweeter than sugar….and is often used instead of sugar, honey, or maple syrup. The taste of agave nectar is comparable, though not identical, to honey. Many people who do not like the taste of honey find agave a more palatable choice. It also has none of the bitter aftertaste associated with artificial sweeteners.

Agave has about sixty calories per tablespoon, compared to forty calories for the same amount of table sugar. But you should be able to get the same effect from less agage nectar because the agave is sweeter.

Agave claims to be an especially good sugar replacement for diabetics because it is low on the glycemic index. But at the same time, agave nectar has an extremely amount of fructose. And the agave nectar that you find as a consumer has been highly processed, much like high-fructose corn syrup.

Sweeteners containing fructose, as opposed to those containing glucose, can claim to be “healthy” or “diabetic friendly” because they typically have a very low GI and do not  raise your blood sugar or insulin levels in the short-term.Yet the high amount of fructose found in agave nectar can be detrimental to your health. For one thing, the liver is the only organ that can metabolize significant amounts of fructose. Eating, or drinking, an extreme amount of  fructose causes the liver to work too hard, resulting in kidney disease and cirhossis of the liver seen in many alcoholics

The nectar made from the plant is known in Mexico as aguamiel, or “honey water.”

Even though Mexicans boil the sap to make a sweetener referred to as miel de agave, the agave nectar sold on American shelves has very little in common with this traditional sweetener made by the Mexicans because agave nectar that is sold on our shelves has been made by treating the sugars with heat and enzymes, which destroys all the beneficial health effects of the agave plant…resulting in a highly refined, unhealthy syrup–just as the processing does to any other fruit or vegetable.

In its original, natural form extracts from the agave plant contain strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, but none of these beneficial elements are present in the agave that we see in the stores.

To make the agave nectar as we know it, sap is extracted from the pina, filtered, and heated at a low temperature, which breaks down the carbohydrates into sugars.

Even though agave nectar has been targeted as a healthy sugar alternative for people concerned about their blood sugar levels, agave nectar contains very high levels of fructose….and fructose, even though found in whole foods that are on my permanent shopping list, actually can have long-term effects on our health—including heart disease, weight gain, and diabetes.

Agave nectar is about 85% fructose, which is much higher than plain sugar.

Consuming too much fructose can also cause your body to become resistent to insulin, causing major increases in long-term blood sugar and insulin levels and strongly raising your risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

Agave actually contains more fructose than the supposed demon called high-fructose corn syrup that we all know that we should be avoiding

Agave is not healthier than honey, sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), or any other type of sweetener. Agave syrup (nectar) is basically high-fructose corn syrup masquerading as a health food.

So my verdict on using agave nectar as a substitute for table sugar, based on what I have been reading, is a definite no….

 

Let’s all just shoot blue agave tequila instead!!!

Sw

  • highest fructose content of any commercial sweetener on the market
Getting Healthy, Sweet, Sweet Sunday

How to Find a Healthy Sugar Substitute

 

One of the best places to start swapping refined foods for more natural products is by swapping out refined sugars—such as white and brown sugars—and cutting back our sugar consumption to the ten  percent of our daily calories as suggested by the FDA’s daily recommended values.

Refined sugars can affect out health in many ways, including…

  • affecting pancreas and liver
  • causing allergies, both seasonal and food allergies
  • feeding fungus, bacteria, viruses, and other parasites that stress the whole body
  • radically lowering the body’s immune system

A new term that I have had to learn ever since my husband was diagnosed as having diabetes is “glycemic Index.” From what I have learned over the last few months since this diagnosis, the glycemic index shows how much glucose is released by a particular food over a two to three-hour period. The more quickly a food releases glucose  the higher that food is according to the glycemic index.

Foods that rank lower on the GI scale release glucose slower and more steadily, without causing a sudden spike of glucose in the blood, which in turn results is a large release of insulin, resulting in the excess glucose being stored as fat instead of causing us to have more energy….not to mention often resulting in a rapid drop in blood sugar and making us hungry.

So recently I have been trying to find the best natural sweeteners that I can use,  both for baking or cooking, as well as adding to my morning coffee.

I have been trying to find sugar that will be easier for to digest and process, and have the most health benefits….something to replace the “regular” sugar that I normally use…the sugar that  actually comes from genetically modified beets and GMO corn…which means they’re processed in and of themselves.

Some of the best natural and “healthier” sweeteners that I have found to be recommended include…

 

  • Acesulfame Potassium (Acesulfame-K or Ace-K)…
  • Agave
  • Apple Juice
  • Amazake
  • Aspartame
  • Barley Malt Syrup
  • Black Strap Molasses
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Coconut Palm Sugar
  • Date Sugar and Dried Dates
  • Equal
  • Evaporated Cane Juice
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Honey
  • Lactitol
  • Maltodextrin
  • Lactose
  • Maple Syrup
  • Maltose
  • Organic Sugar
  • Raw Sugar
  • Refined Table Sugar
  • Saccharin
  • Splenda
  • Stevia
  • Sucralose
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar Alcohols or Polyols—such as maltitol, maltitol syrup, sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol
  • Sugar Cane Juice
  • Sweet N’ Low
  • Turbinado

Join me in this next set of posts about some of these sugar options, and which ones we should keep on our grocery list and which ones we should completely cross off…and then wait for my Muffins and Magnolias Master Grocery List in the Making…

It will be sweet…