Nigel Willerton, Wholesome Sweeteners CEO, responds to Joseph Mercola's allegations and assertions against agave and its producers. Ironman anyone?
Wholesome Sweeteners, the largest supplier of organic blue agave and presumably one of the ‘clever marketers’ mentioned in Mercola’s article would like to formally respond to his totally unfounded allegations and outright lies about agave generally, but especially if he is referring to Wholesome Sweeteners product. He is welcome to his views on fructose, but his continuous promotion of his pseudo-information and hysterical claims, without any holistic perspective of organic agave as an alternative sweetener and the role of diet and exercise in everyone’s everyday life is frankly disturbing.
I am also saddened that a publication like the Huffington Post gives Mercola a platform for such a biased diatribe on organic agave with no interest in allowing any kind of balanced response from the industry. All requests to the Huffington Post to respond to his article were ignored by them.
Mercola claims his "only purpose for sharing this information is to help people understand the truth about health. In case you haven't noticed, we have an epidemic of obesity in the US and it wasn't until recently that my eyes opened up to the primary cause - - fructose.” And my favorite, “Yes it is all about freedom of choice. It is hard to have freedom if you aren't given the entire story, and up until now that has been the case with agave.”
Well, Mercola, here’s the full story. Possibly, the users of agave are not a dumb as you obviously think they are. Organic blue agave is rapidly growing in popularity as a multi-purpose natural sweetener. I am heartened that those consumers take the time to investigate allegations about particular products instead of simply believing all that they read on the Internet. The simple nature of the organic farming and processing clearly differentiate Wholesome Sweeteners’ product from any comparison to a product like High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Wholesome Sweetener’s organic agave comes from the blue agave plant because, in our opinion, it produces the best-tasting agave syrup. Other agave nectars are also marketed in the US that come from other plant sources. Wholesome Sweeteners is the largest supplier of agave nectar to the US consumer and we are delighted to inform those consumers that we do not blend our pure organic blue agave with any other products. (Except in the case of our fabulous new flavored agaves)
For Mercola to state that “...there are very few quality controls in place to monitor the production of agave syrup…” demonstrates he has no knowledge or experience with any Wholesome Sweeteners organic agave producers.
Wholesome sources certified organic blue agave nectar from several high quality producers to ensure continuous supply and quality. In order to guarantee the products’ safety and authenticity, Wholesome conducts exhaustive audits to ensure these suppliers are producing to our high standards. They are also audited by third parties. Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agave Nectars, on a solids basis are about 75% Fructose, 20% Dextrose and the balance is inulin and mannitol. It is a delicious sweetener that does not spike blood sugar in the way sucrose (from sugar beet or cane) or glucose (from corn) does. The science that supports that is the glycemic index. It's not a 'health claim’; it's a factual product attribute of Wholesome Sweeteners blue agave nectar.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), despite its name, is not necessarily high in fructose at all really. HFCS is just corn syrup (glucose being the major sugar), with a higher proportion of fructose in it to make it sweeter and less viscous. To produce HFCS, the glucose/fructose ratio is controlled to meet food manufacturers’ needs for bulking and viscosity. It is the higher levels of glucose in HFCS and table sugar (sucrose) that spike blood sugar levels.
Organic Agave syrup also differs from HFCS in that it taps the naturally occurring fructose available in the agave inulin. HFCS, in contrast, is a highly manufactured product that is chemically produced from the starch of the genetically modified feedstock, which in the USA is corn. Leaving the GMO issue aside, the intensive farming practices used to grow that corn, Wholesome Sweeteners believes are unsustainable. HFCS is a ubiquitous, cheap sweetener and the main ingredient of most poor quality food and drinks sold in the USA.
By contrast, the organic blue agave plants are hand-grown by hard-working Mexican farmers and harvested in a variety of conditions. The organic agave syrup manufacturing gives these farmers an alternate buyer to the dominant tequila factories in the Jalisco region that are the main purchasers of the blue agave plants. Therefore, it gives these farmers the opportunity to earn higher returns from their labor along with an incentive to embrace organic farming and agriculture.
Mercola states “…Most agave sold in the U.S. comes from Mexico. Industry insiders are concerned that the majority of agave producers are using lesser, even toxic, agave plants due to a shortage of blue agave…” These are very damning words targeted at the Mexican Agave producers and the Agave industry as a whole. It is simply not true. All blue agave is grown in Mexico and frankly Mercola’s comments read to me as prejudiced and stereotypical.
After growing for 5 to 7 years, a mature blue agave stands 6 to 8 feet tall and its “sugar” is at its peak. The blue agave’s nectar is held in the pina (so called because it resembles a pineapple after the leaves have been trimmed away). Wax in the blue agave’s long leaves gives the species its bluish color. Farmers hand-cut the mature blue agave with a simple razor-sharp blade, called a Coa. The field trimmings are left behind to restore the soil and reduce erosion, and the fibrous blue agave pina is taken to the mill where it is pressed and its inulin-rich juice is collected and cleaned.
The blue agave juice is rich in inulin. Inulin, a dietary fiber made up of complex carbohydrates, is not sweet by nature. Heating (or hydrolyzing) the inulin transforms it into the sweet nectar. In this simple process, the inulin becomes fructose, a slowly metabolizing simple sugar found in many fruits and vegetables. The processing steps are obviously quite limited because of the required compliance with organic standards. After gentle heating, the juice is physically filtered. It is then passed through membranes to remove extraneous materials, lower the color and lessen the mineral content, as all these can affect the flavor profile. None of the substances listed by Mercola are used in the processing of Wholesome Sweetener’s Organic Blue or Raw Blue Agave except what is listed as Dicalite. Dicalite is a brand name for Diatomaceous Earth. This is a common physical filtration aid that is approved under the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). It is necessary to help filter organic debris from the agave juice. The product itself is not a chemical but derived from fossilized single-celled algae. The filtered syrup is then cooled in sealed tanks using cold water pumped through spiral tubes.
Therefore, given the product attributes and processing I have outlined, portraying organic blue agave syrup and HFCS as the same does not stand up to any real scrutiny. It is in the same way that we would contrast the philosophy and physical manufacturing of our minimally processed Organic and Unrefined Fair Trade Cane Sugar products against chemically refined conventional table sugars that are mass produced from sugar cane or sugar beet.
For all the above reasons, many consumers and quality food manufacturers find organic blue agave syrup an excellent natural and organic alternative to beet/cane sugar, corn syrups or artificial sweetening products. 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.)
However, Agave should be enjoyed like any similar product, in moderation, and as part of a balanced diet. Exercise is also very important. Much as Mercola would all like to blame the obesity epidemic of the last thirty years all on HFCS, transfats etc. the significant over-consumption of calories and associated sedentary lifestyles are as much to blame. Mercola seemed to know one fact that is pretty obvious to the rest of us - if you do not burn the energy from any sugars you consume, they will become fat.
Therefore, I was somewhat surprised that Mercola, in his essay-long diatribe just managed to squeeze in this salient fact about exercise in two lines of his penultimate paragraph. I would like to offer him a challenge. I am sure with his full understanding of the combination of diet and exercise, he would be pleased to embrace the multi-sport lifestyle, if he doesn’t already. Therefore, I would be pleased to compete against him in any triathlon he would like to name from a sprint distance through to a full Ironman event. I will hydrate on water and fuel on Wholesome Sweeteners Raw Blue Agave. He may use whatever he wishes but I am sure those ‘powerhouses’ of herbal Stevia and Luo Han Guo will feature somewhere in his energy plan.
Wholesome Sweeteners is proud to lead the US market in the supply of Organic and Fair Trade Sugars, Honey and Blue Agave. Wholesome only markets products with raw materials that meet our exacting standards for organic integrity, social responsibility, food safety, taste and product quality. We stand firmly behind our products.
It’s obvious to me by his article that Mercola (along with the Huffington Post) has no interest in a reasoned debate as he considers 'caloric' sweeteners the root of all-evil. Wholesome Sweeteners philosophy is focused on offering the US consumer great-tasting, high quality products that are produced both sustainably and with an emphasis on social responsibility. In short, they are made with the highest respect both for the environment and the farmers and workers who made them possible.
I look forward to shaking Mercola’s hand at the swim start if he’s up to the challenge. Or alternatively having a fact based dialogue…..
CEO, Wholesome Sweeteners, Inc / Ironman Triathlete.
Pauline McKee, Vice President Marketing t 281 490 9579 firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Stevenson, Communication Manager t 773 904 7915 email@example.com