By Heather Palmer
Guest Amazing Word Seamstress
While preparing myself for this post, I realize that sucking on chocolate before delving into the “sugar” issue might be a tad hypocritical. Since my guilt requires justification before action occurs (ahem, putting down the chocolate), I knew solid research must stamp approval of my habit. Only knowledgeable consumption and confidence in choices leads to pleasure. Sugar is no exception.
“Sugar” as most people know it, is table sugar, and if you’re into “natural” sugar, you’re familiar with honey, agave, stevia, maple syrup, palm fruit sugar, and the slew of “sweeteners” that we never call sugar. This article focuses on natural sweeteners because with the increase in healthy consumption and mindful eating, most people are not informed or misinformed by marketing schemes and half-baked science.
When I say “most people,” I pretty much mean me.
PS—I AM NOT A SCIENTIST. If you really want to know about natural sweeteners, talk to a doctor, hopefully one interested in holistic eating.
In chocolate specifically, agave has dominated the alternative sweetener market. Agave is a part of the succulent yucca plant family and grows in Central America, South America, and Mexico. The average plant is 5-8 ft tall and 7-12 feet in diameter (so it’s big). When most people think of this majestic plant, they think purity, and in fact, for a long time its sap was used directly for medicinal purposes. But with the onslaught of health food movement demands, agave takes a dirty turn. (citation for following information: Dr. Mercola for the Huffington Post).
I’ll give you the facts mean and fast:
- Agave’s sap is not the same “blue agave” that you buy. The sap must go through massive amounts of genetic modification—which includes depleting the plant of its enzymes (BIG raw food bell goes off)—similar to the process in which corn is modified into high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
- It’s not a live food
- The fructose level of agave is anywhere between 50-97%, depending on the type of processing. HFCS’s fructose averages 50%, so even at agave’s best, it’s not beating HFCS’s fructose levels.
- Increases the body’s insulin resistance, which is much more dangerous than preventing the body from rising insulin levels, thus making the fact that agave is “low glycemic” not only wrong information, but misleading and harmful.
Huh? I thought agave was good for me? I thought it was a safe and an even healthy alterative to sugar?
The truth is that turning agave sap into “nectar” involves rigorous chemical processing, including additives such as: activated charcoal, cationic acid, ionic resins, sulfuric and hydrofluoric acid, clarimex, inulin enzymes, fructozyme. The result is fructose levels that average over 80%.
But what’s wrong with fructose? It’s in fruit? True, but fruit comes with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals that, when processed, agave nectar is stripped of, leaving the nectar with what scientists call “free” fructose molecules. These molecules are digested in the liver, and the body reacts to them they same way it reacts to alcohol. The fructose is released into the bloodstream, and causes the insulin resistance I mentioned earlier.
In case you’re not diabetic, or don’t know the effect of insulin resistance (like I didn’t), I’ll explain. When fructose is released into the blood, the insulin levels rise—this is normal and healthy in moderate levels, but possibly/likely dangerous for a diabetic person. Although this part is what people try to avoid by eating low glycemic foods, this is actually less a problem than what can happen after the insulin levels rise. The danger with fructose is that it increases a person’s risk of insulin resistance, which means the insulin levels do not decrease. This is extremely dangerous to both healthy and diabetic persons, the latter of which are who, ironically, the agave field markets.
As more people find out about the adverse effects of agave, they turn to other sweeteners such as stevia, raw honey, maple syrup, etc. Most, if not all of these, are derived from fructose (stevia is an exception and comes from sucrose, but that has its own problems this article does not have room to address). It is not the sweetener, per say, that is the problem. It’s fructose. No one person should have more than 25 grams a day. And fruit counts! Despite the advantages of fiber and minerals, that’s how toxic fructose is, which makes avoiding agave vital.
Don’t put down your chocolate yet! Serious chocolate makers understand consumer and health concerns and actively research alternative sugars, like the one FEARLESS uses, rapadura.
Rapadura is the only sugar besides jaggery that requires no refining. Nothing must be taken out of the plant and then put back in, nothing is heated to extreme degrees, no chemicals are added, and no one tampers with the final product. The production of rapadura involves squeezing, drying, and grinding the plant. Done.
This is the “sweetener” (sugar), that goes in FEARLESS bars. The true fear of sugar is not sugar itself: it’s the type and the quantity. Not even fructose is bad if eaten moderately and in its raw, natural form. In the same way, raw, dark chocolate, with unrefined sugar, is a wonderful indulgence in a clean, pure diet.
Now that’s pretty sweet.