Agave vs HFCS: Facts vs Fiction
Lately we've received calls and letters from customers about Organic Blue Agave and its relationship to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). We'd like to assure you that while they both contain common sugars (in the same way that honey, maple syrup, or brown rice syrup contain common sugars), there is no connection between Wholesome Sweeteners' Blue Agave syrups and HFCS.
As we begin, some basics ...
· We believe that too much of anything is bad for you, including sweeteners.
· We believe that moderation is key to a balanced diet and a balanced diet is a healthy diet.
· We believe that organic and sustainably grown foods are best for our planet and people.
· We believe that informed and intelligent consumers will make good choices.
· We believe that independently verifiable facts from reliable sources are essential to the decision-making process.
Wholesome Sweeteners' delicious sweeteners are made to USDA Organic Standards (which means no pesticides, no fungicides, no genetically modified ingredients, and no high fructose corn syrup). Wholesome considers the planet and people when producing products; we do not expose local environments or communities to harmful agricultural practices.
We appreciate you taking the time to investigate Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agave products directly.
Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agaves
Wholesome Sweeteners Blue Agaves are made from the juices of the Blue Agave, Agave tequilana var. Weber, a plant widely cultivated in Central Mexico.[i] We think it's delicious.
· Wholesome sources certified organic blue agave nectar from high quality producers to ensure continuous supply and quality.
· Wholesome's Quality Control team inspects each facility to be sure that our high standards for farming and processing standards are maintained. Our production is also certified by independent third parties.
· These quality controls assure consumers that they are indeed purchasing the finest Organic Blue Agave nectar on the market.
Making Wholesome Sweeteners Blue Agaves
In the field:
After growing for 5 to 7 years, a mature blue agave stands 6 to 8 feet tall and its carbohydrates, or "sugars," are at their peak.[ii] The blue agave stores carbohydrates in the plant's core or pina (so-called because it resembles a pineapple after the leaves have been trimmed away). Farmers hand-harvest blue agave with a simple razor-sharp blade, leave the field trimmings behind to restore the soil and reduce erosion, and take the pinas to the mill for crushing.
At the mill:
Once at the mill, the blue agave pina is crushed and its carbohydrate- and inulin-rich juice is collected. Inulin is a difficult-to-digest plant fiber, so to make it digestible, it must be changed into something our bodies can comfortably manage--in this case, fructose and glucose. Because Wholesome holds to USDA Organic Standards, we use a relatively simple method to change the agave from a plant fiber to a sweetener:
· In a process called "thermal hydrolysis," the agave juice is exposed to different levels of heat. It is simply the application of heat to convert the inulin into a natural combination of the common sugars fructose and glucose. (We do the same thing when we reduce a sauce.) [iii]
· Wholesome's Organic (Light) Blue Agave is heated quickly to a high temperature, then cooled.
· Raw Blue Agave is hydrolyzed at a much lower temperature for a much longer time.
· After gentle heating, the juice is physically filtered to remove extraneous materials, lower the color and lessen the mineral content, as all these can affect the flavor profile. National Organic Program-approved diatomaceous earth is used as a filtering agent. (The raw syrup is minimally filtered so it maintains a rich amber color and richer flavor.)
· The filtered syrup is then cooled in sealed tanks using cold water pumped through spiral tubes.
Under the microscope:
Every batch of Wholesome Sweeteners Blue Agave must pass lab tests at the mill, and before it is bottled. As produced, Wholesome's Blue Agave is 75% fructose, 20% glucose (also called dextrose), with small amounts of inulin and mannitol. (According to the Glycemic Index, a scientific standard used for measuring foods' effect on blood sugars, agaves' combination of sugars make them low glycemic sweeteners.)
Still, facts are facts: Fructose, like a number of other things, is metabolized in the liver where it's converted to fat (energy) and stored. According to The University of Southern California Liver Transplant Program:
The liver is the largest organ in the body ... The liver performs more than 400 functions each day to keep the body healthy. Some of its major jobs include:
· converting food into nutrients the body can use (for example, the liver produces bile to help break down fats)
· storing fats, sugars, iron, and vitamins for later use by the body
· making the proteins needed for normal blood clotting
· removing or chemically changing drugs, alcohol, and other substances that may be harmful or toxic to the body
So it's vitally important to take good care of our bodies and our livers. Part of taking good care is eating a healthy diet. Agave is a sugar and, as recommended by nearly all agave suppliers, it is a discretionary sweetener. You, the individual consumer, get to decide how much you use. We recommend it in moderation.
Why Agave is NOT high fructose corn syrup
Agave syrup differs from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in that it taps the naturally occurring fructose available in the agave inulin rather than being a highly manufactured food ingredient made from genetically modified, or "GMO," corn syrup.
In the field, the corn is subjected to synthetic chemical applications to increase yields, reduce weeds and pests, and to make harvesting cheaper and easier. When harvested, the corn's carbohydrates are isolated and chemically manipulated to meet the specific needs of food processors and manufacturers
What is high fructose corn syrup? (HFCS) Corn syrups enriched with fructose are manufactured from syrups that have been treated to contain as much dextrose (glucose) as possible. Nearly all the glucose in these dextrose-rich corn syrups is transformed into fructose with enzymes. The fructose-enriched syrups are then blended with dextrose syrups. After blending, commercial fructose corn syrups contain either 42% or 55% fructose by weight. It is becoming more common to further process fructose-enriched corn syrups to increase fructose content. These enhanced fructose corn syrups contain at least 95% fructose by weight.
Like ingredient terms permitted for other sweeteners manufactured from starch, the descriptor "high fructose corn syrup" denotes more than one product. The generic term "high fructose corn syrup" or its acronym "HFCS" is used in food and beverage ingredient statements. Thus, the term "high fructose corn syrup" or "HFCS" represents a family of three fundamentally different products, not a unique single ingredient.
The vast majority of the high fructose corn syrup containing 55% fructose is used to sweeten carbonated soft drinks and other flavored beverages. Minor amounts are used in frozen dairy products. Essentially all foods listing "high fructose corn syrup" as an ingredient contain the syrup with 42% fructose. The 95% fructose corn syrup is becoming more common in beverages, canned fruits, confectionery products and dessert syrups. [iv]
HFCS is often the first or second ingredient on food labels, and the ingredients are listed according to relative quantity. Most soft drinks, bottled teas, fruit and vegetable juices are loaded with HFCS, so are most processed foods. Extend that to fast foods, restaurant foods, prepared and store-bought foods, convenience foods, doughnuts, cookies, prepared meats, sweet and savory sauces, salad dressings, crackers, canned soups, desserts, and so on and so forth. We shudder to think about the impacts of all that HFCS on people who only eat fast- or prepared- or pre-packaged foods.
The total agave production is actually very small; in 2009 it was less than 8,000 tons. A relatively insignificant number when compared with the 22-million ton total caloric sweetener market in the US per annum. (Approximately 45% is HFCS, 45% sugar cane/sugar beet and the remainder glucose, mostly from a corn source.)
The USDA estimates that in 2008, the per capita consumption of HFCS was nearly 38 lbs a year (http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Sugar/data/table52.xls). That's an average of 38 pounds per person--big, little, old, young, those of us who eat fast foods and those of us who don't--it's 38 pounds for every one of us! In 1970, it was less than half a pound per capita.
(From an evolutionary standpoint, though fruit was seasonally abundant, until just a couple of centuries ago most people only had occasional tastes of sugars or honey; these days, diets of HFCS-rich foods have far exceeded our bodies' ability to efficiently metabolize it.)
Wholesome Sweeteners' specific concerns with HFCS are:
· HFCS is too prevalent as an ingredient in processed foods. We have no idea how much is in any prepared or packaged food or drink, nor do we have any control over how much we're actually consuming when we eat convenience or prepared foods.[v]
· HFCS is made from genetically modified corn that's grown using synthetic chemicals. We believe these farming and refining practices are unsustainable and are detrimental to our soils, water, and air.
Why agave is more like honey or maple syrup
In the same way many of us enjoy the unique flavors and character that honeys or maple syrups bring to foods, many of us enjoy agave.
· Like agave, honey and maple syrup are natural blends of fructose and glucose.
· Like honey, agave syrup has just 20 calories per teaspoon. (Sugar has 15 calories per teaspoon.)
· Like agave, maple sap is heated for extended periods before we pour it over pancakes.
· Like honey and maple syrup, agave syrup is delightful discretionary sweetener when used in moderation (because fructose is sweeter than sugar to most palates, a little agave sweetens a lot).
Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agave Syrup is not a diet product. It's a delicious natural sweetener. While Blue Agave nectars are indeed low glycemic and, as such, may be suitable for those persons watching their blood sugar, people with diabetes and other metabolic concerns (including pregnant women) should consult their doctor or treatment team for dietary advice.
In conclusion, many consumers and quality food manufacturers find organic blue agave syrup to be an excellent natural and organic sugar alternative. However, it should be enjoyed like any similar product, in moderation, and as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle that includes regular exercise.
Please let us know if you have additional questions about Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agaves. Our email is easy: Info@OrganicSugars.biz.
Interested in learning more?
We suggest you browse medical journals for additional information on fructose metabolism and Agave tequilana.
Wholesome Sweeteners also offers additional information on the cultivation and processing of A. tequilana at Hecho en Mexico: Organic Blue Agave Production and Processing.
And for a nutritionist's perspective on fructose from NutritionData:
Given the escalating rhetoric on fructose, I think it's time to revisit a couple of basic facts and try to regain some perspective.
Fructose is not a toxin. It is not a man-made "chemical." The fact that is it metabolized in the liver does not mean that it is a poison. Read more.
If you were inspired to visit this page because of something you read by Dr Mercola or in the Huffington Post, please follow this link to Nigel Willerton's response. Willerton is Wholesome Sweeteners CEO.
[i] The agave plant family contains more than 200 species. It grows best in arid regions around the world. Different Agave species are used for vastly different purposes-ranging from landscape plants to sources of fiber for ropes to folk medicines. However, just two species of agave are used for human consumption: Agave tequilana and Agave salmiana, which is also used to make maguey.
[ii] Technically, the carbohydrates are inulin-rich oligofructans.
[iii] Wholesome Sweeteners Blue Agaves are made without enzymes. Other brands of agave syrups are made by introducing organically approved enzymes to the agave juice in a process called enzymatic hydrolysis.
[v] Studies show that some soft drinks are up to 30% HFCS, which, measure for measure, is far in excess of a typical serving of agave syrup. (A super-sized soda may contain nearly a pint of HFCS. Regardless of the fructose/glucose ratio, that's just too much sugar for our bodies to try to digest on a regular basis. What isn't used is stored as fat.)