Dear GreenSmoothieGirl for Arizona, part 4 of 4

Chris: What’s the best way to combat diarrhea?

GSG: If it’s chronic, it’s likely evidence of a degenerative colon issue. Start getting a probiotic-rich FOOD in your diet every day. (Not just a pill, which is inferior.) For example, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, homemade sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables. Eat whole foods, which have a lot of fiber, as you nurture your digestive tract so it can heal—you are not likely absorbing good nutrition, until you do. Eat a banana every day for the magnesium.

Angela: Is agave as bad as high-fructose corn syrup?

GSG: No. It’s been hyped that way by a few. There may be companies cutting corn syrup into their low-end product (but most don’t). I don’t think it’s really RAW, ever, despite the labels. It’s not a high-nutrition food by any means. I think you should use it very sparingly if at all, because it’s likely that agave’s alleged “low glycemic impact” has been oversold to us, the public. I am not a fan of using less processed, but still concentrated, sweeteners, except on a very limited basis if you feel you need treats and are trying to avoid the worst-of-the-bad villains (HFCS, refined sugar, aspartame). Currently my favorites are stevia (for green smoothies, etc.) and unrefined coconut palm sugar for baking. Agave is a distant third option, along with real maple syrup and raw honey.

O.A. Black: Do oxalates in spinach bind to calcium and cause kidney stones?

GSG:  I have probably been asked this more than 1,000 times in classes and online. I believe the idea that we need to avoid green foods because of one compound in them (which are likely friend rather than foe) may have originated with Sally Fallon. Regardless, it has been passed along and passed along, and I have yet to read any evidence of it. Just claims. At first people would tell me they don’t eat raw spinach–just cook it–because they are terrified of the boogeyman OXALATES. Then people would tell me they won’t eat spinach COOKED, only raw!–because of the same boogeyman. Sigh.

 

 

 

 

sugar replacement: possibly the best solution

You know I recommend only sparing use of any concentrated sweeteners. A while ago, I posted a recipe featuring COCONUT SUGAR. I’d been given a sample of it, and I was enjoying substituting it for Sucanat (my previous “standby” for baked goods). I didn’t realize how hard to find it was until y’all wrote me a bunch of emails saying, “WHERE DO WE GET IT?”

So I had to spend some time tracking an affordable, organic, reputable source of it.

Fact is, coconut palm sugar is a great find. If you have been here long, you know refined sugars have no place in your kitchen or your baking. (White flour and refined salt are in my kitchen for making play-dough at least. What is sugar good for? NOTHIN’!)

In the past, I’ve recommended Sucanat. On a scale of 1 to 10, if 1 is high-fructose corn syrup (the very worst) and 10 is dates (a whole food), Sucanat is about a 4. It is unrefined, dried cane juice.

Read here why I feel coconut palm sugar is a big step up from that.

In that “sugar replacement” report I wrote, check out the charts showing amino acid profile, micronutrient comparisons to other sweeteners, and the glycemic index rating.

Now we have it in our store so you can obtain it easily.

It’s vastly higher in micronutrients.

It’s far more sustainable.

It is a low-glycemic-index food, which is rare in sweeteners.

Substitute it 1:1 in any recipe calling for sugar. Bakes well, tastes wonderful, no aftertaste. In a couple of weeks here on the blog, I’ll teach you six ways to make ANY baking recipe much more nutritious.

Here it is in the GreenSmoothieGirl.com store.

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.

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.

is agave good food?

Dear GreenSmoothieGirl: What about the controversy surrounding agave?

Answer: I have seen a couple of people with clout on the internet say that one should be careful with agave.   They make a decent point that since much of the product imported into the U.S. is from Mexico, we don’t always know what we’re getting.   Sometimes imported product can be pretty wild and woolly, especially from developing countries.   An allegation has gone around that high fructose corn syrup is cut into the agave.   That would certainly be a way to increase your profit margin, if you’re an agave manufacturer.

The agave I use, that I buy in huge bulk for my local buying group a couple times a year (66 cases of 4 gallons each sitting in my garage right now), I know does not contain corn syrup.   Personally, I react very negatively to HFCS, and I feel great when I use this agave.   I required the company I buy from wholesale to produce their organic certification.   I checked into the importer’s reputation and didn’t find anything amiss.   I got the nutritional sheet on both the light and dark, and compared (overall, no big difference).

You can get agave RAW or not.   I don’t believe there’s any way the product is literally cold-pressed from the cactus straight into the bottle.   I don’t personally believe it’s truly raw.   So I use agave sparingly, as a replacement for items that are more processed and more destructive to your blood sugar.

Agave has 1/3 the calories and 1/3 the impact on your blood sugar that other concentrated sweeteners do, like HFCS, sugar, and honey.   That’s pretty brilliant.   Don’t take that as a license to go crazy with it, though.

If you want to be an absolutist or  purist, don’t use any sweeteners at all.   Just eat fruit and dates.   Even most raw foodists do use maple syrup, which is never truly raw, and agave.   If you want to use occasional sweeteners for baked goods, etc.,  a good brand of agave  is probably the best or one of the best sweetener options.   (Madhava, a brand a few of you have mentioned,  does have a good reputation.)

Locals, I bought some extra agave, so let me know if you want a case: 4 gallons for $130 (raw, organic).

Good, Better, Best . . . Part II

GRAINS

Good: eat whole grains and quit eating white flour.

Better: eat soaked whole grains (this requires planning a little ahead, as my cousin noted).

Best: eat sprouted, raw nuts, seeds, and grains.

SWEETENERS

(Note, that I am uneasy about fructose, xylitol, “organic sugar,” or dehydrated cane juice crystals—ways to spend extra money on refined options that really aren’t much better.   They’re maybe a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10, whereas sugar/corn syrup are a 1.   So I don’t even include them in the “good” category.)

Good (4 on a 1-10 scale): use Sucanat and honey  and real maple syrup instead of refined sugar and corn syrup.   They have a high glycemic index but also good nutrients and are not terribly acidic like refined sugars.

Better (7 on a 1-10 scale): use raw agave and stevia and molasses.   They have higher nutrition and  lower impact on blood sugar.

Best (10 on a 1-10 scale): use little or no concentrated sweeteners, just fruit and dates as treats or sweeteners.   They are high in fiber, lower in sugar, and highest in nutrition.

Your body and spirit will tell you when you’re ready to transition to the next level. If everything in you is resisting the “best” levels, then start with “good” and congratulate yourself, for now, rather than anguishing or beating yourself up.