Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Myth of Agave as a "Healthy" Sugar Subtitute?

Oh boy. Just when you think you're doing the healthy thing... There's new evidence to the contrary! I know it can certainly feel like this sometimes, and with what I've recently learned about agave (the sweetener I use for EVERYTHING)... Well, let's just say I've been momentarily derailed.

What I belived about raw agave is that it was a healthy sugar substitute - better than sugar, artificial sweeteners, corn syrup, maple syrup, or even raw honey - and a low glycemic food. I was very careful only to buy raw (very, very light in color - unlike the brown syrups you typically see). However...

I very recently read a piece on Mercola.com that was educational, if not discouraging. In this article, it is explained that agave is mostly all fructose, not low calorie (same as table sugar), and may not have a low glycemic index. No clinical studies have been done on its safety for diabetics, so presently the claim that agave is a safe alternative is purely speculative. The less heat used to process the agave, the lower percentage of fructose - but still at least 50%. This makes agave an illogical choice if you're hoping to avoid the high levels of fructose in high fructose corn syrup.

Glucose in sugars are converted to blood glucose. Fructose is converted to fat and cholesterol by your liver. A danger is that fructose does not stimulate your insulin secretion, nor enhance leptin production, which is thought to be involved in appetite regulation. Therefore, dietary fructose can contribute to increased food intake and weight gain.

This information just goes to show, no matter your nutritional type, we should all try to remember that sugar is not good for us!

So, what to do? My personal plan is to experiment with stevia - a natural, sweet herb. It is much sweeter than sugar, so very little is needed. I asked Alissa Cohen her opinion on stevia vs agave, and she is using whole leaf stevia whenever possible - avoiding agave. You can grow it fresh in the summer, like any herb, or buy it dried at Mountain Rose Herbs.

- Eliminate all artificial sweeteners
- Avoid high fructose corn syrup
- Limit sugar
- Limit raw, organic agave (avoid all other forms of agave)
- Use raw, organic honey in moderation
- Use whole leaf stevia in moderation (but avoid stevia-based sweeteners like Truvia and PureVia)

As I experiment with stevia as a sweetener, I'll post ratios and comparison amounts to help all of us transition away from the liberal use of agave I know I was enjoying. And Denise and I will incorporate more stevia (or other sweet things like dates) into our class recipes.