You may have been wondering where I’ve been for the past few weeks. (OK, months.) I moved to Bloomington, Indiana (Alfred Kinsey did his research here, don’t hate) to pursue a Master’s of Public Health degree. It was a long, convoluted road that brought me here, but at the end of the day I’m pretty stoked to be studying this, even though every time a classmate says something like “I’m studying obesity” I want to be like “OH YEAH? WHY DON’T YOU CALL ME THAT TO MY FACE?” (me= angry, healthy fatty). Anyway! One of the big things we do in public health is plan INTERVENTIONS. Yes, like the TV show! Except, instead of yelling at our family members to stop smoking meth, we’re yelling at the general public not to smoke cigarettes. (Real talk: Public Health people totally smoke on the DL, sometimes. Not me, but just sayin’.)
Anyway, blogging about nutrition realness on Ms. Behaved totally counts as a Public Health intervention, yes? Today I want to make you aware of some LIES the health food industrial complex (looking at you, Whole Foods!) has been feeding the world. That lie is that agave nectar is good for you. Real talk: it’s just as bad as corn syrup, and worse for you than sugar.
Like most health conscious people, I was sucked into the lie that agave syrup is healthy. I should have known better, given that unlike Stevia, probably the only legitimately harmless sugar substitute in existence, it actually tastes fucking delicious. Then Ms Behaved’s resident nutrition expert Ilah Jarvis totally went and busted my fantasy with this article. (Ilah tells people bummertastic things about their food choices everyday as a nutritional consultant.)
I was at the food co-op today and this lady from an artisanal chocolate company was crowing about how her chocolates are “sugar-free” because they contain agave nectar and are therefore healthy. No, no, no!!!
First things first: agave nectar is a highly processed food- it’s a much more concentrated form of sugar than you would find in an Agave plant in it’s natural state. Secondly, a lot of the marketing around agave nectar touts it as a low-glycemic food, which is ideal for hypoglycemics and other people concerned with insulin sensitivity, such as myself.
In a sense, this is true. But in this case, it’s not actually a good thing.
You may already be aware that white sugar (sucrose) is converted into mostly glucose, which hits your blood directly, giving you a sugar high, and causing your pancreas to squirt out insulin to mop up any extra, which is then converted into fat. This can cause you to gain weight and become pre-diabetic, obviously. Nevertheless, your body actually has a chance to utilize the glucose before it becomes fat.
The reason high-fructose corn syrup is considered worse than sugar is because the mega dose of fructose skips the bloodstream entirely and goes straight to your liver. No insulin response is triggered, which is why HFCS and agave syrup are considered “low glycemic foods.” Fructose is naturally found in fruit, and in most cases, your liver can easily metabolize the amount of fructose in an apple. HFCS is much more concentrated than an apple, however, and whatever excess fructose you consume is converted directly into fat. IE, your body never gets a chance to use it.
Here’s a goofy analogy: sucrose and fructose are both checks for $150 (150 calories in a can of soda). The sucrose check is initially deposited into a checking account (your bloodstream), that you have access to for 30 minutes, before it is transferred into a savings account (fat cells) that has high penalties for withdrawal. Therefore, if you go on a shopping trip in those thirty minutes (drink the soda right after a workout, for example), you could spend all of that money if you wanted to. The fructose check on the other hand, is instantly deposited directly into that high penalty savings account (fat cells via your liver) where it will be much more difficult to withdraw. Now, if we were living in an era/society where food was scarce, it would make sense to have some money stashed in that savings account (stored fat) in case of emergency (famine, illness). But the reality is that we usually always have enough in our checking to cover our needs, so most of us don’t need to dip into our savings very often (burning fat), and therein lies the rub.
Of course, if you hate thinking about money, that analogy probably wasn’t very helpful, but whatever.
The point of this rant is that “Agave Nectar” is actually “High Fructose Agave Syrup.” It’s bad for you for the exact same reasons as HFCS. Go ahead and eat it, but don’t kid yourself that it’s better for you than cane sugar.
In other news: the corn lobby is trying to shake the bad rep HFCS has received by relabeling it “Corn Sugar.” Don’t buy the hype, it’s still HFCS.
Want more real talk about health? Check out my blog about the environmental influences of fitness on School for Scandal here.