Joe Mercola and GreenSmoothieGirl on agave

In the natural health space, Joe Mercola is very much a Goliath, and I’m very much a David. Today’s topic: my affinities and differences with his philosophies.

Dr. Mercola responded to my blog posting and newsletter of a week ago, about agave.

I stand firm that drawing fear-based parallels between raw, organic agave from a reputable company and tequila or HFCS is “ridiculous” as I said before.

A raw agave plant is to agave is to HFCS—as an orange is to orange juice is to Tang.

I disagree with Joe Mercola on a variety of issues, including his promoting and selling whey protein, beef, tanning beds, and his metabolic typing theory with no real basis in science.

This whole agave controversy reminds me of something I remember from when my kids were little. There was a group of parents who were furious with the Barney show. The parents decided to form a coalition to fight the producers because they’d decided Barney was really the devil in a big purple suit, teaching kids about séances and witchcraft. The lawsuit, as I recall, referred to Barney the Dinosaur as promoting Satanism.

As a young mother, I remember reading about it in the paper and laughing out loud.

There are so many true evils in the world hurting children. Sweat shots, kiddie porn. Too-heavy backpacks full of textbooks. Let’s not forget McDonald’s products and marketing program. Just to name a few.

Why spend precious energy creating fear about a harmless TV show that has the dinosaur imagining things and disappearing?

That’s how I feel about the agave controversy. Again, I disagree with People Magazine calling it a “superfood” as much as I disagree that it’s going to hurt us when used in moderation.

I have interviewed experts as well. I feel confident that predicting nutritional catastrophe because someone adds a bit of agave to her green smoothie takes away from the real, more meaningful debate.

Let’s attack the true villains gaining traction in the food world: Monsanto; modern practices in raising beef/poultry; corn/soy products taking over the food supply; processed foods; fast foods; GMO foods; pasteurized and irradiated foods.

There’s plenty of evil without attacking the little bit of maple syrup, honey, agave, or stevia we whole-foods advocates use. (Each of those has pluses and minuses. Agave’s pluses are lower blood sugar impact as well as availability in raw/organic form.)

The whole debate takes away from the basic premise I reiterate here over and over:

Plant foods are good preventive medicine. We alter them to our detriment. We have to get back to our roots. Less processed is better, less concentrated sweeteners is better, more natural is better. Whole is good; fractionated and refined is bad.

And I want to say this about Joe Mercola. Some of the things he promotes seem oversold or a bit paranoid to me, and others are counter to what I teach on this site, like an incredibly expensive tanning bed being a good way to get Vita D. However, I respect him tremendously for being one of the first on the internet to start educating people about natural healing. He is smart and educated, and I believe he has good motives.

He and I have the same goal of educating people, empowering them, to eat natural foods and live a lifestyle that avoids reliance on medical solutions such as drugs and surgery.

I agree with Mercola about far more things than I disagree with him about. I appreciate his commenting here on my blog.

Is agave a superfood or a poison?

Dear GreenSmoothieGirl: Dr. Mercola says agave is going to kill me! Is he right?

Answer: I have been inundated with emails about this. In every class I teach, someone brings it up.

First of all, Dr. Mercola didn’t exactly say that, although he allowed it on his web site. Mercola is a brand, a big company, employing lots of people, including staff writers who write stuff for the site and newsletters. The osteopath named Joe Mercola doesn’t do the research and writing. So when I say “Mercola” in this article, I mean “it” (the company/brand/staff), not “he” (the founder of the company).

What I write is all me, by the way–I have no staff writers.

Controversy, right or wrong, unfortunately, adds to Mercola’s 7-figure mailing list and profits. Mercola (and the doctor himself) may or may not be aware that it is wrong about agave. Comparing it to high-fructose corn syrup, or to tequila, is a tenuous, false, almost ridiculous exaggeration. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the organic chemistry differences.

It’s similar to the comment a pediatrician made to me 15 years ago, when I questioned his suggestion to feed my toddler Sprite for quick energy. I said, “Why not an apple?” And he said, “Whatever. Simple sugars are simple sugars. There’s no difference. They all end up as glucose.”

A similar reductionistic argument you’ve heard before is, “A calorie is a calorie is a calorie.” Really? Then why did the vegetarian group in Campbell’s massive China study eat 200 calories MORE than the heavy meat eaters, and they were lean while the meat eaters were overweight? (Exercise was a variable the researchers controlled for, so that doesn’t explain the difference.)

Apparently you CAN eat more calories when those calories are plant foods. Please comment here if you know well, from experience, that the impact on your body of eating an apple is entirely different than drinking a can of Sprite!

Apples have simple sugars, sure, but they also have tannins that remove insulin from the bloodstream and convert the sugars into energy. Apples have pectin and other fiber to decrease cholesterol and slow absorption of sugars on the bloodstream. Sprite has none of that, just a chemical version of fructose and lots more man-made chemicals. I could make this whole post about the egregious comparison the pediatrician made, but let’s move on to the similar agave controversy.

Mercola’s staff writer acts as if fructose is poison. Yes, fructose is the sugar in high-fructose corn syrup, too. One point Mercola and I agree on is the fact that the highly refined sweetener HFCS is deadly. But fructose is the sugar in fruit, too! Is it possible that fructose can be either good or bad?

Here’s a key point Mercola overlooks. Agave’s sugar is a long-chain polymer of fructose, which is not absorbed by the body and therefore passes through you. Thus there’s a much-reduced impact on your blood sugar of consuming agave (versus HFCS, cane sugars, and honey). It’s not hard to document that agave’s glycemic index is one-third that of sugar or honey.

I personally know a nutritionist who has stopped diabetes in a group of her patients with no changes other than switching from sugar to agave.

So is agave on par with excellent whole foods like apples, spinach, lentils, and barley? No way! An apple has fiber and many other elements that work synergistically to support your health.

But as sweeteners go, if you’re going to use them–and please use all concentrated sweeteners sparingly–raw, organic agave is a very good option. And another of my favorite sweeteners, stevia, contains a compound called steviasides, which shut down insulin production in the pancreas–an even better (calorie-free) option, especially for diabetics.

So, the answer to the question, is agave a superfood or a poison, the answer is, “Neither one.” Don’t fear it. Don’t overuse it either.

Power foods? Really?

I saw a People Magazine article last week about 10 “power foods.” They listed agave, along with the aggressively marketed, uber-expensive acai and goji berries. Now I’m not going to diss  acai and goji, which are certainly high in antioxidants.

But if you’re trying to adhere to a budget, do you really want to pay $10 to $60 a pound for these “power foods” from thousands of miles away from your home, when you can buy oranges and apples for $0.69/lb.? Their antioxidant levels may not be as high, but they’re wonderful foods grown close to home that won’t break the bank, and IF YOU EAT THEM REGULARLY they can be an important part of an aggressive anti-disease and pro-energy healthy diet.

Not too exotic, I know. And if you have lots of discretionary income, great. Eat interesting little berries from mountain ranges all the way across the world. (I do really like goji, though I justify the cost only now and then.)

But meantime, common sense suggests that if you stick to greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains grown near you, you’ll be JUST FINE.

As for agave being a power food, no way.

WHAT?! You offer agave in the group buy and it’s in your recipes, GreenSmoothieGirl! WHAT. ARE. YOU. SAYING!

My friends, it is much preferable than sugar. If you get a reputable brand that certifies it to be raw and organic, you should use it for treats that are alternatives to junk food.

But no concentrated sweetener is a power food–except maybe honey, because of its pollen content and anti-bacterial properties. (Still really high in calories. Use it sparingly.)

Anyway, I rolled my eyes at the People article, so mainstream and dumbed down. But I guess nobody wants to hear that boring old broccoli, or almonds, or raw sweet potatoes, are power foods. Yawn. We want something NEW!

People are always writing me, “What do you think of Dr. X’s heart-disease preventing supplement?” “What do you think of emu oil?”

I haven’t studied every new, well-marketed product out there. But keep in mind that for every drop of something-or-other you can squeeze out of the poor emu, or every new pill full of “natural” stuff, there’s a bunch of people sitting around a boardroom strategizing on how a study they pay for can “prove” that you simply must have it to heal 30 different maladies.

I don’t mean to sound cynical. Try it if it’s in your budget. But now and then I like to pull everybody who might be listening, back to the straight and narrow road. That is, simple, whole, unadulterated plant foods. Those we KNOW will heal us and prevent all the awful things we’d rather not die of. If you’re reading the Emu Oil ad online while eating your second Hostess Ding Dong of the day, an examination of priorities might be in order.

Just my $0.02.

raw food: here’s what’s in my dehydrator right now

You know I love my dehydrator, especially this time of year when I’ve got so much stuff coming out of the garden that I don’t want to go to waste. Right now I have all 9 trays full in my dehydrator with two recipes contributed by readers. (I love y’all! Thanks for your ideas and support of each other!)

Tonya’s cheesy kale chips are filling four trays and they are INCREDIBLE, hard to believe how much nutrition you’re getting just snacking. I just took them out and ate a bunch of them while I wrote this. Just press one side of your leaves of kale in the “sauce.” Doubling the recipe will fill your 9 trays.

Here’s my recommendation on the site, if you don’t have a dehydrator yet and want more info (plus one of my recipes for flax crackers): http://www.greensmoothiegirl.com/robyn-recommendations/dehydrators/

Tara C. gives this tip for using those baseball-bat sized zucchinis in the garden and I’ve got 4 trays of zucchini moons almost dry–just tried one, and I like them. Super easy

! Silly Dilly Zucchini Moons

Slice zucchini in half length-wise.

Scoop out inner core of seeds.

Turn over and slice thinly (about 3/8-inch thick).

Spread on dehydrator trays and sprinkle with dill. Dehydrate until crispy.

Enjoy plain or with a yummy, dilly dip.

Now that I’ve removed the kale chips, I’m going to use up the big boxful of cherry tomatoes my son hauled in yesterday, with this idea also from Tara C.:

Cheery Cherry Pizza Snacks

(My kids say these taste like mini-pizzas.)

Slice cherry tomatoes in half, toss with pizza seasoning (I get it from Azure Standard) and dry till crisp. Enjoy!

(Tara would like suggestions to improve on this idea.)

Here’s Tara’s last idea, which I’ll try next:

Gingered Zucchini Bites

Slice zucchini as above. Before dehydrating, soak for 30-60 minutes in pineapple juice mixed with 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger, 1/2 cup agave, and a dash of cinnamon. Dry in dehydrator until crispy. These look lovely in your pantry stored in Mason jars with a little raffia tied on top–pretty enough to give away!

This morning at 5:30 a.m., I made some pesto from the basil, spinach, and tomatoes in my garden. See your Jump-Start collection on the site for that recipe–whole-grain pasta with pesto is one of my kids’ favorites. Then I made a variation on that, some zucchini pesto with barely steamed zucchini, basil, kelp, cayenne, walnuts, sea salt, olive oil, mustard seed, and Bragg’s. I put these two types of pesto in pint jars, labelled them, and froze them. I think I’ll share a pint with a few friends this weekend.

another sprouted-almond recipe

This spicy variation on my sprouted, flavored  raw almond recipes for you comes from GreenSmoothieGirl.com reader Steve (and I wrote you back to say thanks, Steve, but emails always bounce back from you):

Spicy Almonds

10 cups raw almonds, soaked overnight and dehydrated at 105 degrees approx. 6 hours

½ cup dates

2 Tbs Himalayan Crystal Salt

2 Tbs agave

3 cloves garlic

2 tsp cayenne

3 habanero peppers

1 pasilla pepper

1 lime without skin

Enough water to blend

Blend all ingredients except almonds in BlendTec on high until smooth. Pour into a

bowl, add almonds and stir well. Let mixture sit for an hour to allow nuts to absorb

liquid, and then stir again. Spread nuts on teflex sheets in dehydrator. Dry at 105

degrees for about 16 hours. Place nuts on mesh sheets and dry again until crunchy

(about 10 hours).

is agave safe?

Recently GSG readers raised questions about agave nectar after some well publicized concerns surfaced on the internet.   Agave is my favorite sweetener because it’s largely unprocessed and is a very low glycemic index product with a neutral flavor.   Many of my recipes call for it, and I have found the human body reacts to it well (and entirely differently than it responds to chemical and refined sweeteners).

 

For my locals, I do group buys on cases of raw, organic agave for a great price.   (I am working on a way to open this group buy up in January to those of you who have begun organizing your own co-ops nationwide, so stand by for that!)

 

I wrote about the agave controversy briefly at the time the issue was raised and now want to summarize and call attention to the comments of Craig Gerbore, president of Madhava, one of the biggest importers of raw agave.   He, like my own supplier, relies on unprocessed agave harvested by hand through the supplier Nekutli.

 

The article that created such a stir was a response to a 90% fructose agave sometimes sold in the late 90’s that is NOT what I buy in local group buys, nor what is offered on the market by Madhava and others, which comes from the agave salmiana plant.   I don’t even know where that high-fructose product is available.

 

The author of the original article claims that starch is the primary ingredient in agave syrup, and Gerbore explains that no starch is added or found in the agave sold in this decade.   Plants store energy as starches or fructans, and agave stores its energy as fructans.   Comparing corn syrup to agave is like comparing apples to oranges, as those starches (like what is found in corn and rice) is not in agave nectar.

 

The only processing of agave is the enzymatic and low-temperature reduction of water from the product–no thermal or chemical cooking takes place, and no chemical agents are used.   Only a vegan enzyme is used to pull water from the plant, which is then removed by a vacuum process.

 

In summary, avoid overconsumption of any sweetener.   But if treats are important in your home as you transition away from the standard American diet, use raw, organic agave with confidence.