the “controversy” series #1: agave nectar

Hiking up in the hills of Sedona last weekend, we came across many agave plants—finally, something in this damn desert I recognized, since their nectar has recently emerged as a wholesome sweetener, a healthy alternative to high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and granulated sugars. And it, too, has recently become a part of my diet, a much better substitute for sweetener in drinks and recipes… or so I thought.

An agave plant in full bloom on the climb up Sugarloaf Mountain, Sedona, Arizona.

I expressed my fascination with the plant to our trail guide (a certified nautropath!), but she didn’t share my enthusiasm, muttering something about how it was just as bad, or worse yet than any of the other liquidy sugars out there. Uh-oh.

Though I didn’t get a chance to pick her brain, I did want to check it out when I got home (admittedly, mum and I have been DUMPING the stuff into homemade iced tea to replenish electrolytes and stay buzzed.. er, awake for afternoon lectures at yoga teacher training). I’d envisioned myself maybe doing a posting on the controversy of the stuff (and continuing to sip it!), but unfortunately what I’ve found proves otherwise.

It appears there’s no argument.. this shit ain’t better for you, in fact, it’s worse! So who told everyone this stuff was healthy in the first place??

Well, for one, lots of bakeries have begun to substitute this “healthy alternative” to sweeten up little morsels of deliciousness. Further, nice-r coffee and tea shops are starting to include it next to the brown sugar and honey. But worst of all, a lot of the health-food recipes I’ve come across fully support and encourage the use of this nectar—and with reason—it is stereotypical vegan alternative to honey. So it’s understandable for me to think I’ve found my savior of sweetners. But now, all of this information makes me wonder—is it really better than just plain ol’, natural sugar?

While I can’t claim to have done any of the scientific research myself, a little internet perusing leads me to believe it just ain’t. Foodrenegade seems to make the best argument against it (though if you do a little searching yourself you’ll find some pretty similar answer):

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.

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.

There it goes down the rabbit-food hole, another health nut’s dream of finding some guilt-free substance that we can load on our toast and pancakes without shame or limitation. Sigh—isn’t that the point anyway? Moderation? Taking sugars down a notch or two in general? Maybe I won’t throw out the nectar just yet… I’ll just have to avoid drizzlling (is that a word?) that sweet, sweet nectar like it came from the gods.

The best alternative, then? Stay tuned….

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on strange cravings

dinner adventures tonight:

After a sugary sendoff/bday celebration week, my body was a bit confused. I spend most of today between gutrot and an intense, insatiable craving for brussel sprouts. Yes. I’ve had them just once in my life before, yet I craved that cabbage-y, slightly nutty taste?

Oh, how I wish I kid.

So I hopped over to Kensington market and picked up a pile of brussel sprouts, and some swiss chard (another new ingredient for me tonight, too! and rich in vitamin c and k! yay!). I Howcast-ed the veggies, and ended up blanching+sauteeing the chard (stems included!), and roasting the brussel sprouts up in the oven, and serving it all up with some trusty tempeh, bean sprouts, and other bean sprouts, and some chia seeds of course. Um, and I’m just gonna go ahead and say it… it was effing scrumptious.

Dare I say brussel sprouts may be my new best friend? Stay tuned folks, shit may be about to get Craaaazy!

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Re-evaluating

20110506-121432.jpg recovery dinner: kale + avocados (chock full of vitamins and EFAs), hummus, chia+flax seeds, and peanut-soy-ginger-marinated tofu in a sprouted wrap)

I’ve been noticeably absent from the web lately—with some kind of nasty sinusy sickness overtaking my body, I felt a bit hypocritical to blog about good food and nutrition while laying in bed miserable and hardly functioning (that said, I did make some mean mock-mom’s minestrone soup and got my vitamin c!).

But I’m getting back to normal.. and in between a plethora of HotDocs,(PomWonderful! Wiebo’s War! Kumare! and many, many more that weren’t quite as good!) I’ve been trying to cook and keep on the health wagon (or should that be a hybrid?), too. I realized I’ve yet to do my reflection/look-ahead post on the cleanse that I’d been promising, and I feel now I’ve pretty much got figured out what I’ve learned, where I’m at now, and what I want to do next. So here goes…

Reflections on the cleanse: (For another perspective, read Luke’s blog)

  1. Eating healthy is, in general, expensive. Whole foods=whole paycheck, yadda yadda. But hey, if you get your ass to a market and cook from scratch, avoiding the ready-made stuff, it ain’t so bad.
  2. To eat best, unless you’ve got big bucks and access to health-food stores and markets, plan plan ahead. Make big batches of food: quinoa bowls, chili, soup, rice dishes—and freeze individual portions. Always come prepared, ’cause you never know when hunger may strike!
  3. Pooping is good.
  4. ALWAYS BE PREPARED. (see #2)
  5. Alcohol makes bad things happen to your body, including the day after (this I especially learnt the week after the cleanse). It makes you crave weird things, it makes your blood sugar all wobbly, sleepy at night and a grouch the next day. A few glasses of wine followed by many more glasses of water is fine, hard liquor is, in general, just a bad idea, at least once you’re out of school.
  6. Eat well=feel well. It’s true. It may take some time for your body to adjust, but in the end it’s easily worth the effort.
  7. My body doesn’t love dairy. In fact, I think we’re all a bit lactose-intolerant (I mean, is it really natural to drink another species’ milk?), but I know it feels best for me to lay low on the dairy. Unsweetened almond milk is my new go-to, with ice cream and cheese in moderation.
  8. Sleep > caffeine.

So where am I at now?

Most importantly, I’ve finally embraced the interest I’ve always had in health and food and have decided to integrate it further into my life. Through my research and readings, I came across a school called the Institute of Holistic Nutrition, sat in on their classes for one day, and was instantly HOOKED. I’m attending next year, full-time, and can’t wait to get started!!!

As for food, I’m in a bit of limbo. I’m eating better—most of the time (and that’s okay, I’m not expecting to be perfect!)… except when I’m bartending till three a.m. and nachos somehow end up getting thrusted down my gullet.

I’m a lot more aware of how my body reacts to different foods and the way they make me feel. But I haven’t got the perfect balance yet. Maybe it’s the athlete in me, always wanting to one-up myself…. so what’s next?

In June, I’ll be in Phoenix, AZ, soaking up loads of yoga knowledge and doing all the good I can possibly cram in for my body in one month. In addition to my yoga teacher training, I’ll be joining my mom in an all vegan-diet for the month of June. I’m not saying I’ll be a lifelong vegan (I heavily doubt it), but I want to play and see the effects it has on my body. And knowing that it’s better for the planet doesn’t hurt, either. So I’ll be blogging the highlights of that too!

So that’s where I’m at for now. I’m always open for feedback on what’s working and what’s not in terms of the blog, and I’m trying to dedicate a bit more time into it now that it serves more of a purpose for me. Looking forward to things to come!