The Agave Blues by David Wolfe

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The Agave BluesCopyright 2010 David Wolfe (www.davidwolfe.com)

The Sweetener Wars are heating up. Dr. Mercola and Mike Adams “The Health Ranger” have come forward listing agave as the worst “bandito” of all sweeteners — a claim reminding me of the “Most Wanted” posters of Mexican criminals I would see whenever I crossed the border between San Diego and Tijuana as a child.

My Experience with Agave

I was first exposed to agave by Dr. David Jubb who espoused its health benefits years ago claiming that it was low glycemic. My former company Nature’s First Law/Sunfood Nutrition (whom I no longer represent) and I sold different forms of agave for years. Originally, the agave was supplied by Joanne Cuddigan and David Korn of Holistic Enterprises. Eventually, the agave was supplied by Christopher Daugherty of Essential Living Foods who eventually had to admit that the agave was in fact cooked and not a raw-food product. According to various raw-food websites and www.foodprocessing.com, agave is cooked at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 36 hours. Years of anecdotal feedback about agave and subsequent testing by Dr. Gabriel Cousens indicated that various yellow agave syrup products were, in fact, not only cooked, but high glycemic.

Then Robert Williams, the product sourcing professional for Ultimate Superfoods, gave me his take on agave. He claimed that high fructose corn syrup in the form of broken Mexican sugar candies were being added back into agave syrups and nectars. He brought to light that his research indicated that agave was heavily controlled by at least two very serious and very dangerous tequila mafias and that most of the products on the market were a complete fraud. Upon finding this out, I recommended that my business and I go only with Ultimate Superfoods clear (high inulin) agave (www.ultimatesuperfoods.com). Even though Ultimate’s product is not a cold-processed product, it was still the best product on the market as far as I could tell. My business partner (now former business partner) strongly rejected this plan causing at least one of the major rifts that caused me to exit my old company Sunfood Nutrition.

Currently Ultimate Superfoods claims their clear agave is around 50% fructose with a few percentage points of glucose — the rest being inulin. This is the claim, and only a chemical analysis will confirm if this is accurate. And that's where I am at with any claim — chemical analysis is what we all require as proof now.

Agave and Pulque

AgaveAgave products originally began to be consumed as a New World beverage in ancient times, probably in Mexico. The agave plant (sometimes called “The Century Plant”) is a very hardy desert succulent that has been categorized in its own Linnaean Family, now termed the Agavaceae. After about ten to twelve years, the edible agave varieties (blue agave, etc.) begin to develop a large fruiting stem at their center. This stem grows very strongly and rapidly eventually opening up flowers in its upper reaches that after pollination (usually by hummingbirds) turn into seeded fruits. The shape and structure of this flowering and fruiting stem is so unique that they were used in the background of original Star Trek episodes as alien plants on alien planets. The dried agave fruiting stems are often cleaned out, polished, and turned into didgeridoos.

Historically, the center-growing stem, once it began to form, would be cored or cut out. This would cause the agave to bleed a thin milky sap that was captured in a bowl each day. According to research done by author Jonathan Ott (and cited in my book Naked Chocolate), agave (once cored) can bleed 1,000 liters of liquid sap in the two months that it takes it to finally die. This is a huge amount of liquid to be liberated in a dry desert (like finding a spring). This thin milky sap would typically ferment forming a very popular beverage in ancient Mexico known as pulque.

To see agave sap being collected, watch this video. Pulque, a mildly alcoholic wine, is the original beverage, consumed right alongside chocolate drinks on the streets of Mexico City for over a thousand years and probably much longer. Processed pulque is still available today in nearly all major Mexican cities and in Los Angeles.

Fructose

“While agave syrup does have a low-glycemic index, so does antifreeze -- that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Agave syrup has the highest fructose content of any commercial sweetener — ranging from 70 to 97 percent, depending on the brand, which is FAR HIGHER than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which averages 55 percent.” — Dr. Joseph Mercola

According to Dr. Robert Lustig, fructose is to blame for agave’s blues. Ten years ago, sucrose was the enemy. So which one is it? Sucrose or fructose? Over the last 40 years, sucrose consumption has actually been going down and fructose consumption has been going up. Obviously, obesity in the West has been increasing, and Dr. Lustig of UC San Francisco claims that the primary culprit is fructose.

To see Dr. Lustig’s presentation on fructose, click here

Fructose is a sugar that is 1.73 times sweeter than sucrose (Source: Wiki). Like glucose and sucrose, fructose is known to be food for candida albicans and cancer cells. Sugar in many of its small and medium chain carbohydrate forms has been reported to rapidly elevate blood sugar levels causing the small gland known as the pancreas to secrete insulin to control blood sugar levels. Due to the intensity and quantity of sugars and carbohydrates being ingested daily by people all over the world and also due to the lack of minerals available to feed the pancreas so it can do its job properly, human metabolism begins to malfunction. This begins as mood swings and ADD symptoms in children as well as obesity, and eventually develops into hypoglycemia and/or diabetes. Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar sharply drops after an overproduction of insulin; causing low energy, mood swings, and intense hunger. Diabetes occurs when an underproduction of insulin causes blood sugar to elevate wildly; causing excessively sweet urine and body fatigue. Diabetes can eventually lead to demineralization, diabetic coma, and even death.

Natural fructose in fruits and honey is bound to other sugars and is therefore less glycemic and more natural than free fructose. High fructose corn syrup and common agave products contain free fructose. This free fructose appears to be the primary focus of the current controversy about sweeteners.

Mike Adams “The Health Ranger” states that: “The average person consumes about 98 pounds of highly refined corn fructose per year in the USA, that roughly translates into half a cup of refined fructose per day.”

According to Dr. Mercola, fructose, and especially free fructose, in quantities greater than 25 grams a day can cause an unhealthy increase in uric acid production, lead to weight gain, and, as Dr. Mercola told me in a private conversation, can become a major contributing factor in the development of a fatty liver.

Other problems with Agave

I have been to agave processing facilities in Mexico where Tequila is made. When the agave plant is mature (just as it starts its flowering stage) they trim off all the succulent and barbed leaves of the agave plant until it looks like a giant pineapple or the fruit of the pandanus tree. They then wrap a chain around it and tear it out of the ground with a truck. The entire agave plant is then cooked down, hydrolyzed with enzymes, and converted over through other chemical processes into a fructose syrup.

According to Dr. Mercola, here is a partial list of the chemicals many producers use:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Cationic and ionic resins
  • Sulfuric and/or hydrofluoric acid
  • Dicalite
  • Clarimex
  • Inulin enzymes
  • Fructozyme

All this chemistry obviously has nothing to do with how pulque was originally made and how the agave plant was originally used. The use of these chemicals also puts any organic certification of agave into question.

And that’s not the only problem, boiling down the entire agave plant may release toxic saponins present in the agave and yucca families of plants. These steroidal, abortive, and/or purgative compounds have not been confirmed to be present in agave products, however, exercise caution when using agave. In addition, agave products should be avoided during pregnancy until more research is conducted.

Conclusion

If you select agave as a sweetener, only use certified organic clear agave of the type Ultimate Superfoods distributes (www.ultimatesuperfoods.com). Be sure to request that every company selling agave provide laboratory data that their product is free of chemicals, contains a low percentage of fructose, contains a high percentage of inulin, and is free of toxic saponins.

After dealing with the agave blues, you may want to select another sweetener. Here are some options (in alphabetical order):

  • Coconut Palm Sugar: This is now available as a sweetener. It is usually heat processed, yet unconfirmed reports indicate raw coconut palm sugar is now available from Balinese sources. It is processed using lime (chalk) or mangosteen sap to neutralize acidity. Because of the calcification problems associated with eating chalk and the magic associated with the mangosteen tree, mangosteen sap processed coconut palm sugar is preferred.
  • Erythritol: Erythritol is made by breaking down plant starch into glucose. Then the yeast Moniliella pollinis is added to the glucose. Through fermentation, the glucose breaks down into erythritol. Metabolic, toxicological, and clinical studies covering areas as diverse as cancer, nervous system health, and allergic reactions have found erythritol to be safe. Erythritol has GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status in the United States. Seek out organic erythritol or products containing it.
  • Honey (raw, organic): Honey is always the natural sweetener of choice. Look for wild honey because it is lower in free fructose and higher in trace mineral content. Also, look for richer dark honeys (e.g. NoniLand honey, etc.)
  • Inulin: A long-chain polysaccharide that is mostly too long a sugar to absorb into the blood stream. Inulin may be isolated from Jerusalem artichoke or properly processed agave. Look for inulin powder or Jerusalem artichoke syrup. Too much inulin intake can cause digestive distress in certain people.
  • Lo Han Guo: A non-glycemic sweetener from Chinese medicinal tradition made from a type of wild cucumber.
  • Lucuma: Lucuma’s sugar content is low. The percentage amount present in the dried pulp from mature lucuma fruit is: 8.4% glucose, 4.7% fructose, 1.7% sucrose, and 0.06% inositol (http://www.buywholefoodsonline.co.uk/lucuma-powder).
  • Maple syrup: this is the only sustainably-harvested, large-scale, forest sweetener in the world. Maple is likely the richest source of minerals found in any sweetener other than dark honeys and molasses. Look for organic maple syrup and maple crystals as an ingredient.
  • Molasses: Select unsulfured, organic sugarcane molasses because it is fairly rich in vitamins and minerals and has been purported (like fresh sugar cane) to have “anti-stiffness factors” that break down detrimental calcification (see my book The LongevityNOW Program).
  • Soak water: This is a natural sweetener from dried fruits such as date water, goji water, or dried fig water. Shop for organic dried fruit products and soak them in spring water for several hours to make your own fresh soak water.
  • Stevia: I recommend dried powdered leaves over extracts. This is a wonderful and easy plant to grow. It contains no real sugar, so therefore it does not feed candida or cancer. Look for organic stevia products.
  • Xylitol: This could be the sweetener of the future if it could be obtained with certified organic quality. Xylitol does not feed candida or cancer, but tastes normally sweet. Originally isolated from birch syrup; it is now available as a white powder.
  • Yacon: An extraordinarily easy to obtain and abundant subtropical to tropical tuber, relative to the Jerusalem artichoke. Yacon is commonly available as dehydrated chips and as a syrup. Look for organic products. Yacon syrup is rich in iron and only mildly glycemic.

Other sweeteners to avoid, besides common agave:

  • Refined white and brown sugars made from beet, sorghum, or sugarcane of all sorts, primarily due to genetically modified crop contamination.
  • Evaporated Cane Juice: Rapadura is one of the many names of this highly processed and highly heated product. This is almost pure sucrose, like maple, but lacks in minerals. Evaporated cane juice is known to aggravate all sugar-sensitive conditions from diabetes to candida to cancer. Evaporated cane juice can be certified organic. This product often sneaks into chocolate products, pre-made smoothies, and lots of vegan treats (because it is not processed with bone char).
  • Sorbitol: This sweetener is typically made from genetically modified corn starch. It was originally isolated from stone fruits of the genus Sorbus.

Other Considerations

The market is flooded with companies and products using all different kinds of sweeteners. Always select products containing certified organic sweeteners due to potential contamination from genetically modified corn and other crops that may contain glufosinate herbicides that damage your friendly healthy bacteria. Remember that certified organic sweeteners cannot be genetically modified (GMO).

Some companies, such as Sacred Chocolate (www.sacredchocolate.com) have avoided organic agave and use only organic maple crystals, coconut nectar, inulin, erythritol and stevia instead.

If organic agave is in a product, select only reputable companies that rigorously review all their ingredients, such as Superfood Snacks (www.superfoodsnacks.com).

References

Books

  • Naked Chocolate by Shazzie and Wolfe
  • The LongevityNOW Program by Wolfe
  • The Sugar Blues by William Duffy
  • Natural & Health Sweeteners by Diana Allen (www.woodlandpublishing.com). This book contains an extraordinary chapter on sweetener alternatives known as polyols (sugar alcohols) such as: xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, isomalt, lactitol, mannitol, and erythritol.

Websites

Agave:

Fructose:

Sucrose:

Dr. Mercola on Agave:

Mike Adams on Agave:

Retrieving Agave Liquid for Pulque:

Dr. Gabriel Cousens

Dr. Lustig on Fructose:

 

High Inulin Agave Resource:

Maple Sugar as a Better Sweetener:

Lucuma:

Erythritol:

Sorbitol:

Sugar Fructose Glucose Sucrose
(Fructose-Glucose)
Other Sugars
Granulated Sugar (50) (50) 100 0
Brown Sugar 1 1 97 1
HFCS-42 42 53 0 5
HFCS-55 55 41 0 4
HFCS-90 90 5 0 5
Honey 50 44 1 5
Maple Syrup 1 4 95 0
Molasses 23 21 53 3
Corn Syrup 0 35 0 0

*Notice how low maple syrup is in fructose. This is another positive for maple-sweetened foods.

Copyright 2010 David Wolfe (www.davidwolfe.com)

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Category: Information
Posted: Monday, April 5, 2010 12:46:00 AM
Views: 119885
Comments: 37 [Read/Post]
Synopsis: The Sweetener Wars are heating up. Dr. Mercola and Mike Adams “The Health Ranger” have come forward listing agave as the worst “bandito” of all sweeteners — a claim reminding me of the “Most Wanted” posters of Mexican criminals I would see whenever I crossed the border between San Diego and Tijuana as a child.


Comments on The Agave Blues by David Wolfe


Brendan Friday, May 9, 2014 11:45:19 PM
Hi David

Great article.

What do you know about cold evaporated agave syrup? I have been told that this method ensures enzymes are intact and avoids it being considered free fructose.
Caroline Thursday, January 24, 2013 08:20:17 PM
Hi David,
I'd really like if you could amend your information on Rapadura. It is not highly processed and its not the same as Evaporated Cane Sugar which is highly processed and being snuck in by manufacturers on packaging as "Healthy"
rapadura is dehydrated at a low heat and is not separated from molasses, which is natural in sugar cane
It is not highly processed at all
Adira Wednesday, November 17, 2010 05:27:42 AM
What about "Just Like Sugar" which I have been using? It tastes better than Stevia and is used the same way. I love the raw coconut sugar, it tastes a bit like maple sugar to me. Raw honey is wonderful too. Whatever happened to using dates? Why did so many raw fooders stop using dates for a sweetener? Nature's unprocessed products are always the best.
Rich G Tuesday, August 10, 2010 12:41:39 PM
I disagree with Mercola and find him a self promoting Dr with no nutritional background to add to his cred and he also advocated for honey and (surprise!) he sells Honey on his site. I have researched agave to death and this article (one of many) says the agave thing best with the best science discussion, science is left out in the Mercola discussions I see. I still buy agave from a farm in Miami where it is royal blue agave low heat processed and organic. I buy it from the refridge section of Whole Foods Market (18.00!) but worth every penny and it tastes incredible, unlike any agave I have tasted. The farm is glaserorganicfarms.com/
and the article that blows the Mercola agave myth away with good links and sound science is:braintoniq.com/is-agave-bad-for-you-fallacy.php
Philip Monday, July 5, 2010 04:20:20 PM
Tammy,

See Mercola update with testing:

can-this-popular-alternative-sweetener-spike-uric-acid-into-the-danger-zone

It would be great for you to get testing on your product and have full transparency around your process and be an excellent example for the agave industry, so we can weed out the low quality agave products.
Tammy Monday, July 5, 2010 03:06:14 PM
There has been a lot of misinformation on the web these days about agave syrup. Truth be told, there are some companies that add bad things to their agave, including High Fructose Corn Syrup, to cut costs. But the process of extracting syrup from a plant that already contains syrup (like a maple tree, or an agave plant) is nothing like the process of turning corn into syrup.

The process of producing 100% Blue Agave (the only species we use) syrup does not involve enzymes or chemicals of any kind. The aforementioned chemicals in this article are used specifically in the HCFS industry, not in the blue agave syrup industry.

Sweet Cactus Farms/Agave International is the original agave sweetener company—in the business for almost 17 years. Ours is 100% Blue Agave, no fillers, no chemicals, no additives of any kind. And certified by an internationally recognized scientist to be safe for diabetics. We are truly the only company certified safe for diabetics. We have hundreds of loyal customers who are diabetic.

I’ve seen a lot of misinformation about fructans and inulin as well. The easiest way to clear up the crazy comparisons on the web is to let you know that breast milk is 80% inulin. No mother is poisoning her baby by breastfeeding.

A little heat is all we use (118 degrees F), which is not at all like the highly mechanized process (using chemicals and enzymes) of turning corn in to HFCS.

The problem is that Dr. Mercola doesn’t know anything about agave. He claims to be addressing the problems with his article in June that said agave was processed the same way as High Fructose Corn Syrup, which was totally false. Now, Mercola is backtracking and saying he was addressing how SWEET agave is.

Sweeteners are supposed to be sweet. They are not a food or a food group.

Dr. Johnson, Mercola’s “expert” on this matter, says:

“We have not done any specific research with agave or honey.”

So, Mercola’s “expert” is no expert at all.

Dr. Mercola seeks to confuse people. He says there are “loads of studies,” but fails to mention even one. Then, he compares agave to smoking. Truly, listening to this guy is bad for your health.
Sharon Miles Sunday, July 4, 2010 06:26:48 AM
There are other nutritionists who, like David points out, are rolling their eyes at the new anti-agave articles (used to be sucrose... now it's agave). A good compilation of all of the articles is at the home page of Brain Toniq. You'll find it the first link in any Google search. A must-read.
Thanks for the information, David.
Sharon.
Diana Allen, MS, CNS Saturday, July 3, 2010 12:31:12 PM
Selina, try stevia or one of the polyols (xylitol, erythritol). I don't believe there is any sucrose in agave (bound glucose + fructose) but there may be a tiny bit. Good luck - what a tough issue to deal with.
Chef Renee Monday, May 31, 2010 01:19:16 PM
...is saying adios to Agave!!!
Bonnie Carney Friday, May 28, 2010 10:01:37 AM
I'm so grateful for the ongoing research you do for us. One never knows when the next "great" thing is indeed another thing to investigate.
Truthseeker Thursday, May 27, 2010 09:54:15 AM
Although it is a good idea to use a range of sweetners, some of these experts may have their own agendas and may wish to promote their own products as the 'best' sweetner. Fractose occurs in so many foods including apples, is something humans have ate since the dawn of time bad? I dont think the jury is out, health experts keep changing their minds.

Have a read of this article for the other side of the story, just search for "The Is Agave Bad For You Fallacy".
Selina Friday, May 21, 2010 09:34:42 AM
I have a son with CSID - Congenital Sucrose Isolmaltose Deficiency, basicly an enzyme deficiency where they cant breakdown sucrose. I thought agave would be the perfect sugar substitute, perhaps not! Can anyone help me find something else that may be suitable.
Veronica Thursday, April 29, 2010 02:12:26 AM
Thanks for directing me here! Excellent article. And you are right, can't really sum it up in a sentence. Thank you social media - I'm sharing with everyone!
Organic Sugars Monday, April 26, 2010 10:41:00 AM
Thanks for your great blog--and due diligence! While Wholesome Sweeteners doesn't know the source of Dr Mercola's information, we share your concerns about his assertions and allegations--especially regarding our Organic Blue Agave nectars. Wholesome's CEO, Nigel Willerton, responded directly to the claims. (For another 3rd party view, GreenSmoothieGirl's blog has another perspective, too.)
GERI GIANGARRA Sunday, April 25, 2010 07:37:37 PM
I STILL BELIEVE RAW UNFILTERED HONEY TO BE THE BEST SWEETENER. IT CONTAINS MANY MINERALS AND THE DARKER HONEYS ARE GOOD FOR STRENTHENING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM. OF COURSE, EVERYTHING IN MODERATION! HAPPY HEALING.
Jo Carey-Bradshaw Sunday, April 25, 2010 02:40:34 AM
What a wonderful page, David. So very welcoming. I really love food; real food; good, wholesome food. I am so glad I have found your page, you are filling in some gaps of my knowledge. Thanks, Jo
Kelley Amber Sunday, April 25, 2010 12:06:33 AM
When I tried agave it tastes to me just like from what I remember pancake corn syrup. It was just too sweet for me so I avoided it. My favorite sweetner is honey (raw and local) which they have mentioned in the bible. I also thoroughly enjoy David's honey drinking trick! :)~ I also like using licorice root, mesquite and cashews to sweeten my foods.
rebecca Friday, April 23, 2010 09:46:16 PM
There is no mention of brown rice syrup, can you give us some information on this and if it is an acceptable sweetener.
Michelle M. Heinrich Friday, April 23, 2010 10:45:07 AM
Any information on Jerusalem Artichoke Syrup?
Jessica Friday, April 23, 2010 10:42:13 AM
There are a number of incorrect assumptions in both Mercola's, as well as Sally Fallon's anti-agave articles. While too much of any sweet (including the great sacred chocolate) isn't good, to demonize one particular component of natural sugars doesn't serve any of us. Fortunately, there are some well-balanced responses as well as other raw food writers coming out against some of the misconceptions around sweeteners. Do a search for 'The Is Agave Bad For You Fallacy' as well as writings by raw food chef Matthew Kenney on his Facebook. That's a start.
Chad Reardon "Mr Lava" Friday, April 23, 2010 02:30:37 AM
David, thanks again for your amazing re-search...

What about Dextrose that Dr. Mercola is suggesting as an alternative? ...

Even more SHOCKING...

David, When are you going to address the important questions in regard to "Crack-Cacao" from Jeremy Saffron and the gang?

Please, I have been on HOLD for months waiting for a response from you buddy...I am raising 5 kids too...Gotta know the truth always...

David, What is YOUR website to buy products from then?...man you had to leave NFL...bummer...finally heard the truth about it from you...wow

Alo-HA from Maui...
Pamlea Schaefer Thursday, April 22, 2010 03:40:44 PM
Great article! Thank you for all this information in one place.
zoetree Wednesday, April 21, 2010 08:48:41 PM
Perhaps we humans are being gently but surely guided away from crutches, including sweeteners, leading to cleaner and purer bodies, minds, and spirits. The less harmful sweeteners can be a bridge, but maybe not the destination for our ultimate food intake. I will be glad when I learn this lesson fully.
Parsley Priestess Wednesday, April 21, 2010 07:33:48 PM
PS. AS always, Avocado, you are a nutritional scholar and will live a long long time.
Parsley Priestess Wednesday, April 21, 2010 07:30:05 PM
Good post! Important information. It seems that we flow from one vice to another in the aim of satisfying our desire for a kick of sweet. I find essential oils, hugs, and smiles very powerful sweet satisfying. I knew that agave did not make me feel so good, and left me wanting more. I am a pleasure lover and find that Sacred Heart -- satisfies also!
mariela Wednesday, April 21, 2010 08:05:52 AM
great article! cleared up much confusion. posted to my facebook page, and the luzvida facebook page. luzvida is for wheatgrass, but i use it to help inform the southern cone about what is new on the nutrition front.
many thanks!
Rita Renteria Tuesday, April 20, 2010 03:10:23 PM
So amazing. I love your knowledge and insight! Change my life two years now. My eyes are wide open.
nancy natter Tuesday, April 20, 2010 02:55:24 PM
I have been using Sunrider concentrated liquid stevia everyday for over 20 years... Dr. Chen manufactures many of the Stevia products on the market, including many dry stevia products. It is my understanding that his product, Sunectar and Sunny Dew are the purest on the market...
Daniela Tuesday, April 20, 2010 12:56:53 PM
Like everything else overdoing something is sure not good for you. The problem with high fructose is that we are eating tons of it, as well as trans fats and salt in the way of processed food. Fructose is not the only reason cancer is on the high, but all the chemicals that are free in the environment. I would like to see some serious bibliography in this article and less web pages. I don’t mind people express their opinions but, I am very tired of the ones who express their opinions as if it was serious scientific research.
Michelle S Rademacher Tuesday, April 20, 2010 10:28:32 AM
Thank you for posting this!!!!....I have been patiently waiting for it:) The company I work for only uses Ultimate Superfoods Agave - yay!! However, for us as a family I will also make those shifts to some of the products you mention above as we are dealing with cancer (aren't we all really to a certain extent). Blessing to you and please keep sharing the knowledge - Peace!


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