So as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the Paleo foods at last weekend’s potluck were amazing. But I was concerned with the use, and potential misconception, of agave nectar. There were at least two dishes that used agave as a sweetener, and I’ve heard about it being used by other athletes in the gym. This raises a red flag with me because I can remember Robb Wolf calling it “liquid death” or something along those lines. When it comes to nutrition, I trust in Robb, but this is the Invictus Blog! Our readers expect and deserve some independent research, so I did a little.
From a philosophical perspective, agave nectar probably should not be considered paleo-friendly. While the naming suggests that it is some sort of divine gift collected in buckets by a prepubescent Central/South American boy who merely tapped a cactus with a spigot, there is actually some processing involved. Pulling US Patent 5846333 – Method of producing fructose syrup from agave plants, you can read how “a pulp of milled agave plant” is processed in order to produce a “hydrolyzed fructose extract.” I’m pretty sure that Paleo-George did not have access to the cationic and anionic resins used in the process, or the inulin enzymes, but he probably was willing to fight off swarms of 20lb Paleolithic bees to get to some honey.
From a more scientific perspective, “liquid death” is probably a fitting term. On October 13th, Calvin wrote “Low-Glycemic – Part one.” He touched on how a low GI can be deceiving when determining whether or not something is good for you. Agave nectar has a relatively low GI (10-19 depending on brand), and I’m sure Cal will mention something about how low glycemic loads should be considered in your diet. The reason behind the relatively low GI in agave is the fructose; typical agave is about 90% fructose and 10% glucose. There are many problems associated with the high fructose levels, and it makes wonderful bedtime reading (see Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic dyslipidemia). Here are some highlights:
- Fructose is mostly only processed to glycogen by the liver. When you force the liver to work so hard to metabolize abnormal amounts of it, the long-term effects are disastrous. One study showed that the“livers of rats on a high fructose diet looked like the livers of alcoholics, plugged with fat and cirrhotic.”
- Excess fructose not processed by the liver turns into triglycerides (blood fats). This is bad and can potentially lead to metabolic syndrome.
- Even with the low GI, fructose gives as high a blood sugar spike as glucose, leading to insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes.
I think the philosophical argument is strong enough to deter the use of agave nectar, or at least limit the use of it. If you chose to embrace the Paleo diet, it was probably because you wanted the long-term health benefits associated with it. Part of receiving those benefits means cutting ties with modern man’s diet, including the desserts. That’s not to say that a little cheating is a horrible thing. Personally, I set aside one cheat dessert night a week – a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Is it good for me? Probably not, but if that’s my one cheat, I’m not going to kid myself with supposedly “natural” substitutes…I’m cheating big.