Agave, Could Be A Bad Choice...

We continue our never-ending search for a healthy sweeteners.

So blue agave nectar has been sniffing around the health food scene for a few years now trying to convince us it's safe alternative to sugar, especially for diabetics. Well I do know one thing blue agave is great for, but we'll talk about that later. Let's take a look, at this relatively new to the market sweetener and see if it is all that they claim. Agave syrup/nectar, good, or bad?

First a little history. In the valleys that lie beside a volcano in the heart of the Tequila region, was the home of a complex society. It reached it's peak between 200 BCE and 350 CE. Archeologists estimate more than 50,000 people may have lived within 15 miles of the Tequila volcano. There are many accounts of agave nectar, widely used among the Pre-Columbian cultures. It was used as a flavoring for several desert type dishes, and as a sweetener when drinking cocoa. These specialty foods were prized because the raw materials had to be moved over long distances, very slowly. So items like these were highly valued and traded extensively throughout Mesoamerica. Archeologist have found evidence that sweet dessert-like substances made with toasted squash seeds or popped amaranth seeds and boiled agave syrup or honey were made and given as gifts and used as ritual offerings. Agave nectar (aguamiel) is harvested primarily in Southern Mexico from the agave varietal maguey shawii and from other members of the agave family, most related to the Blue Agave and other maguey species from which mezcal and sotal are made. However, there is a big difference in the harvesting process to obtain agave nectar as opposed to the production of tequila. Agave Nectar is NOT a natural sweetener, words like, raw, and all natural, should mean something. FYI, truth is agave nectar is neither truly raw, nor is it all natural. Based on the labeling, I could picture native peoples creating their own agave nectar from the wild agave plants. I mean, this was a traditional food, eaten for thousands of years. Nope, it is not. Native Mexican people do make a sort of sweetener out of the agave plant. It's called miel de agave, and it's made by boiling the agave sap for a couple of hours. Think of it as the Mexican version of authentic Canadian maple syrup.

This is not what agave nectar is. Agave nectar is a newly created sweetener, having been first developed in the 1990's. 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, and a complex carbohydrate called inulin, which is made up of chains of fructose molecules. The starch is similar to the starch in corn. Inulin is a highly indigestible fiber, that does NOT taste sweet, it comprises about half of the carbohydrate content of agave. The process by which agave glucose and inulin are converted into "nectar" is similar to the process by which corn starch, is converted into High Fructose Corn Syrup. The agave starch is boiled at high heat and subjected to an enzymatic chemical process that converts the starch into a fructose-rich syrup, they also use caustic acids, clarifiers, filtration chemicals. To produce anywhere from 70% to 90% fructose according to the agave nectar chemical profiles posted on agave nectar websites. Compare that to the typical fructose content of high fructose corn syrup which is very unhealthy at about 55%. Those levels we already know can cause significant liver damage, by causing insulin resistance, known as Syndrome X. Insulin resistance prevents the efficient conversion of food into energy by desensitizing the walls of your cells to insulin. Your insulin acts like "a key in a lock", allowing glucose (sugar) to pass through the cell wall and be converted to energy. Insulin Resistance prevents glucose passing through the "energy door" into the cell. As a result, the rejected glucose floats freely in the blood stream, causing elevated levels of blood sugar, which are sent to the liver. Once there, the sugar is converted into triglyceride fat and carried via the blood stream throughout the body in a process that can lead to plaque in your arteries, runaway weight gain, and obesity.

You may be thinking, "Hey, isn't fructose found in fruit?" If you are, you're right. Small doses of fructose with the accompanying enzymes and fiber found in fruit will never damage your health no matter how much fruit you eat. Drinking HFCS by the quart, like some people do in diet soda, is another thing all together. Concentrated refined fructose is not found in fruit, or anywhere else in nature. Concentrated fructose, is a man-made sugar created by a  refining process. Refined fructose lacks amino acids, vitamins, minerals, pectin, and fiber found in fruit. The body doesn't recognize refined fructose. So refined fructose is processed in the body through the liver, rather than digested in the intestine. Fruit sugar is digested in the intestine. Because fructose is digested in your liver, it is immediately turned into triglycerides or stored body fat. Since it doesn't get converted to blood glucose like other sugars, it doesn't raise or crash your blood sugar levels. Hence the claim that it is safe for diabetics, but it isn't. That's because fructose has another trick it inhibits leptin levels. Leptin is the hormone your body uses to tell you that you're full. In other words, HFCS and even worse agave syrup, makes you want to eat more. Besides contributing to weight gain, they also makes you gain the most dangerous kind of fat.

In my opinion from everything I've researched Agave Nectar is not good for you. It's not traditional, not natural, it's highly refined, and contains more concentrated fructose than high fructose corn syrup. Modern Agave nectar syrup is a triumph of marketing over science. True, it has a low-glycemic index, but so does diesel fuel, that doesn't mean it's good for you to eat. If you simply must have some sweets once in a while, a small amount of agave nectar isn't going to kill you, right away. Just don't buy into the idea that it's any better for you than cane sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup, and it will make you fat.

Now I do know one thing for sure Blue Agave is good for, and that's for making Tequila. The Mexican government controls the tequila brand and regulates production to protect quality. Premium tequila has a 100% agave label meaning that it only contains sugars from the blue agave, was bottled at a distillery in tequila country and has an alcohol content of 70 to 110 proof. The town of Tequila, Mex. has ultra-modern distilleries of the largest Tequila companies, and small family-run estates where tequila is still produced using artisanal techniques.


Know Your Tequila:

Tequila Blanco or white tequila is bottled immediately after being distilled. Sometimes colorants such as caramel are added to produce Tequila oro.
Tequila Reposado: is white tequila that is kept in white oak casks for more than two months and up to a year. The result is a mellower flavor and bouquet.

Tequilañejo: is aged in white oak casks for more than a year, acquiring an amber color and distinctive smooth flavor. Some aged tequilas are stored in oak barrels for up to eight years and are known as Reserva.

Tequila aside from what it's detractors have to say has many quality attributes not the least of which are, in small doses it can be a relaxing way to end the work week, it can aid in your socialization skills, it can make your cloths fall off rather easily. Also it is a rather dependable sleep aid. So there you have it Blue Agave Nectar= BAD... Blue Agave Tequila GOOD !!!


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