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Agave kills!

Agave plant

A while back I wrote about agave syrup and it’s use as an alternative to processed sugar. After writing the post I came across a fair amount of opinion opposed to the use of commercially derived agave syrup. There is some debate as to whether the claims for it being a wonder food are just hype.

For example, the food renegade dislikes agave, and suggests it has an unhealthy nutritional profile. On the other hand, there are plenty others out there who disagree with the renegade’s argument.

I’ll try to present an abridged version of her rather rambling attack.  Firstly, she suggests that the method of producing commercial agave syrup, involves chemicals and is different to that used by Mexicans when they produce miel de agave. Fortunately, all the agave syrup I’ve seen in the UK (it maybe different in the US) is organically produced and so cannot involve chemicals in the production process. This is pointed out in the comments where the renegade waves this aside by saying that the process is not traditional and so should be avoided!

The post then goes on to consider the low-GI aspect of agave. This oxymoronic aspect is explained by agave syrup consisting of 95% fructose, much high than corn syrup (55%) which is used to sweeten ‘soda’ and other sweet foods, certainly in the US it seems. Fructose is stored as fat rather than being converted to glucose before being used by the body, similar to alcohol. Therefore it does not affect blood sugar at all.

Fructose is good when naturally occurring in fruit but bad, says the renegade, when it is produced through a refining process. A report in the Huffington Post says the following

Fructose — the sugar found naturally in fruit — is perfectly fine when you get it from whole foods like apples (about 7 percent fructose) — it comes with a host of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. But when it’s commercially extracted from fruit, concentrated and made into a sweetener, it exacts a considerable metabolic price – Dr Jonny Bowden,  Huffington Post

Caloric intake

recommended Caloric intake

The renegade supports the ‘metabolic price’ view by quoting some research that shows that a high intake of both fructose and glucose increase fat, more visceral fat in the case of fructose, and detrimentally alters the metabolic profile of the fructose intakers. All very scary but I do have a problem with the study. Participants consumed 25% of their caloric intake from the fructose or glucose drink while on the nine week study. Apparently, that’s average in the US! Seems like a huge amount to me.

This is really where the argument against agave begins to falter. Why on earth would you consume that amount of the stuff! Studies like this are commonly used to ‘diss’ fructose, the Fructose information centre says that these studies

are based on poorly conceived experimentation of little relevance to the human diet, which tests unphysiologically high levels of fructose as the sole carbohydrate, often in animals that are poor models for human metabolism. The consequences of such exaggerated diets are predictably extreme

Even Dr. Bowden says that agave is okay now and again. I think the take home message is that any sweetener you use should be consumed sparingly. Omit sweetener from your tea/coffee and use it in recipes that are laden with ‘good stuff’ to lessen the amount you need and provide nutritional value.

Previously, I mentioned that I add it to porridge, along with other ‘good stuff’ but that’s only if it is required. For example, dates and dried fruit or banana’s are often sufficient to sweeten porridge without the need for agave. I personally think if you are looking to use agave you are sufficiently health minded to not consume anything close to 25% of your caloric intake from any kind of sugar at all.

Fructose Glucose Total Sugar Cals per 100g Glycemic Index
Table Sugar 50% 50% 97% 500 58-65
Honey 38 to 42% 35 to 40% 80 to 84% 304 46-83
Date Paste 32% 34% 70 to 80% 270 103
Corn Syrup 55 to 90% 45 to 10% 100% 370 62
Agave Syrup 47% 17% 64% 308 30

Furthermore, as agave is sweeter than glucose and sugar you need to consume relatively less than other sweeteners. One report shows that agave is actually lower than sugar and corn syrup in total sugar, calories and GI index (see table above)!

Overall I’d say that there’s no need to believe the hype, while there is also no need to overdo ANY sweetener.

Farmer

In this article a farmer condescends to have a pint with a vegan couple. He mentions that they were decent enough and while it’s clear he won’t be switching to growing food for humans while giving up eating meat it does makes him think about farming practices in general. This has to be a good thing, so well done to the vegan couple!

I love soup, and I do make a good batch now and then. When I first discovered how easy soup was to make, I was amazed. I always thought that it would be impossible to replicate those Heinz tins. The good news is that it is easy to vastly improve on any tinned soup!

I tend to base my soups on potato’s, which make a nice thick soup which is a quite ‘creamy’ for a vegan palate when liquidised. I then use complimentary flavours to make the soup special or unique. The recipes change depending what I have in. This particular soup was produced from the following

  • 3 large carrots
  • 4 potatoes
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 leek
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves garlic

I peeled and chopped the carrots, potatoes and sweet potato and steamed them til done. Meanwhile I chopped then fried the onion for a few minutes til starting to brown and added the chopped leek. Then I quite roughly chopped and crushed the garlic, which was put in with the other fried ingredients for a minute or two.

When the steamed veg was ready I added the steam water to the onion and leek mix, stirred in the steamed veg and added some seasoning. I blended it all til smooth and tucked in. Using carrots and sweet potatoes gives a soup a beautiful vibrant colour which definitely adds.

I served this with thick bread and some cut ‘living salad’ from Lidl; it was gorgeous.

Carrot, Sweet Potato and Leek Soup

Better than Heinz

This is the method I use for the heartier type of soup, more wintery than summery. This standard recipe can be tweaked to change the flavour by adding complimentary falvourings. But always natural flavours never msg, of course.  Carrot works well with coriander, ginger and orange, believe it or not. So mixing in some of one of these will give the soup a completely different feel. The leaves add to it too, this made it more summery and seeing as yesterday was the first really sunny warm day of the year, it was a nice touch, even if I do say so myself.

I think the take home message is, have a little experiment, find something that works and have a little mess around with it and see if it works. If you stick to complementary flavours, tomato and basil are another safe bet, you’re onto a winner.

Frosty Easter Fruit

As a result of the Veg Wars I mentioned on here a while back, I ended up with more mangoes than I could handle. So I decided I’d try to make some sorbet, on the hoof. I didn’t research it at all I just went ahead with my recipe. I peeled and pureed four large mangoes added juice of a lime and plenty of ginger (another abundant Veg War buy). Then froze it. This worked quite well although it’s not sweet enough, a little agave syrup would probably help.

Today I made a lovely variation on standard fruit salad, which can be a bit ordinary. Out of a tin you always get that weird looking cherry thing that is far too artificial to be of use. An old friend of mine, many years ago, used to make amazing sandwiches, tons of different salad vegetables and condiments. He said if you wanted a decent butty you needed to put effort into the preparation. Wise words, I’ve applied this theory to the fruit salad.

I had one juicy pear left over that needed using and chopped it up nice and small with an organic pink lady apple. Then chopped up three kiwi fruit and mixed them together. As an afterthought I threw in some chopped organic dates, from Planet Organic, to add some sweetness to balance the tangy kiwi. I put the whole mixture in the fridge to chill for a few hours. Before serving I chopped up and stirred in a Pomegranate, Blueberry and Oat Fruitus bar and added the mango ‘sorbet’.

Frosty Easter Fruit Salad

As I mentioned above the sorbet needed some sweetening but overall the fruit salad was a series of delightful Easter flavour explosions. Yee-ha!

When I was a kid Milky Way was the sweet you could eat between meals without ruining your appetite. Not an option now but what exactly can you eat to keep you going when you’re out and about? Well here’s a couple of healthy snack ideas you could try.

There’s two new, well at least new to me, fruity health bars that are really very good. Both are luxurious flavour sensations available in several styles.

The first of these is the ‘nakd’ range, which has three flavours – Berry Cheeky, Apple Pie and Cocao Loco. Made from fruit, oats and nuts these bars are stunning. The berry and apple flavours are fantastic, but the choccy one is amazing, it’s like eating a chocolate pudding from school, or something. The beauty is they are 100% raw, ‘smooshed’ not baked, wheat, dairy and GM free! You gotta love the ingredients of the Berry Cheeky bar

  • Raw dates
  • oats
  • raw raisins
  • raw peanuts
  • apple juice
  • raw raspberries
  • raw almonds
  • raw walnuts
  • raw strawberries
  • hint of natural flavour

great stuff. And apparently the obligatory best before is before your friends nick ’em, which you had better look out for.

They even have an ad for Animal Aid on the multi-pack box and on each bar wrapper, which shows their ethical side. I really like these, they really are a bit cakey, muffin-ish or a bit like flapjack.

Made by Natural Balance Foods, there are a number of other healthy snacks available, I’ll be trying more of these when I get the chance. They are not cheap in the Health Food shop, but you can order from there site at a significant reduction. Definitely recommended.

Fruitus bars, a healthy snack idea!

The second bar range is ‘fruitus’, from Lyme Regis Foods. As the name suggests these these are fruity, but also nice and chewy. The Summer Fruits one has a good old tang and really gets your mouth going. Lush. They also do Pomegranate, Blueberry and Oat bar, which is another tang-ilicious sensation but a little more cakey and delicious. A ‘vegan’ label would be useful but I’m probably being a bit fussy. Again, highly recommended.

Lyme Regis Foods are clearly a bigger operation than Natural Balance Foods and as such the website is not quite so jolly. If that kind of thing bothers you just go nakd.

Animal Aid have a campaign called Meat Free Monday, easy for me and incidentally for nearly all of my family. However, I do have friends who eat meat who may be open to being nudged towards a meat free Monday.  The video is very good clearly getting the message over. I can see no reason why anybody would argue against the message, but then I do agree with it, so that part is once again very easy.

The original Press release for Meat Free Monday describes the short film and its message. Simply, as “world leaders….. failed to agree…. meaningful initiatives at the recent Copenhagen Climate Change Conference” the film is a call to action for individuals to make a difference to climate change by dropping meat one day a week and they do have a point. It’s all well and good recycling using energy efficient light bulbs but what about energy efficient eating! With minimal personal investment, beyond light bulbs and recycling, a real difference can be made.

There are some pdf packs with leaflets and booklets, or you can order some for distribution from the campaign page. The booklet has some basic recipes and information for the meat free beginner, which may come in handy, while the other bits and pieces can be put up in local shops and noticeboards.

Midlands Vegan Campaigns are holding a ‘Fayre‘ at the Allsaints Church (the big one on the corner of the High Street and Vicarage Road) this coming Saturday. The event will be well worth a visit, I went to the last one before Christmas and enjoyed my lunch there! So even if you just fancy some cheap wholesome food dropping in is worthwhile. As the organisers say

Stock up on lots of cruelty-free goodies for Easter! Items for sale on stalls will include chocolates, cosmetics, cakes, soaps, fruit smoothies, campaign merchandise, health food, recipe books & lots more…! Also raffles, tombolas, cookery demos/talks, a vegan cafe & everything you need to enjoy a compassionate Easter! All this and FREE entry

These are the same people who organised the West Midlands Vegan Festival in Wolverhampton last year. That really was a great event, really looking forward to the next one.