Living With

The Agave Scam

Gretchen Becker Health Guide November 22, 2011
  • "But you can sweeten dishes with almond cream and agave nectar - most people will never taste the difference!" says diabetic chef Franklin Becker in an article on diabetic cooking in Time magazine.   Becker (no relation) explained how he'd controlled his type 2 diabetes in part by switching fr...

14 Comments
  • Phil
    Nov. 24, 2011

    I have been following the talk about the effects of fructose in the media for some time and this is the first time I have seen a description of the mechanism by which fructose raises triglyceride levels.  Thanks for that.

     

    My personal interest comes from my use of fructose as an alternative sweetner after my type II diagnosis early 2008. ...

    RHMLucky777

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    I have been following the talk about the effects of fructose in the media for some time and this is the first time I have seen a description of the mechanism by which fructose raises triglyceride levels.  Thanks for that.

     

    My personal interest comes from my use of fructose as an alternative sweetner after my type II diagnosis early 2008.  I replaced sucrose in my coffee (a pleasure I have been unable to kick) with 100% fructose crystals and was happy to see it produce much lower spikes in my blood glucose.  I have continued to use it for the last four years and it seems to have have no significant effect on my triglyceride levels, although I am taking Lipitor.  I guess I wonder at what levels of consumption additional fructose as a sweeter leads to the discussed effect on triglycerides.

    • Gretchen Becker
      Health Guide
      Nov. 24, 2011

      Phil, The statins don't have much effect on triglyceride levels. It's cholesterol they mostly work on.

       

      As for the fact that your TGs didn't increase with fructose in the coffee, first we're all individuals, and some people see bigger effects than others. As for how much you'd need to eat, I'm afraid I don't know offhand. It's like diabetes. Some people...

      RHMLucky777

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      Phil, The statins don't have much effect on triglyceride levels. It's cholesterol they mostly work on.

       

      As for the fact that your TGs didn't increase with fructose in the coffee, first we're all individuals, and some people see bigger effects than others. As for how much you'd need to eat, I'm afraid I don't know offhand. It's like diabetes. Some people can eat a lot of carbs and never gain weight and not have high TGs. But many can't.

       

      Here is a fairly recent Science Daily article on the topic. You note that they say more research is needed to establish the amounts. And this has links to a lot of studies. Some of them used a lot of fructose, probably more than you're using depending on how many cups of coffee you drink. Here is a more technical article.

       

      Have you tried other sweeteners in your coffee like stevia? Erythritol?

    • Phil
      Nov. 25, 2011

      Thanks for the links.  It can be so frustrating sorting through the vast quantities of infomation on the internet to find reliable information (maybe time for a new edition of your book to include some of these issues).

       

      Yes I have tried other sweeteners and frustratingly the various aftertastes and changes of flavour defeat the purpose for...

      RHMLucky777

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      Thanks for the links.  It can be so frustrating sorting through the vast quantities of infomation on the internet to find reliable information (maybe time for a new edition of your book to include some of these issues).

       

      Yes I have tried other sweeteners and frustratingly the various aftertastes and changes of flavour defeat the purpose for me.  Xylitol was probably the best from my experience but it still took the pleasure out of coffee for me.  I am not a big coffee drinker so I suspect the issue isn't a huge one but it would be still comforting to have a rule of thumb for safe levels, particularly when I put so much discipline into controlling my diabetes.

       

      Stevia is an interesting one.  Does it have an aftertaste like Xylitol?

    • Gretchen Becker
      Health Guide
      Nov. 25, 2011

      There are different types of stevia. The unprocessed stuff is green, and I don't like the taste. Some companies isolate the steviosides that are sweet and sell those as a sweet powder. I find these taste good, but who knows if they have the same benefits as the unprocessed leaves.

  • Anonymous
    Morris
    Nov. 22, 2011

    I was researching this just the other night, because someone asked about it, and was about to say here that some Agave is 56% fructose rather than 90%, but I see that has already been mentioned.  In addition I found a lot of exaggeration and misleading statistics on the Agave "infromation" sites.  One, for example, correctly explained the concept...

    RHMLucky777

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    I was researching this just the other night, because someone asked about it, and was about to say here that some Agave is 56% fructose rather than 90%, but I see that has already been mentioned.  In addition I found a lot of exaggeration and misleading statistics on the Agave "infromation" sites.  One, for example, correctly explained the concept of Glycemic Load (as compared to GI) and then compared Agave nectar to an  apple and soda to show how much lower the GL was, and printed a fancy chart to hammer home the point. Looking closely, however, it is evident that they compared 2 Tbsp of agave with a half an apple with 12 oz of soda... to provide a rather skewed picture.

     

    Quite typical of food marketing to take the one virtue they have (it is low GI and GL) and stretch it to the point where you can no longer trust any claim they might make...

     

    Personally I prefer regualr old sugar, or honey, or maple syrup, and just make sure that I only eat small amounts of it, and rarely at that.

     

    Inulin, BTW is the second ingredient in Dreamfields pasta, though I guess that is a whole other discussion.

     

    Morris

    • Gretchen Becker
      Health Guide
      Nov. 23, 2011

      Morris, I've learned not to trust the information on those alternative health sites, and especially sites that are selling something. Someone can write in and say that some product made them sprout blue antlers, and next thing you know, tons of other sites are using the same quote so readers think it's common. But how do we know the first quote wasn't posted...

      RHMLucky777

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      Morris, I've learned not to trust the information on those alternative health sites, and especially sites that are selling something. Someone can write in and say that some product made them sprout blue antlers, and next thing you know, tons of other sites are using the same quote so readers think it's common. But how do we know the first quote wasn't posted by a competitor?

       

      And, as you point out, it's easy to mislead with statistics.

       

      Honey and maple syrup also contain sucrose, fructose, and glucose. I live in Vermont and I've "sugared," and maple syrup, like agave, is boiled down to concentrate the sweetness: about 40  gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. So if you had an agave plant in your back yard and boiled it down, it wouldn't be much worse.

       

      What I object to is the deceptive marketing, saying it's a natural alternative to sugar when sugar is also natural.

       

      I discussed inulin in my response to Boulder Diabetic.

  • jerseyhiker
    Nov. 22, 2011

    Thanks to professionals like you, we have found that artificial sugars as well as agave and not good.  I have turned to Xylitol and Erithyritol as lesser evils; what do you think of these?

    • Gretchen Becker
      Health Guide
      Nov. 22, 2011

      Hi Lee,

       

      I've found that xylitol makes my BG go up. I do use erythritol, as I find it doesn't make my BG go up much. I use a commercial product with erythritol and stevia. I hate buying it because it's made by a big agribusiness conglomerate, and I don't trust them, but it tastes good and I like the crunchy texture . . .

       

      I took some packets with...

      RHMLucky777

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      Hi Lee,

       

      I've found that xylitol makes my BG go up. I do use erythritol, as I find it doesn't make my BG go up much. I use a commercial product with erythritol and stevia. I hate buying it because it's made by a big agribusiness conglomerate, and I don't trust them, but it tastes good and I like the crunchy texture . . .

       

      I took some packets with me on a wonderful trip to France (I thought carrying a bottle of white powder [my stevia] through international borders probably wasn't a great idea), so now the stuff reminds me of the trip.

       

      Two such products are Truvia and PureVia.

       

      Most sugar alcohols travel down the gut, where bacteria digest them and produce gas, which can be a problem. Erythritol is taken up into the bloodstream and excreted via the kidney, so you're not supposed to have the gassy problem. I don't know if it should be avoided in people with compromised kidney function.

       

      Here is a European committee discussion of erythritol.

       

      I wonder if they'll discover some other bad thing from a sugar alcohol in the bloodstream, however. I think we need to enjoy life, and that includes having some sweet foods. None of them are guaranteed benign. But then, neither are table sugar and salt. The trick is to use them but not to go overboard.

    • BoulderDiabetic
      Nov. 23, 2011

      Thanks Gretchen for posting that european study!

  • BoulderDiabetic
    Nov. 22, 2011

    Hi Gretchen, 

    Great to see your article exposing more truths. Btw, I'd add that agave is also marketed as a substitute for honey as well as sugar. I've seen a documentary a few years ago about the manufacturing of agave. turns out it's highly processed; ie very high heat and perhaps chemicals to extract the "natural" ingredients. I've heard but cannot...
    RHMLucky777
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    Hi Gretchen, 

    Great to see your article exposing more truths. Btw, I'd add that agave is also marketed as a substitute for honey as well as sugar. I've seen a documentary a few years ago about the manufacturing of agave. turns out it's highly processed; ie very high heat and perhaps chemicals to extract the "natural" ingredients. I've heard but cannot cite that in some processing, hfcs is added but not listed on labeling... perhaps Mexican standards? ;-)

     

    Also, I'd like to recommend you submit a future article about "inulin". Is it safe for diabetics, since it's commonly used in low carb/glycemic/diabetic foods and in conjunction with stevia? or is it also mostly fructose? What about "yacon Syrup"? So many questions... so little time Wink

     

    FYI, according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agave_nectar:

    "Production

    To produce agave nectar from the Agave tequiliana the leaves are cut off the plant after it has aged 7 to 10 years. Then the juice is expressed from the core of the agave, called the piña.[2] The juice is filtered, then heated tohydrolyze polysaccharides into simple sugars. The main polysaccharide is called inulin or fructosan and comprises mostly fructose units. The filtered, hydrolyzed juice is concentrated to a syrupy liquid, slightly thinner than honey, from light- to dark-amber, depending on the degree of processing.

    Agave salmiana is processed differently than Agave tequiliana. As the plant gestates, it starts to grow a stalk called a quiote.[3] The stalk is cut off before it fully grows, creating a hole in the center of the plant that fills with a liquid called aguamiel. The liquid is collected daily and the fructans hydrolysed by enzymes into fructose and dextrose.

    An alternative method used to process the agave juice without heat is described in a United States patent for a process that uses enzymes derived from the mold Aspergillus niger to hydrolyze the polyfructose extract into fructose.[4] A. niger fermentation is "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.[5]

    [edit]Composition

    Agave nectar consists primarily of fructose and glucose. One source gives 92% fructose and 8% glucose; another gives 56% fructose and 20% glucose. These differences, it is presumed, reflect variation from one vendor of agave nectar to another.[6][7]

    Agave nectar's glycemic index and glycemic load are comparable to fructose,[8][9] which in turn has a much lower glycemic index and glycemic load than table sugar (sucrose).[10][11] However, consumption of large amounts of fructose can be deleterious and can trigger fructose malabsorptionmetabolic syndrome,[12] hypertriglyceridemia, decreased glucose tolerancehyperinsulinemia, and accelerated uric acid formation.[13][14][15]"

     

    • Gretchen Becker
      Health Guide
      Nov. 22, 2011

      Hi Bould,

       

      Thanks. I didn't know some agave syrup contained dextrose (glucose). Sounds a lot like HFCS.

       

      Inulin is polyfructose, meaning a polymer of fructose. However, I don't think we have the enzymes to digest it, just as we lack the enzymes to digest cellulose, and hence can't eat grass. Well, we can eat it, but we don't get much nourishment...

      RHMLucky777

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      Hi Bould,

       

      Thanks. I didn't know some agave syrup contained dextrose (glucose). Sounds a lot like HFCS.

       

      Inulin is polyfructose, meaning a polymer of fructose. However, I don't think we have the enzymes to digest it, just as we lack the enzymes to digest cellulose, and hence can't eat grass. Well, we can eat it, but we don't get much nourishment from it.

       

      Inulin is considered to be a  fiber. Even though we can't digest fibers, often the bacteria in our colon can, so even fiber isn't calorie-free.

       

      And I suspect we do digest a little of any of these "fibers," especially when they're processed with high heat, which breaks bonds in polysaccharides. However I wouldn't worry about it. Even those of us on low-carb diets aren't on no-carb diets. Protein gets converted to glucose. So if we avoided fiber as well, there wouldn't be much left to eat but fat.

       

    • BoulderDiabetic
      Nov. 23, 2011

      Do you know anything about yacon and it's effect on blood sugars? Is it mostly inulin then? Do you think it can be safely used as a sugar substitute?

    • Gretchen Becker
      Health Guide
      Nov. 25, 2011

      I'd never heard of yacon and thought it might be a vegetarian bacon.

       

      But looking at their site, I see that it's inulin that has been hydrolyzed to small fructose oligosaccharides called FOS. If they concentrate it to a syrup, I suspect some of those FOS get further hydrolyzed into fructose. But this is just a guess.

       

      This cites articles about it....

      RHMLucky777

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      I'd never heard of yacon and thought it might be a vegetarian bacon.

       

      But looking at their site, I see that it's inulin that has been hydrolyzed to small fructose oligosaccharides called FOS. If they concentrate it to a syrup, I suspect some of those FOS get further hydrolyzed into fructose. But this is just a guess.

       

      This cites articles about it.

       

      Another source of inulin is Jerusalem artichoke. Interestingly, Edgar Cayce, the psychic, recommended Jerusalem artichoke for diabetes. One time he said it should be raw and another time he said it should be cooked, or some other contradiction like peeled vs unpeeled, so I guess the spirits are sort of confused about it.

       

      Wait! I see yacon is the same as jicama, which you can get in the grocery store. "In addition to these sweet compounds [FOS], yacon tubers are also rich in free fructose, glucose and sucrose as well as inulin and starch."

    • BoulderDiabetic
      Apr. 15, 2012

      Thanks for the links and the additional info!