Captain's Log, Stardate 07.19.2010
Update 9/10/10: I did a little more research and added it to the end of the blog post.
had a discussion with Captain Caffeine okay, okay, I admit it was primarily me ranting at Captain Caffeine about an article I’d read recently about how aspartame (Nutrasweet) is bad for you because it breaks down into formaldehyde and methanol in your body.
Yes, you read that right. And no, formaldehyde does NOT keep you young, it is primarily to keep DEAD cells from breaking down in DEAD animals (Captain Caffeine insists formaldehyde will preserve his cells or at the very least help him in a zombie attack).
The article then went on to rant about how honey and agave were terrible sweeteners, and yet the article writer highly recommended Stevia.
Now, I had heard that Stevia, while it comes from a plant, undergoes processing, while agave nectar is relatively unprocessed. But I did not know for sure, so I went online to find out.
Granted, who knows if what you find online is 100% true, but here’s what I found out:
Agave is from the (primarily) Blue Agave plant which looks like a massively spiny pineapple. After 7-10 years, they hack off the spines and take the pineapple part (called the pina). They press out the sap, filter it, and then heat it at a low temperature until the carbohydrates break down into sugars (fructose and glucose). Some nectars are darker and have a stronger flavor than others, depending on how long it’s heated and how thoroughly it’s filtered.
Stevia is a compound processed from the Stevia plant. There are two glycosides in the Stevia leaves, stevioside and rebaudioside, which are 250-300 times sweeter than sugar.
Here’s where I was shocked. (So, um, prepare to be shocked.) To get the glycoside compound Rebaudioside A from the plant, the leaves are dried and undergo a water extraction. Then it has to be refined using ethanol, methanol (yes, you read that right, methanol, the stuff that makes you blind), crystallization and separation (flashback to chem. lab) to get the pure Rebaudioside A.
There is a Canadian patent that extracts the compounds via column extraction and nanofiltration purification. When I did biology work, I used a column to extract compounds. Would I drink anything that came out of a column? Um… no. Columns are full of chemicals to do its job, which is to extract specific compounds. But do I trust there not to be trace residue? No. You can do what you want, but that’s my stance.
So here’s where I was mad. Why would a journalist recommend Stevia, which undergoes extensive chemical processing, over agave nectar, which undergoes so little processing that raw food enthusiasts consider it a raw food?
I have forbidden Captain Caffeine to eat any more Stevia. He rolled his eyes because hello, practically everything we eat has some sort of artificial sweetener or artificial something.
But I have decided to stick to honey and agave. I have probably already poisoned my body with compounds and chemicals for most of my life, but maybe I can now add a few years back by avoiding things that turn into formaldehyde in my liver or that is processed with methanol.
Update 9/10/10: Okay, I've done more research on the web (which again, who knows how accurate it is, but here goes).
I tried to pay more attention to articles that actually cited published research studies as opposed to articles that just spouted information without citing references (it's a throwback to my biology days--we only ever looked at articles that cited published journal references).
Downside: There are a lot of agave manufacturers who do extensive processing to agave. From what I read, it sounds like the processing may make it sweeter--it creates a higher fructose content.
Artificially-created free fructose (as opposed to natural fructose in fruit) isn't good for your body in high doses, although an article cites a study where moderate amounts of different sweeteners (including High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and agave) don't show a difference between them all.
However, most studies test high intakes of high fructose sweeteners, in which case it's bad for you. (But we know that any large amount of something is bad, right?) Studies have cited an "acceptable" amount of daily fructose intake, but the reality is that most people intake higher amounts of high fructose sweeteners than is good for them regardless of what it is, whether HFCS or agave.
Even some rather passionate articles I read touting the evils of agave admit that the biggest problem is each person's intake of such high amounts of fructose, regardless of where it's coming from, whether HFCS, agave, table sugar, or honey.
Some agave producers, however, use low temperatures for processing, producing a lower fructose content in the final product. Also, the fructose in those products are apparently still bonded to other sugars and not free fructose, like it is in HFCS. This is a good thing, because the body processes the fructose more like it does a fiber or the fructose in fruit.
Here are a couple articles I thought seemed more trustworthy because of the studies cited as references. Then again, take it all with a grain of salt because hello, this is the internet:
There is a Mercola article a lot of people link to, but it doesn't cite any references. I read it and even though he talks about how bad agave is for you, he also admits that the biggest problem is not necessarily the type of sweetener but the amounts people intake of sweeteners, period.
Bottom line: agave is a sweetener, just like sugar and honey and HFCS and even stevia. Don't go hog wild and drink gallons of the stuff. If you can find organic agave minimally processed at low temps, you're in better shape.
My take: I'll stick with minimally-processed agave and local unfiltered honey, and WordVixen mentioned you can grow stevia plants, too, which I'm curious to try. Sugar and crystalized stevia are too processed for my taste.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Captain's Log, Stardate 07.19.2010