Before reading my response below, I recommend you read his article first.
One more thing before we get started. Look back at previous posts on this blog and you will see I am by no means an agave enthusiast.
From the inception of Small Bites, I have always said that, in my world, “sugar is sugar is sugar”. All sweeteners offer 4 grams of sugar (16 calories) per teaspoon. The best thing you can do is limit all added sugars — whether it’s white sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, or agave.
That said, I don’t see the need to demonize agave, which brings us to this post.
Dr. Mercola’s statements are in red. My responses are in black.
“We have an epidemic of obesity in the US and it wasn’t until recently that my eyes opened up to the primary cause – - fructose.”
Here we have one of the most basic (yet very prevalent) erroneous statements about obesity rates — that a certain component in food “causes” obesity.
Rising obesity rates are clearly linked to increases in caloric consumption. Technically — though very misleadingly — one could argue that carbohydrates are behind rising obesity rates in the sense that some of the additional calories consumed over the past thirty years come from carbohydrates.
Protein intake has also increased in the past forty years, so one could also technically claim protein is behind rising obesity rates. Of course, those sorts of statements are ultimately untrue and distract from any sort of serious conversation on the matter.
The issue with sweeteners — ALL of them — is that they provide empty calories. Empty calories do not satiate. That is why we can easily drink 600 calories of soda (whether it is sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, or agave nectar) and still feel hungry. Eat 600 calories of a whole food that offers fat, protein, and fiber and I guarantee you will be full for hours.
“Depending on the source and processing method used, agave syrup can, therefore, contain as little as 55% fructose, the same amount found in high-fructose corn syrup — in which case the syrup would offer no advantage.”
Except that no one who consumes agave seeks it out because of lower fructose levels. Some reasons why individuals prefer agave over high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) include:
- Avoidance of genetically modified organisms
- Flavor/texture preferences
- Veganism (the filtration of white table sugar often utilizes bone char from animals, thereby making it unsuitable for vegans)
- Practical use (you can purchase agave nectar and bake with it, add it to beverages, or pour some over yogurt)
“Most commercially available agave is converted into fructose-rich syrup using genetically modified enzymes and a chemically intensive process involving caustic acids, clarifiers, and filtration chemicals.”
Okay, and most yogurts contain excessive amounts of sugar. That doesn’t mean all yogurt should be avoided. Similarly, a lot of salmon is farmed and offer less omega-3s than wild salmon. The key isn’t to completely shun salmon, but to know which types to pick. That said, though, the processing of agave only requires one step.
As Marion Nestle explained on her Food Politics blog earlier this year, “agave contains inulin, a polymer of fructose, which must be hydrolyzed (broken down by heat or enzymes) to fructose to make the sweetener. It’s a processed sweetener requiring one hydrolysis step, requiring more processing than honey and less than high fructose corn syrup.”
Raw agave nectar achieves this process through enzymes, while other varieties utilize heat. I don’t know where the “caustic acid” notion comes from.
“While agave syrup does have a low-glycemic index, so does antifreeze — that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.”
A pretty terrible comparison. I am not a fan of labeling foods as “good” or “bad” based solely on their glycemic index. After all, ice cream has a ‘better’ score than watermelon.
“There are also concerns that some distributors are cutting agave syrup with corn syrup — how often and to what extent is anyone’s guess.”
Concerns that have never been substantiated, to the best of my knowledge. Again, they key is to look for reputable sources. Look for the USDA Organic seal on bottles of agave nectar, and make sure the ingredient list only lists agave nectar.
“Agave is known to contain large amounts of saponins. Saponins are toxic steroid derivatives, capable of disrupting red blood cells and producing diarrhea and vomiting. There is also a possible link between saponins and miscarriage by stimulating blood flow to the uterus, so if you’re pregnant, you should definitely avoid agave products.”
Saponins are found in a variety of foods, mainly legumes and beans. They actually have health-promoting effects, including the lowering of LDL cholesterol. When consumed in extremely high amounts, they can cause gastrointestinal distress. Look at the data, though. and the amount of saponins needed to experience those symptoms is ridiculously high. Dr. Mercola’s hyperbolic statements would be akin to a warning not to drink wine because it contains alcohol, which is capable of causing alcoholic poisoning.
“Fructose only becomes a metabolic poison when you consume it in quantities greater than 25 grams a day. If you consume one of the typical agave preparations, that is one tablespoon.”
I don’t know where the “25 grams a day” figure comes from. It is not referenced and I certainly have not seen it in any reputable journal or publication. What is most ridiculous about this quote is that it literally doesn’t add up.
One tablespoon of agave nectar contains 12 grams of sugar.
Let’s assume we are talking about one of these “super high in fructose varieties”. Fine, if ninety percent of that sugar is fructose, that leaves us with 10.8 grams of fructose.
How Dr. Mercola concludes that a tablespoon (12 grams) of agave equal 25 grams of fructose beats me — and scientific reasoning.
For the record, a medium mango contains more than 25 grams of fructose, so does a medium pear and half a mango. Would you consider that “metabolically poisonous”?
As for pesticide claims: if this is a concern for you, look for certified-organic agave.
Is agave addictive? I have yet to see any evidence of that. The very preliminary — and very controversial — research on sugar addiction only places the spotlight on sucrose, not fructose.
As I have stated before, I never considered agave a “wonder” food. I never advocated liberal consumption, nor did I classify it as “healthy”. While I take issue with anyone who classifies agave as a health-promoting “super food”, I also will not stand for absurd demonizations of it.
As one distributor or raw, organic agave put it, “[Agave] is not going to solve world peace, cure cancer or do your laundry, but it will provide a delicious alternative to highly refined sweeteners, poor tasting nutritive sweeteners, and high glycemic natural sweeteners.”
One last point — what is it about the word “doctor” that inspires blind trust in so many? For years now, I have heard people parrot absurd nutrition “facts” with the assumption that said information must be true because “a doctor” said it.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many intelligent, well-informed doctors with extensive nutrition knowledge. There are also those who, for whatever reason, believe that having ‘MD’ after their name automatically makes them THE authority on every topic under the umbrella of health.
The word “doctor” before someone’s name simply means they were granted an MD or PHD. It tells us absolutely nothing about someone’s character, motivations, or extent of knowledge.
So, no, Edrie, please do not forward that inflammatory article to your girlfriend. Allow her to enjoy a small amount of agave nectar in her coffee.