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.

Here’s the green smoothie recipe I almost always use!

Here’s my everyday green smoothie “template” recipe.   It allows you to use virtually any green, and any fruit, maximizing the greens.   Enjoy!

Robyn’s Green Smoothie Template Recipe

Makes 8 cups of 100% raw smoothie.

Put 2 1/2 cups filtered water in the BlendTec Total Blender.

Optionally, add:

  • ½ tsp. stevia (herbal sweetener) or ¼ cup raw, organic agave nectar (low glycemic index)
  • ¼ whole lemon, including peel (anti-skin cancer, high in flavanoids)
  • 2-3 Tbsp. fresh, refrigerated flax oil (omega-3 rich oil)

Gradually add greens until, briefly pureed, the mixture comes up the 5-cup line (or less if you are “converting”):

  • ¾ to 1 lb. raw, washed greens, added up to 5 ½ cup linespinach, chard, kale, collards

Puree greens mixture for 90 seconds until very smooth.

Gradually add fruit until the container is very full, blend 90 seconds or until smooth:

  • 1-2 bananas
  • 1-2 cups frozen mixed berries
  • any other fruit to taste: pears, peaches, apples, oranges, apricots, cantaloupe, mango, pineapple

Make a full blender and you’ll have some to drink, and some to share. I know from my research that 84 percent of my readers who have adopted a green-smoothie habit are teaching others about it!

That’s your goal for today!
To Your Health,
–Robyn Openshaw

 

p.s. Tips: For beginners and those trying to convert children, consider using LESS greens and MORE fruit (especially berries and bananas) in the beginning, gradually working up to a 50/50 ratio as described here. With kids, consider using only spinach the first few days, then sneak in chard, collards, and kale, the other mild but excellent greens gradually. Add other savory or bitter greens only when your family are “experts” in green smoothies! Add a bit more water if you feel the smoothie is too thick.

I also have a collection on the site of 230 green smoothie recipes, most of which were contributed as “favorites” by readers! Check it out.

PCOS and protein

Dear GreenSmoothieGirl: I have PCOS and I have battled weight for years.   I am currently 275 lbs and 5’10”.   I believe that what we eat does impact our health dramatically.   I was on a green smoothie a day for over a month and started to feel better.   Then I was told that it was too high in carbohydrates by my doctor and that I needed more protein to combat insulin resistance that accompanies my PCOS.   The recommendation: eggs, butter and meat.   I had been eating a green smoothie consisting of 1 c carrot juice, 1 c collard greens, 1 c. kale, 1/2 c. spinach, 1 frozen banana, 1/2 c. frozen strawberries, blueberries, raspberries.   I would sweeten with stevia if needed.     They want me to cut out the carrot juice, the banana and the berries.   I like greens but I need the fruit to cut the grassy taste.

 

I cannot believe that more and more dead animal and factory farmed animal product is better for me, but I am desperate to regain my health.   Do you have any experience with PCOS or insulin resistance and can you offer me any hope or education about what to do?

 

Answer:   I can’t advise you about specific health problems.   Doctors, however, mostly don’t know that higher-protein foods aren’t limited to animal products.   Higher amounts of legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts) and nuts will increase proteins and decrease any quick-to-the-bloodstream carbs.   And in your green smoothies, you’re already using stevia for sweetener, but you may want to use the mixed berries (lower in sugar) and use lemon and very little fruit (maybe a small apple).   As fruits go, bananas are very high in sugar.

stevia approved by FDA

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just granted approval to the natural herbal sweetener stevia.   You may know that I endorse stevia as a sweetener I use because it is plant-based without altered (synthetic) molecules, it has no impact on blood sugar, and no adverse health effects have been reported from its use.   In short, it’s a dramatic improvement over chemicals like Splenda, saccharin, and the widely used aspartame (brand name NutraSweet).

 

Aspartame is a public health nightmare.     More complaints have come in to the FDA from its use the past two decades than all other food additives combined (and we have over 4,000 approved food chemicals).   The frightening array of complaints include migraines and other neurological phenomena.

 

This doesn’t mean, incidentally, that your FDA is a friendlier organization somehow changed to truly protect your health.   Far from it.   The very same organization is well documented to have blocked stevia from store shelves just years ago.   You couldn’t sell it as a food in health food stores (it had to be labeled so as to not make consumers think they could eat it).   A company was banned from using it as an ingredient in its recipe book.   Companies attempting to use it were threatened with fines.   And stevia imports were seized and destroyed.

 

But due to public pressure following years of complaints about aspartame, Pepsi and Coca-Cola petitioned the FDA for stevia approval to replace aspartame in its products.   So the FDA has yielded once again to big business, not somehow become committed to science, the public health interest, and safety.

 

The patented product they’ll be using is called Truvia, and from what I can learn, it does not contain any altered, synthetic ingredients.   (I’ll let you know if I find out otherwise.)   While this is good news, of course, two things I want you to think about:

 

  1. The FDA is still bowing to corporate interests and its activities shouldn’t be the rubber stamp you use to guide your purchasing decisions.
  2. Even when Diet Coke has stevia in it, it’s still really bad for you, so please don’t think it’s a health food.  

Tomorrow, important information about another sweetener I endorse, agave nectar.

High-nutrition items’ price points . . . part 1 of 2

I’ve been asked for a list of prices I pay for high-nutrition items you will want to buy regularly if you’re maximizing fresh produce and whole plant foods in your diet.   These are my “staples” that you’ll notice are rather different from what’s in most pantries (or long-term food storage).

 

Buying agave or coconut oil in little 16 oz. quantities is a way to break the bank.   You may not buy everything, the first time, the cheapest way possible.   But as your GreenSmoothieGirl ways become a lifestyle rather than a “health kick,” you’ll want to find more and more ways to find the kinds of prices I pay by buying in bulk, buying from Azure Standard or other co-ops.   This list is by no means comprehensive, but it will give you an idea.

 

THINGS I BUY THROUGH AZURE STANDARD

Everything they grow themselves is organic.   Some of these are book list prices that you find have gone up—up to 50%—when you order, because printing can’t keep up with rising food costs!   Note that I pay 10% on top of these prices for shipping/handling.

 

$55 for 50 lbs. organic quinoa

$28 for 50 lbs. organic buckwheat

$35 for 50 lbs. organic millet

$27 for 50 lbs. organic popcorn

$20 for 50 lbs. organic oat groats

$31 for 25 lbs. organic spelt

$27 for 25 lbs. organic sweet brown rice (my favorite kind)

$43 for 30 lbs. Thompson raisins

$6 for 1 gal. blackstrap molasses

$47 for 1 gal. Grade B maple syrup

$14 for 16 oz. Spoonable Stevia

 

$13 for 5 lbs. of cashews, small pieces

$33 for 5 lbs. of pecans

$31 for 5 lbs. of walnuts

 

$5.50/quart of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

$5/gallon raw apple cider vinegar, or $8.50 organic (nutrition best of all vinegars)

$4 for 1 lb. cayenne

$9 for 1 lb. organic garlic powder

 

$18 for 5 lbs. organic pumpkin seeds

$8 for 5 lbs. organic sunflower seeds

$4 for 5 lbs. organic flax seeds

 

$6.50 for 5 lbs. of unsweetened shredded coconut

Sprouted Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes

These are yummy—enjoy!

Sprouted Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes

Serves 6-8

2 ½ cups raw, dry buckwheat

½ cup flaxseed

3 cups water

½ tsp. stevia powder (optional)

1 tsp. sea salt

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

2 bananas

4 tsp. baking powder, aluminum free

2 cups blueberries

coconut oil

Soak buckwheat overnight, drain, and sprout in a strainer for 24 hours (rinsing about every 8 hours). Blend water, buckwheat, and flax in BlendTec until smooth. Add stevia, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, bananas, and baking powder, blend 30 seconds. Pour into bowl, add blueberries and stir by hand. Fry on griddle with a minimal amount of coconut oil. When pancakes are browned on both sides, they will still be gooey in the middle: this preserves much of the sprouted nutrition and actually tastes good, though you can cook them extra long if you want them solid all the way through.