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.

Natural Ways to Deal with Stress

My friends, the past month has been one of the most stressful periods  in memory. Not “too-much-work” stress (the kind you can dig your way out of) but just “life-circumstances” stress (the kind you can’t usually solve–you just have to slog through it).

You know what I’m talking about. You’ve been through stuff too, huh.

So the very worst thing you can do is eat SUGAR. You burn out your adrenal glands quickly that way. (The vast majority of us have stressed, overworked, even partially destroyed adrenal glands. And you really need those puppies to keep your mood stable through trials.)

So guess what we want when we’re stressed? Comfort. Sugar.

Vicious cycle.

This winter, the “liquid coconut macaroon” has been such a godsend. I discovered this healthy hot cocoa that is so nutritious, at the beginning of the winter. My kids loved it so much, and I loved it AND its superfood ingredients so much, that I put it here in the store:

Healthy Hot Cocoa

All I knew when I first ordered it was that it had no refined sugar (just low-glycemic unrefined coconut palm sugar) and non-dutched cocoa. I was ecstatic, though, when I got it, that it also contains four different types of mushrooms that are used as superfood medicine in China for immune system repair, cancer treatment/prevention, and much more.

If I feel the need for a treat, I make a mug of cocoa. The coconut milk powder is low in calories, delicious, and high in lauric acid and other compounds that are anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial. The cocoa contains the mushrooms and chocolate. The whole mug  is about 100 calories.

I seriously love this stuff and just went to make myself a mug, writing this–it’s been my treat almost every day. Not just because it’s yummy and healthy, and not only because it’s chocolate (which has chemical properties women sometimes downright NEED), but also because  there’s something very comforting about a mug of something hot.

I am blessed to report that through some difficult times this winter, I have still never gotten sick. There was one day I felt about 50% and didn’t go to the gym, but otherwise, that’s it.

Stress we cannot always control. But what do you do to remedy it? Yoga is another way I’ve gotten through the past 18 months–also prayer, time with good friends, and “me” time doing things I love (tennis, skiing). Melatonin before bed so my racing brain doesn’t keep me awake. Essential oils like peppermint.

Tell us your ideas. What natural things do you do, when you’re stressed? Let’s avoid “solutions” like Zoloft and Xanax that just cause other problems.

So we’re off to Peru for a humanitarian adventure!

So I am gone to Peru for 10 days with my daughter. (No, it won’t be sunny and warm, but thanks for the well wishes just the same!) I’m sure I’ll tell you all about it when I get home!

Despite my sketchy access to a computer, I will magically continue to blog here regularly—and leave you all to wonder how that happened, haha. So keep talking to me!

I hope your Christmas, if you celebrate it, was wonderful. Many years ago when I realized our health required dietary changes, it was a challenge for me to replace the unhealthy holiday traditions with healthier ones.

I remember a Christmas 20 years ago, when I was married but had no children yet. We always spent the holidays at my former husband’s parents’ house in Phoenix. We got lots and lots of candy in the stockings (after a couple weeks of eating pies, nachos, and lots of homemade cinnamon rolls, fudge, and Christmas cookies). On the 11-hour drive back to Utah, we didn’t want to stop for “real” food (we were college students and had no money), so we ate not much else besides lots of our Christmas-stocking candy.

I walked into our apartment, from the car, and promptly passed out! My blood sugar just couldn’t take it anymore. At 42, I would never do the awful things to my body I was doing at 22—thank goodness!

In recent years, we don’t have a house full of sugar. Consequently, we also don’t have a house full of illness! I don’t miss either one, very frankly. Neighbors have mostly figured out that we’re not the people to give the can of Almond Roca to. (Not that we’d ever say a word if they did besides, “Thank you, how kind!” But now we get lovely fruit baskets and non-food items, which is fun. We can always “re-gift” the Almond Roca.) We eat a little fudge or whatever when we’re at a Christmas party, but we don’t make it or have it at home. My kids aren’t growing up with those traditions, and that’s okay. (Have I mentioned no one at my house has been sick during this swine-flu fall/winter?)

Are you reflecting on 2009, and gearing up for a new year with new goals? I hope 2010 is the very best year of your life! I have lots of goals, personal and professional, and I hope the GreenSmoothieGirl site serves you better in ’10 than it did in ‘09. I hope next year’s group buy is a lot smoother. I hope I can continue to learn about what you need in your quest to be healthy, and address that in my writing and development.

raw food in India? an interesting email from a reader

We get some really interesting email, and I’ve pasted one below that we got this week that I think you’ll enjoy. It corroborates what I have noticed being in 16 countries in the past 18 months. That is, the influence of American culture on the rest of the world has not been wholly positive, and has in fact been devastating in the area of nutrition. My country has helped many cultures previously eating close to the land adopt both a processed diet and all the diseases that come with it. Read what Anu has to say:

Dear GreenSmoothieGirl:

I am ecstatic reading your myths. I want to wave it in people’s faces saying “Ha! I told you so!”

I come from India, where the food habits is slightly better than USA, but just. Here are too people have become enamoured by soft drinks, burgers and pizzas. KFC and McDonalds in every city! Add to that, spicy and oily fried snacks that have become indispensable for every meal. Fried potatoes in any forms sells fast. I hate eating out because I am sure MSG is added in almost everything to make it tastier. There is a high increase in diabetes in the country and you don’t see any advertisement asking people to cut down on white sugar but a number of clinics have come up instead–diabetes is a huge health market here! It’s crazy.

My father-in-law who was a top athlete in his younger days is now confined to his chair all thanks to sugar, diabetes, and the diabetes doctor who just pushed pills on him. I have been telling my husband not to eat those vitamin pills, soy products, and processed products — all pushed aggressively by the industry — all waiting to form cancer in the body.

I’ve had fresh “cooked” food (rather than frozen) all my life, but not raw food.

This is the land of the thulasi and many other medicinal herbs and plants. Much before modern science and medicine and counting calories, entire systems of sensible eating has evolved here. The importance of eating the right food and its effects on your mental makeup have been given out in detail.

I don’t know where we lost this! I think, somewhere people got so poor, that they took the easiest thing to cook and they forgot about fruits which couldn’t be preserved with fridges.

I am vegan by choice (with the exception of organic honey for medicinal purpose) and avoid the five whites in my food. I have always felt I must have fresh food, raw food.

This site is testimony to what all I heard about good sensible eating.

Reading about the benefits it has done to you physically, I’m hoping it’s the same for me, as I hope to run a marathon strong one day.

Thank you. I purchased the green smoothies ebook. We don’t get so many berries over here but otherwise, I will adapt this to what is available over here. And hey, this is coconut country, we get them easily here. I am exploring new options that I would not have otherwise. Oh my, I don’t think I am going to look at any vegetable the same way ever!

You may be interested in reading up about siddha and ayurveda. These systems are the pride of this country. They are more about prevention than cure.

Thanks for sharing Robyn. If you ever come to India, do contact me. Its a crowded, noisy and fascinating country and I love it.


I am teaching a 12 Steps class in July, and final comments on the Word of Wisdom

On Friday, July 17, from 6:30 to 8:30 at Classic Books and Gifts in Lehi, I have been asked to teach a 12 Steps to Whole Foods class.   Here’s the link to sign up:

I have taken some time off of teaching classes but am getting back into it, with my new book coming out next month.   I’ll post in the next few days that we’re preselling the book in the store, so stand by.   I’ll also let you know if classes I have coming up are open to the public.

My final thoughts on that revolutionary scripture known as the Word of Wisdom, that was far (200 years, almost) before its time.   I long wondered why we are counselled not to drink “hot drinks” (coffees and caffeinated teas, we assume from historical analysis),  and  only minimal  animal flesh, but nothing is said about refined foods like white flour and white sugar that are currently destroying America’s health.   And LDS people provide  those foods  in abundance at EVERY SINGLE CHURCH EVENT, including the ones for children.  The Primary handbook asks teachers not to feed kids junk food, but teachers routinely do it anyway.  We don’t drink or smoke, but we experience the same obesity rates as everyone else and we’re infamous for making up the difference in what we DON’T  smoke/drink . . .  in sugar intake!

I have two theories about this.   First (this one is a no brainer), at the time of the revelation in 1833, white flour and sugar were virtually unknown.   More importantly, we cannot be given a higher law until we’re living the lower law.   Bluntly: we are  not living the lower law.

Many of our children are on drugs.   Utah (the highest LDS population) abuses prescription drugs more than any other state in the nation.   We eat tons of animals and ignore and rationalize away verses 12-15 of D&C 89 (see the part on God approving of eating animals  sparingly in times of winter, cold, famine).   We eat to excess and have obesity rates  similar to the national average.   All of these are gross violations of the law that is supposed to be for the “weakest of the Saints.”

I personally am ready for a higher law. I don’t say this to be arrogant.   I say this because I crave further light and knowledge; I have a lot of questions.    I wonder, what would God tell us regarding lifestyle and diet, IF WE WERE CLEARING THE VERY, VERY LOW BAR He is currently holding for us to clear?

Apocryphal texts of John refer to not eating any animal flesh and living very close to the Earth.   I’d love to know what God really wants for us . . . a Word of Wisdom 2.0, if you will.   (Oh, and hey, that reminds me: I will announce here very shortly a Green Smoothie 2.0 video I did, part 1 and 2.)

Let’s live the lower law so we can be given more light and knowledge on our path to a truly abundant life rich with divinity.