It’s been two days since California got played for a fool by Monsanto in the disappointing outcome of Proposition 37. Voters chose the fear of change over the right to know. Frankly, it’s baffling.
In tribute to this total bummer, we wanted to share with you some related and disturbing information about how a large number of health conscious folks have had the wool pulled over their eyes. Dear friends, I’d like to introduce you to a little imposter named, Agave Nectar. Not to point fingers, but had California passed Prop 37, agave nectar would have been subject to a GMO label. Are you surprised? Read on…
To be fair, agave nectar isn’t actually a friend of Kate’s Real Food. We are frequently asked why we don’t use it in our bars instead of honey. We haven’t had a great answer, it just wasn’t ever the right fit for our recipes. But after getting asked enough times and doing a bit of research we proudly realized we’ve been dodging a bullet. Sadly, many others folks haven’t been: baking with it, pouring it on their kids’ pancakes, adding it to smoothies, wholly convinced this sugar alternative is better for them than sugar or syrup.
The marketing around agave nectar has been top notch. Without being a consumer personally, I admit that my previous impression of it had something to do with careful farming and the concentration of heavenly sap (“nectar”) extracted from fibrous plants, akin to how maple syrup is made. I’m now privy to the fact that this simply isn’t the case. The agave nectar that is widely available to us is made from taking the root bulb, a complex starch not unlike corn, and refining it through a process that involves the introduction of genetically modified enzymes (in addition to caustic acids, clarifiers, and filtration chemicals). This is not to be affiliated with “miel de agave” when the sap is actually boiled down for hours, a practice for a thousand years in Mexico. Our commercially processed agave’s resulting sweetness comes from inulin which our bodies digest through the liver rather than the intestines (where naturally occurring sugar – called levulose – is normally digested by the body). The processed syrupy-like agave “nectar” is estimated to contain about 70% fructose, more than the average 55% found in high fructose corn syrup. This concentrated fructose, lest there be any confusion, is not something that occurs naturally in fruit, nor nature. This level of concentration is the result of man-made sugar produced during the refining process. The body treats this non-natural concentrated substance differently than natural fructose that is generally accompanied by natural enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and fruit pectin that all aid in the digestive process. During digestion – in the liver rather than the intestines – agave nectar is converted into triglycerides and is then stored as body fat. For more information on why this is problematic (for diabetics especially who have been led to believe that agave nectar doesn’t raise blood sugar levels and is thereby safer, please read this VERY GOOD article from Food Renegade). There you have it; agave nectar is treated by your body like high fructose corn syrup.
Ready to hear more?
Yet another misconception about agave nectar is the distinction between the various colors available on the market. The color gradients that agave nectar is offered in (clear, amber, and dark) are outcomes caused by processing, and ultimately burning, the agave. Dark agave is just clear agave’s burnt cousin. There are no health benefits to be found in the different colors, just some diversity in flavor.
So friends, in the interest of full disclosure, improved transparency, our right to know, and California blowing it with Prop 37, this is just a little reminder that most of us are being led blindly down a path towards “health” that is not, in fact, health driven at all. Isn’t it time we say “Enough already?” Hopefully the next time a transparency initiative in our rather broke food system crosses our paths, we all (not just Californians) will have the opportunity to say ‘yes’. In the meantime, over here at Kate’s Real Food, we’ll continue being up to our elbows in honey.
Jenais is a food nerd living in Jackson and chasing dreams of cowboy powder.