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Are Raw Sweeteners Really Raw And Healthy?

I find it quite ridiculous interesting that so many raw foodists are completely fruit-phobic and yet they have no qualms about eating tablespoon after tablespoon of refined sweeteners like agave and honey.

You would think that someone who severely limits their consumption of sweet fruit because the simple sugars “cause Candidiasis” would be even MORE careful about his or her use of concentrated sweeteners.

And now that we’re on the topic, what about raw sweeteners? Are they really raw? Are they good for us? Are they even that tasty?

Agave Not Really Raw?!

There’s been some controversy recently about raw agave nectar. Apparently, some manufacturers were not being completely honest about the “rawness” of their product.

For those who don’t know, agave nectar comes from the agave plant (usually the Blue Agave) growing in Southern Mexico. It is a succulent (adept at storing water) similar to Aloe Vera and looks like this:

The plants are harvested, crushed and the resulting sap removed. The sap is then heated to create the concentrated liquid known as agave nectar or syrup.

Fun little fact: Agave is actually the plant from which tequila is made!

Anyway, wanna know my first reaction to the whole agave scandal?

Ummm, DUH!

Agave nectar (even if it is not heated over 115 116 118 oh hell, whatever the temperature is!) is a refined product and, therefore, is NOT a raw food!

But Is It Good For You?

There are many ways one can define “good for you” or “healthy.” Some people view those foods that make them feel good as healthy, while others simply follow the current health trend (one day eggs are full of cholesterol and bad fats, the next they’re rich in vitamin k and low in calories).

I classify healthy foods as those that are health promoting.  These are foods that are easy to digest, absorb, assimilate, eliminate and most importantly…delicious!

There is nothing present in agave nectar that cannot be found in fresh fruits and vegetables. You can live your entire life without touching the stuff and be perfectly healthy.

In fact, since agave is a refined food, there is very much missing from the product. Just as I brought up with regard to Fruit2Day a while back, processed foods have had much of the water removed and many vital nutrients along with that water.

You may hear raw agave nectar being touted as a low glycemic food, but as long-term raw foodist John Kohler mentions in this article, agave nectar has an…

unusually high concentration of fructose (90%) compared to the small amount of glucose (10%).  Nowhere in nature does this ratio of fructose to glucose occur naturally. One of the next closest foods that contain almost this concentration of glucose to fructose is high fructose corn syrup used in making soda(HFCS 55), which only contains 55% fructose. Even though fructose is low on the glycemic index, there are numerous problems associated with the consumption of fructose in such high concentrations as found in concentrated sweeteners:

Kohler then goes on to list some of the various problems with consuming high concentrations of fructose, such as an increase in uric acid, blood lactic acid, and mineral loss in the body.

So is really raw agave really a health food?

No, not really.

What About Raw Honey, Sucanat, Yacon Syrup, etc…

Same deal. None of these ingredients are truly raw and some of them, like evaporated cane juice, yacon syrup, and maple syrup, are heated above the 118 degree threshold.

And if remaining vegan for ethical reasons is your issue, then honey isn’t a viable option anyway!

So Raw Sweeteners Are Evil?!

Okay, time to cut the not-really-raw sweeteners some slack.

While I continue to stand firmly behind fresh fruit as the best sweetener of all, I see no problem with including small amounts of agave, honey, what have you in some raw recipes. They can be a great way to add sweetness and help balance out a savory meal without changing the overall taste and texture of the dish.

The key, of course, is “small amounts.” Think 2-3 spoonfuls at the max.

Personally, I rarely ever use these raw sweeteners. I can’t remember the last time I used agave and I don’t eat honey.

Why? Because I think they’re yucky! They just taste overly sweet and fake to me.

Plus, they can be pretty expensive. Why pay for a refined product out of a bottle to sweeten your food when you have much tastier, healthier, AND cheaper ingredients on hand all the time…

SWEET FRUIT! :D

Go raw and be fit,

Swayze

9 comments

1 Raw.la - Raw Food in The News and Around The Web { 02.04.10 at 12:15 pm }

[...] Are Raw Sweeteners Really Raw And Healthy? [...]

2 Joan { 02.04.10 at 3:13 pm }

Good info – thanks!

3 Dr. Debra { 02.04.10 at 9:32 pm }

Hi Swayze, good accurate information while not being too dogmatic. Sometimes that just serves to discourage folks instead of encouraging to continue to make forward strides with their health.

Good job!

4 Sharon { 02.04.10 at 11:54 pm }

Thanks for the information about the sweeteners and about the oils.

5 Angie { 02.06.10 at 7:15 pm }

Thanks for the eye opening revelation..now I wont be so quick to add these so called bottled sweetners to my food.

6 Christina { 02.07.10 at 2:37 pm }

Excellent post! Thanks so much for addressing agave nectar. I recently mentioned online that I was avoiding all refined sugars, and got a response that “agave isn’t refined”. Oh yes it is! Plus why would you need to buy a sweetener when you could easily just use dates? They are so sweet and easy to use in a variety of ways. I find most people who use agave end up making high fat gourmet style raw “treats”. You want something sweet? Eat a banana!

Swayze Reply:

Haha, amen! :D

Glad you guys enjoyed it.

7 Lee { 02.14.10 at 7:59 pm }

Hi Swayze, great blog and very informative articles and posts – thanks for all your effort!

I just have one question. You seem to attack fat quite a lot. I’m wondering what the basis for that is? In research I’ve read by Dr. Udo Eramus and others, I’ve always seen ‘natural’ saturated fats (like avocados, coconuts, etc) and EFAs (omega 3-6-9) to be vital to health — specifically intracellular communication, joint lubrication, mental performance and circulation.

In my own experimentation, fat has never *made* me fat, either. It’s only ‘bad’ fats (trans) or high animal saturated (in my past life!) combined with simple carbs that ever made me gain weight. Tribes who consume coconuts by the buketload and probably have more saturated fat than most average Americans don’t put on an ounce, either (or at least seem to).

So I’m just wondering what the attack on fat is about? I’ve seen it as a theme in a few of your articles and I’m wondering what your own experience with it has been.

Many thanks and keep up the great work!
-Lee

Swayze Reply:

You are quite right, essential fatty acids are vital for human health and must be obtained from our food. However, we can receive all the EFAs we need (in the perfect 1:1 ratio) from a low fat diet of fruits and greens without any overt fats at all (i.e. avocados, nuts, seeds, etc.).

Eating excess fat has never made me fat either (eating too many calories did) and as you mentioned, there are many trim people out there eating high fat diets. However, just because a diet keeps you at a healthy weight does not mean it is optimal or even healthy.

Here’s a link to an article I wrote on fat:

http://www.fitonraw.com/2009/07/the-truth-about-a-high-fat-raw-food-diet/

Here’s some more info on the fat and diabetes correlation. It’s a study done back in the 90s in which rats with Type II diabetes were switched from a 40% fat diet to a 10% fat diet and completely reversed their condition. The researchers note that the amount of sugar the rats ingested did not matter as long as fat intake remained low:

http://www.scienceblog.com/community/older/1998/B/199801157.html

Hope that answers your question. :)