Monday, January 25, 2010

Agave Nectar: Good or Bad

My brother sent me this article regarding agave nectar. I felt I needed to pass it along to my readers. It is quite interesting.
AGAVE….Good or Bad?

Is agave nectar good? Is agave nectar bad? Believe it or not, I thought I’d written a definitive post on this topic.
As it turns out, I hadn’t. Earlier this week a reader emailed me, seeking an answer to the classic question: Agave nectar — good or bad? She pointed out that she’d done a search for agave nectar on this site and only turned up two entries. In one, I’d said to avoid it. In another, I mentioned that I’d used agave nectar while experimenting with kombucha and didn’t enjoy the results.
So, she concluded: “Why, if agave nectar is a natural sweetener, should it not be used? What about it is bad? I’ve been preferring it to honey and maple syrup on my waffles, pancakes, and yogurt.”
I realized then that I needed to post a definitive guide to agave nectar, answering the question once and for all. This is it.
Agave Nectar: Good or Bad?
The short answer to that reader’s question is simple: agave nectar is not a “natural sweetener.” Plus, it has more concentrated fructose in it than high fructose corn syrup. Now, let’s get into the details.
Agave Nectar Is Not A Natural Sweetener
Once upon a time, I picked up a jar of “Organic Raw Blue Agave Nectar” at my grocery store. It was the first time I’d ever seen the stuff in real life, and the label looked promising. After all, words like “organic,” “raw,” and “all natural” should mean something. Sadly, 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. Surely, this was a traditional food, eaten for thousands of years. Sadly, it is not.
Native Mexican peoples 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.
But this is not what agave nectar is. According to one popular agave nectar manufacturer, “Agave nectar is a newly created sweetener, having been developed in the 1990s.” In a recent article now posted on the Weston A. Price foundation’s website, Ramiel Nagel and Sally Fallon Morell write,
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, similar to the starch in corn or rice, and a complex carbohydrate called inulin, which is made up of chains of fructose molecules.Technically a highly indigestible fiber, inulin, which does not taste sweet, 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 HFCS. The agave starch is subject to an enzymatic and chemical process that converts the starch into a fructose-rich syrup—anywhere from 70 percent fructose and higher according to the agave nectar chemical profiles posted on agave nectar websites.
Compare that to the typical fructose content of high fructose corn syrup (55%)!
In a different article, Rami Nagel quotes Russ Bianchi, managing director and CEO of Adept Solutions, Inc., a globally recognized food and beverage development company, on the similarities between agave nectar and high fructose corn syrup:
They are indeed made the same way, using a highly chemical process with genetically modified enzymes. They are also using caustic acids, clarifiers, filtration chemicals and so forth in the conversion of agave starches into highly refined fructose inulin that is even higher in fructose content than high fructose corn syrup.
So there you have it. Agave nectar is not traditional, is highly refined, and actually has more concentrated fructose than high-fructose corn syrup. It is not a “natural” sweetener. Thus far, the evidence definitely points toward the conclusion: Agave Nectar = Bad.
“But,” you ardent agave nectar enthusiasts say, “agave nectar has a low glycemic index. I’m a diabetic, and it’s the only sweetener I can use!”
What’s wrong with fructose?
First, we need to clarify something. Concentrated fructose is not found in fruit, or anywhere else in nature. When the sugar occurs in nature, it is often called “levulose” and is accompanied by naturally-occurring enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fruit pectin. Concentrated fructose, on the other hand, is a man-made sugar created by the refining process. To clarify:
Saying fructose is levulose is like saying that margarine is the same as butter. Refined fructose lacks amino acids, vitamins, minerals, pectin, and fiber. As a result, the body doesn’t recognize refined fructose. Levulose, on the other hand, is naturally occurring in fruits, and is not isolated but bound to other naturally occurring sugars. Unlike man-made fructose, levulose contains enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fruit pectin. Refined fructose is processed in the body through the liver, rather than digested in the intestine. Levulose is digested in the intestine. (source)
I want you to pay special attention to those last two sentences, for they are a huge key that will help unlock the mystery of why fructose is bad for you.
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 inhibits leptin levels — the hormone your body uses to tell you that you’re full. In other words, fructose makes you want to eat more. Besides contributing to weight gain, it also makes you gain the most dangerous kind of fat.
This has been verified in numerous studies. The most definitive one was released just this past year in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The full study is available online, but for the sake of space I’m including Stephan’s (of Whole Health Source fame) summary here:
The investigators divided 32 overweight men and women into two groups, and instructed each group to drink a sweetened beverage three times per day. They were told not to eat any other sugar. The drinks were designed to provide 25% of the participants’ caloric intake. That might sound like a lot, but the average American actually gets about 25% of her calories from sugar! That’s the average, so there are people who get a third or more of their calories from sugar. In one group, the drinks were sweetened with glucose, while in the other group they were sweetened with fructose.
After ten weeks, both groups had gained about three pounds. But they didn’t gain it in the same place. The fructose group gained a disproportionate amount of visceral fat, which increased by 14%! Visceral fat is the most dangerous type; it’s associated with and contributes to chronic disease, particularly metabolic syndrome, the quintessential modern metabolic disorder (see the end of the post for more information and references). You can bet their livers were fattening up too.
The good news doesn’t end there. The fructose group saw a worsening of blood glucose control and insulin sensitivity. They also saw an increase in small, dense LDL particles and oxidized LDL, both factors that associate strongly with the risk of heart attack and may in fact contribute to it. Liver synthesis of fat after meals increased by 75%. If you look at table 4, it’s clear that the fructose group experienced a major metabolic shift, and the glucose group didn’t. Practically every parameter they measured in the fructose group changed significantly over the course of the 9 weeks. It’s incredible.
Back to our original question — Agave Nectar: Good or Bad?
The conclusion is clear. Agave nectar is bad for you. It’s not traditional, not natural, highly refined, and contains more concentrated fructose than high fructose corn syrup.
(photo by edgeplot)
Liked what you read? You may find these other posts interesting:
_. Are Natural Sweeteners Good For You?
_. On The Road to Being GMO-Free
_. The Dangers of Splenda
_. Another killer reason to avoid packaged foods
_. Fresh, Natural, Healthy Lemonade Recipe

Creamy Potato Leek Soup

In my previous blog, I raved about my wonderful immersion blender, and with the weather still chilly, making soup is a great way to get some additional use out of it.

Also mentioned in another story, I spoke of my creamy potato leek soup as being the only soup that my husband actually requests. Maybe you have a husband like mine, or loathe soup yourself. Or maybe, you love soup like I do. Regardless, I hope you’ll want seconds! Enjoy!

Creamy Potato Leek Soup

6 medium size russet potatoes, large dice
6 cups of water
1/4 cup sliced leeks
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. Garlic
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 tsp. Dried dill
1/4 tsp. Paprika
1/8 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 vegetable bouillon cube
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Sauté garlic and leeks in a soup pot with olive oil
2. Add russet potatoes (skins included), bay leaf, paprika, dill, and bouillon cube
3. Sauté for 2-3 minutes.
4. Add water. Bring to boil
5. Allow to simmer until potatoes are tender
6. Add mustard, salt, and pepper
7. Using a blender or immersion blender, puree until smooth. Adjust with salt and pepper to your liking.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My new sexy kitchen assistant

Although I cook frequently, I am not one to have a lot of gadgets. I believe in a simple approach to food; one that uses your hands more than a machine.

I am a girl who owns a kitchen-aid, but rarely uses it. I prefer kneading my own bread; it's even therapeutic. Instead of a Cuisinart, the knife is my favored tool. It keeps things basic in approach, and gets me more involved; more hands-on.

With that said, I have been through seven blenders in the last eight years. I am tired of replacing what was supposed to be "one of the best on the market".

As I have a love for soup, creamy being my favorite, I need a blender. Though, I have never liked having to transfer hot soup to the blender and then back to a pot repeatedly. Additionally, our household blender gets used on a daily basis to make smoothies, salsas, hummus, or pesto.

I broke down this Christmas and bought myself a new sleek, even sexy gadget that I have fallen in love with. It is my frequent companion as I create deliciousness. It is my immersion blender. It has made that once dreaded, potentially hand-burning soup transfer obsolete. It has been fantastic!

Though is may be a little pricey for some, I promise you it is worth the investment. For a Cuisinart immersion blender, like the one mentioned above, it ranges from $29.99-$59.99. It depends on what gadgets come with it, and where it's purchased. But, I know you will love it too! It is a great kitchen assistant.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blueberry Bliss Muffins with Crumble Topping

After dealing with a house full of illness for a week, nothing has sounded better than french fries, which I have not indulged in, and blueberry muffins with crumble topping. I promised my lovely friend Krista, one of the sweetest gals I have met in my lifetime, to give you another article of baking content. I promise I will have another savory dish soon.

The recipe I share with you today can certainly be altered to fit your preference of berries. I have made it with a berry medley that turned out absolutely wonderful.

Native to North America, blueberries come out on top as being rated the highest to destroy free radicals. A cup of blueberries is equal to 14% of your daily fiber intake. Besides them being a wonderful source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants; berries as most of us know, are high in vitamin C. Eating delicious, plump, and sweet blueberries is a great way to stock our bodies up on "the good stuff" to recoup from illness or protect us from getting ill. I know I need it!

6 Tbsp. of softened earth balance
2/3 cup organic cane sugar
2 "egg" ener-g replacer eggs (follow box directions)- if you eat real eggs.....use them
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup almond or soy milk
**2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (see below note)

**note: I have found that using fresh berries as opposed to frozen alleviate that blue Smurf look for the final product, if you don't over-mix. This recipe was adapted from "Mad about Muffins"

2 Tbsp. earth balance
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, cream together the earth balance and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the "eggs". Add the vanilla extract, baking powder, and salt. Mix in half of the flour and almond milk alternately, mixing gently. Then add the remaining flour and milk. Stir in the blueberries. Fill non-stick muffin tins or foil baking cups.

To make the crumble topping, cut the earth balance into small pieces and mix with the brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts. Sprinkle the topping over batter. Bake 25-30 minutes until muffins are lightly browned. Makes one dozen muffins

Monday, January 11, 2010

Quinoa- Lentil Soup

I had it in for him in freshman year in high school. He was funny, nice, and handsome. But he was very much out of my league. He ended asking me to prom, where we found out we had much in common with our love for the outdoors, and extracurricular activities. He only fell short in one category; he hates hot liquids, which includes soup. But, I married him anyway!

I love soup! Whether it is Split Pea with Yam, Tomato Tarragon, Faux Clam Chowder, or Cream of Corn; I will happily partake! My perfect meal during the winters is soup, salad, and bread. That combination seems to please every aspect of my palate for texture, flavor, nutrition, and uuummppphhh. My husband Kevin would be particularly happy if I gave up this adoration. But, he is kind enough not to turn up his nose when I prepare soup for dinner, and has even come to love my Creamy Potato Leek Soup. Thank God!

What I love most about soup is that you can pretty much throw the kitchen sink into it, and have it turn out great. Tonight, I prepared a simple Quinoa-Lentil soup that I served alongside garlic rosemary sourdough twists, and grilled asparagus with a balsamic glaze and red pepper confetti. I thought to pass along the soup recipe to my readers. I hope you enjoy it. I know I certainly did.

Quinoa-Lentil Soup
Yield: 6 servings

2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 stalk celery, medium dice
1 carrot, medium dice
1/4 cup Vidalia onion, medium dice
1 tsp. Garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 cup brown lentils
1/2 cup pre-cooked quinoa
1 bouillon cube (Organic Gourmet)
1 tsp. Ground dried thyme
1/2 tsp. Dried rosemary
5 cups water
salt/pepper to taste

1. Sauté miripoix: Celery, Carrot, Onion, and Garlic with Olive oil in soup pot
2. When the miripoix is tender, add bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, and lentils to mix. Sauté together for 5 minutes.
3. Add water and bouillon cube. Bring to a boil, and then allow cooking for 35-40 minutes at on simmer. Lentils should be soft at this point. Add pre-cooked quinoa for the last 5 minutes of cooking.
4. Salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

It's Not Butter

So often, I am asked what I use in my baking as a butter substitute. Most people who are unfamiliar with the array of Vegetarian/Vegan groceries that are available, are truly missing out on some wonderful products that are better for our bodies.
Depending on what I am baking, I will use Organic expeller pressed canola or safflower oil, or my all-time favorite Earth Balance. Earth Balance is so naturally buttered-flavored, smooth, easy to spread, and makes wonderful pastries, that I have been a very loyal spokesperson for this company.

Additionally, they omit the use of GMO, Trans Fat, and Hydrogenated Oils making it a superior substitute. The company has a variety of butter substitute blends and are now making no-stir almond butter and peanut butter. Though I want to try these nut butters, I am pretty particular to the Trader Joe's Crunchy- Salted Peanut Butter. I am certain if the nut butters are as wonderful as their other products, I will become a fan of them as well.

When using Earth Balance in place of Butter, it is equal parts substitution. Perfect to bake cookies with, melt over popcorn, and simply spread on a warm piece of toast. I swear, you won't miss butter!