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agave nectar - low g.i. or high fructose?  RSS feed

 
Jocelyn Campbell
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In the top five ingredients you avoid thread, I mentioned using agave nectar instead of other sugars, and right after that I discovered an article listed some huge concerns about agave nectar.

Here's the specifics. Sugars mess up my health, and I’d recently tried using agave nectar as an alternative sweetener because I’d heard it has a lower glucose index. A blogger I follow, the Gluten-Free Girl, just posted an article on FaceBook that says agave nectar might actually be worse than high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in terms of overall health.

The recent study folks have been touting as proving HFCS is bad for you, compares pure fructose to pure glucose. I might not be re-stating this correctly, but it seems fructose goes straight to the liver, and doesn't immediately cause blood sugar spiking, but causes blood sugar problems over time and the wrong kind of fat creation, among other significant health risk things. Cane sugar also contains fructose, possibly in comparable ratios as HFCS. According to the article linked above, HFCS is about 55% fructose and agave nectar is 70% fructose. Wow.

So I wrote about this to some friends.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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After writing my friends, Joe replied with some excellent information. He said I could post it here and had researched about these kinds of things because he worked at Whole Foods for four years and was frequently asked questions along these lines.

The below may be true or not; there are few sciences so highly (and hotly) debated as nutrition, and there is nowhere near enough information to form a useful conclusion. Plus, there are many other significant variables not mentioned:

    * the fact that agave is not a highly-processed extract, but simply a reduction of the actual plant's product;
    * the fact that HFCS is almost certainly from genetically-modified grain, while the agave is not
    * the synergistic effects of agave on its fructose content vs that of extracted corn syrup
    * the fact that agave nectar is available 'raw'

Of course, these details may not matter at all -- we just don't know. So what can we say for certain?

Well, a few things: agave nectar does indeed have a very low glycemic index (about 13, where honey is in the 70s). Even lower is birch sugar (often called xylitol): birch sugar has no glycemic index at all, and is available as the white granules we can recognize & use as good-ol' (or rather, bad) processed sugar. Unlike stevia, it is indistinguishable from regular sugar, and can be used in all the same ways. But it costs a lot more, and it is just as highly processed as white sugar.

Another thing we know: nobody has any actual dietary need for sugar. Everything you & I sweeten is voluntary and, speaking in dietary terms, completely unnecessary -- and possibly contrary to the needs of good health. Americans consume far more of it than anyone else, and in the worst forms, so it's not surprising that life expectancy in two dozen other nations exceeds ours.

The best answer is simply to use less of it in any form. Some first-line strategies:

    * read labels to reduce processed sugar (it's even in bread?? I mean, really, people!)
    * seek out nonsugary foods to enjoy -- Sumatran coffee isn't so bitter, real peanut butter doesn't need it
    * where you do insist on sweetener, see if you can do with less.


I can't help noticing that the study compared weight-gain between the two groups [who were told what to eat]. Since healthy eating doesn't cause this, the information is derived from two unhealthy diets, and suggests one unhealthy group may, in one specific way, be more unhealthy than the other. This strikes me as being something like comparing habitual speeders who signal before they cut other people off with those who speed but don't signal -- there is no doubt a difference, but shouldn't it beg a different question?

Meanwhile, I look forward to hearing what useful information may someday be derived from these studies.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Thanks for posting this.

I think the plant gums (mucilage and/or pectin, I think) make agave nectar absorb much more like whole fruit does.

But it sounds like you're right to limit your use of sweeteners.

I love the "turn signal" analogy. Brilliant.
 
Leah Sattler
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excellent post. i like the analogy too!

it is so frustrating (as implied) that it often seems "science" is asking the wrong questions which of course doesn't result in a useful answers or in answers so narrowly applicable as to have negligent impact.   
 
paul wheaton
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When I was looking at the study link I was thinking the same thing, although I really like the speeding analogy.

Another analogy:  the best food you can buy at any grocery store right now is probably organic grass fed, grass finished beef - because the animal ate from a polyculture.  Our diets are (IMOO) woefully deficient in the polyculture element.  And we are told that red meat causes cancer - when it is actually the pesticides (and other icky chemicals) that cause the cancer.

I would like to see a study featuring the organic agave nectar vs. the HFCS.  I suspect that the agave will be healthier.



 
paul wheaton
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One more thought:  as long as we're taking a trip to the liver, should we bring lots of ick with us?  Or should we be ick free?

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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paul wheaton wrote:
One more thought:  as long as we're taking a trip to the liver, should we bring lots of ick with us?  Or should we be ick free?


You're speaking in the voice of nutrients?

And "ick" means synthetic chemicals?

Or have I misunderstood you?

I think the liver will grab hold of what nature suggests it grab hold of, and any "ick" that is digested, whether it ent into the mouth with agave nector or HFCS, will end up in the same blood, passing through the liver.

Fermentable fiber, though, might have some real power: like mulch on the soil, it feeds a diverse and responsive ecosystem that has the potential to adapt much more quickly than we do, in its ability to handle novel chemicals. If nothing else, this should drive a noticeable health benefit in the group given agave nectar.
 
paul wheaton
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"Ick" would be things that make you less than healthy. 

I am not sure what all the concern over HFCS is, but my guess is that it has something to do with the highly processed nature of it.  And as I've always thought that small amounts of fructose are supposedly quite good for you, I've imagined that the problem with HFCS is that icky things get somehow tangled up with fructose and they make a trip together to the liver.
 
bunkie weir
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great info all. i had just recently read an article in fooducate about agave. very discouraaging also...

http://www.fooducate.com/blog/2010/01/17/eight-facts-about-agave-nectar/
 
paul wheaton
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bunkie weir wrote:
great info all. i had just recently read an article in fooducate about agave. very discouraaging also...

http://www.fooducate.com/blog/2010/01/17/eight-facts-about-agave-nectar/


It all sounds fine to me. 

I use a lot of stevia for coffee and tea.  And when I have something desserty, I much prefer something fruit sweetened or agave sweetened over something sugar sweetened.

 
Chelle Lewis
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I have to watch my sugar too so I compensate by eating dates or raisins when I have a sweet tooth. Snacking on a really tasty apple is great too.... some are NOT tasty... amazing what can be sold as fruit these days.

I was also interested in Agave sugar as a substitute... same discovery... contradictory answers. I know we don't really need sugar ... as in sugar in the sugar pot.... but I seem to do best when starting off my meal with something sweet..  so I eat fresh and dried fruit first always. Seems to help.

Chelle
 
Kristen Lee-Charlson
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paul wheaton wrote:

I would like to see a study featuring the organic agave nectar vs. the HFCS.  I suspect that the agave will be healthier.


More here : [ftp=ftp://http://www.westonaprice.org/Agave-Nectar-Worse-Than-We-Thought.html]http://www.westonaprice.org/Agave-Nectar-Worse-Than-We-Thought.html[/ftp]
 
                          
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We do, technically, need sugar—that is, glucose. Without it we would die. We just don't need it in the concentrated forms we add to foods as a flavoring, and getting it from breaking down complex carbohydrates is healthier than getting it in simpler forms.

Awhile back, after having looked at that article at the WAP site that you just linked, Kristen, I wrote something up.

There's a lot I don't buy about the WAP craze. What I do buy about it is common sense—too much sugar in any form is bad for you; foods that come with a dose of the bacteria that aid in digestion are often more digestible—and what I don't buy about it is the ways the common sense proposals are taken to their illogical extremes. Agave syrup is not a health food and no one should base their diet on it, but worse than high fructose corn syrup? I doubt it.

On a personal note, just to explain a certain amount of bias I may have: Interaction with Russ Bianchi on the online group left a bad taste in my mouth that no sweetener could have covered up—his arguments were specious when they weren't mendacious, and he acted like a bully. That didn't incline me to think of him as much of an expert in the matter.
 
paul wheaton
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Thanks Kristen.  That was a lot of excellent info.  I always thought agave nectar was just the juice squeezed out of the agave plant.  And now .... what a shocker!

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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paul wheaton wrote:I've imagined that the problem with HFCS is that icky things get somehow tangled up with fructose and they make a trip together to the liver.


OK, I understand what you meant.

I'd like to respectfully disagree, based on what I've read about the liver and the digestive system in general.

I believe the problem with HFCS is, essentially, that it is cheap. Any simple sugar at that price, I don't care how clean, could have a similar epidemiological profile.

So consuming HFCS is very strongly correlated with poverty. Cheap rent is strongly correlated with living in pollution, whether in the form of exhaust fumes or meth labs or pesticides or oil refineries. Poverty is also strongly correlated with chronic stress.

Also, at an artificially low price, HFCS displaces lots of slightly-more-expensive foods that would otherwise add up to a diverse and complete diet.
 
Brice Moss
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yep I tend to believe that no sugar is evil what is evil is the half gallon of sweetened beverage most of our kids drink daily instead of water even real fruit juice would be an issue in those quantities
 
travis laduke
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I really try not to buy any HFCS in an effort to keep my money away from the companies and government involved in making it.
 
                                
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travis laduke wrote:
I really try not to buy any HFCS in an effort to keep my money away from the companies and government involved in making it.


thats kinda hard to do when almost everything has sweet has fructose in it  .
 
Len Ovens
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samantha23 wrote:
thats kinda hard to do when almost everything has sweet has fructose in it  .


In general, stay out of the aisles. My take on sweets.... look at how nature presents them. Sweet things generally do not keep. I'm thinking fruits here mostly. They are best when grazed. So when doing work, walking and fruit presents itself, that is the time to eat it... while our body is using energy. With no refrigeration fruits are not worth saving (over simplified, I know). I am a letter carrier (Mailman to most people) and find that picking berries and such as I walk, keeps me hydrated, lifts my spirits, and gives an energy boost. I have also learned that fruits digest differently than veggies and meats.... so it is good to eat fruits at a different time than veggies and meats (half hour before or two hours plus after). So using "sweeteners" as part of our meals is probably never a good thing and certainly not in excess. We happen to use honey when we do.

Many things can be made less sweet. Peanut butter (as stated above) does not need sugar... in fact we take shelled peanuts and food process them till they make peanut butter... if we add anything, it would be almonds (as our peanut butter costs about half of anything we could buy ready made... the almonds are almost free). Jam does not need huge amounts of sugar, take the fruit (or rubarb or what ever) and add honey till it just tastes sweet enough but still sour. It will can just fine.... but should be in smaller jars as it may not last as long once you open it (so keep it in the fridge).

Sugar and sweet things are in our diet mostly so that Big Food Corp. can suck in kids to growing up with their food as a staple. I'm about 50/50 on adding sweet to bread. I often add about 1.25 oz of honey or molasses to a 34oz loaf.... but the bread still tastes good without, just flour, water and salt. It ferments/soaks over night so a lot of sugars are freed from the wheat/rye starches anyway.

I think we could do just fine with a lot less sweetener of whatever kind in our food.

There seems to be some disagreement as to which is best... monosachrides or more complex sugars and starches. Some doctors feel the body handles the quick spikes best others feel the slower starches are better. Some of this has to do with the ailment that is being treated.... yeast over growth in the gut has a hard time flourishing if the only carbs going in go straight to the blood stream with no digestion needed.

Then again, I am pretty sure there is a whole lot I (and for that matter most of humankind) don't know about food. I am also pretty sure that something designed for a long shelf-life is not all that good for me.
 
T. Joy
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Quote from: travis laduke on August 29, 2010, 05:42:37 PM
I really try not to buy any HFCS in an effort to keep my money away from the companies and government involved in making it.


samantha23 wrote:
thats kinda hard to do when almost everything has sweet has fructose in it  .


I also don't have a problem with this. If it comes in a can, box or other package I don't really consider it food and tend not to eat it. We're a pretty whole food crew over here, I am suspicious of anything not in it's whole natural state and even then ... frozen foods sprayed with toxic gunk, fruit and veg coated in waxes and oils or gassed or sprayed with who knows what, etc etc.
For sweets we make things with dates or other dried fruit (so long as it doesn't say hydrogenated oil in the ingredients list, sigh). Agave is off the list for us for sure, too processed for my liking. We have some maple syrup now and then but a 1 liter jug can last a whole year between the 3 of us.
 
Jo York
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Coconut cane sugar is nutritious and low on the Glycemic Index. Here's one link: http://www.organiclifestylemagazine.com/blog/healthy-sugar-alternatives.php. -- It has a maple syrup flavor and it fills you up. After using it for a while I lost my taste for as many sweets. It has the sweet taste without the effect that sugar has on the body, so it seems it sort of tricks you into not thinking of sweets in the same way. When you feel full after you eat sweets made with this nutritious sugar, it seems there's a different message going to the brain, something like, what the heck do I need so much of that for? A little is more than enough! I mixed some coconut cane sugar with a lot of high quality cinnamon and this is the perfect thing to sprinkle on things if I need just a wee bit of sweet.
 
Warren David
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Jocelyn, I don't do well with any sugars either. I've tried things like agave and lots of other alternative foods in the past. I did it for years. It just ended up an expensive way of eating and didn't make me any healthier. In fact some things would make matters worse.
My life got a whole lot healthier and simpler when I stopped looking at exotic alternatives to everything and just started buying more of the kind of foods that are not made up of ingredients. Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and seeds don't have ingredients. They are what they are.
[author=Kerrick link=topic=2807.msg28637#msg28637 date=1267775770]
We do, technically, need sugar—that is, glucose.
Yes technically we need carbohydrates but we don't need to eat them. The human body is able to make it's own supply of carbohydrates from protein.
 
                      
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Please may I have some explanation or examples of "Fermentable Fibers"? Thanks.
 
Len Ovens
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Warren David wrote:
Yes technically we need carbohydrates but we don't need to eat them. The human body is able to make it's own supply of carbohydrates from protein.


Or fat.... which is mostly carbon and hydrogen. Plants store energy as starch... animals store energy as fat. Both seem to use it in the form of sugar.
 
Bucks Brandon
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FWIW, my very limited understanding is that since agave nectar is so much sweeter that HFCS or sugar, that you can use much less of it in your recipes. Might be worth considering in the balance sheet for what is healthier...
 
Jack Shawburn
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Is sugar toxic?
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17Sugar-t.html
article in NY Times
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Jen, that's a great article. I only skimmed the first bits of it, then found a summary of the 90 minute video by the doc through this Sightline Institute My Substance Abuse Problem: Sugar article.

The Sightline article summary explains a bit more about how glucose and fructose are metabolized and their affects on our health. It's a good read.

Some folks are/were also discussing sugar at the sugar linked to mental illness thread in meaningless drivel.

 
Jack Shawburn
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Jocelyn, It seems the big culprit is Sucrose.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Jen0454 wrote:
Jocelyn, It seems the big culprit is Sucrose.


From what I've been reading, sucrose is actually part glucose, part fructose. And it's the fructose that's more of a problem. Glucose is used more for energy, fructose is more readily converted to fat.

Though there's a much, much broader range of issues, theories and discussions than that.
 
Jack Shawburn
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Thanks Jocelyn, having serious hypoglycemia makes me think what I could eat without having extreme higs and lows.
Some fruits are simply too sweet and I'll have to do a lot more reading on these.
It also seems a lot of plants have been bred to produce higher and higher levels of sugars.
 
Jonathan Byron
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The low glycemic index is one factor, but only one. If you purify natural fructose from fruit, it will have a low glycemic index, but there is no reason to believe that it will not cause liver problems if the amount consumed is 'large' and if it goes into the blood rapidly.

There are some differences between various 'natural' and processed sugars, but these differences do not support the idea that the natural sugars can be eaten with abandon while the processed ones are incredibly dangerous at any dose. 
 
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