Shakeology Ingredient Education of the Day
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Agave, prior to the arrival of the Spanish, Mexico’s native people cultivated agave plants. They were used to produce fiber for ropes, mats and clothing. Also, the sweet juices from the core of the plant were fermented to produce agave wine, or pulque. This intoxication brew was used in religious ceremonies and it’s often cited as the earliest alcoholic drink on the American continent. The arrival of the Spanish introduced European techniques to Mexico. Just as brandy is produced by distilling grape wine, the distillation process was soon employed to turn agave wine (pulque) into a strong spirit called mezcal. Agave has been cultivated for centuries, first by the Native American population and then in Europe, when agave plants were brought back by the Spaniards and Portugese in the 17th century.
Four major parts of the agave plant have culinary uses. The flowers are edible and can be tossed in salads. The leaves are rich in sap and can be eaten. The stalks can be roasted before they flower and exude a distinctive sweet molasses-like flavor. Sap that is used in tequila or as sweetener comes from the flower shoots.
When the agave has grown to 7-10 years old, the leaves of the plant are cut off, revealing the core of the plant (called the “pina”). When harvested, the pina resembles a giant pineapple and can weigh in at 50 to 150 pounds.
To make the agave nectar, sap is extracted from the pina, filtered, and heated at a low temperature, which breaks down the carbohydrates into sugars. Lighter and darker varieties of agave nectar are made from the same plants. Because of the low temperatures used in processing many varieties (under 118°F) raw foods enthusiasts generally regard agave nectar as a raw food.
Agave contains saponins and fructans and has anti-inflammatory and immune system-boosting properties, including antimicrobial capability. The Aztecs used agave syrup to treat wounds because of its antibacterial properties. These saponins also bind to cholesterol and can help lower overall cholesterol levels, according to Jonny Bowden, author of “The Healthiest Meals on Earth.” Saponins might also help inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors.
One of the most health-promoting properties of agave nectar is its favorable glycemic profile. Its sweetness comes primarily from a complex form of fructose called inulin. Fructose is the sugar that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables. The carbohydrate in agave nectar has a low glycemic index, which provides sweetness without the unpleasant “sugar rush” and unhealthful blood sugar spike caused by many other sugars. Agave nectar is a delicious natural sweetener that can be used moderately – by dieters, some diabetics, and health conscious cooks – to replace high-glycemic and refined sugars.
Found in Shakeology: Organic Agave Fruit powder is a wholesome, non-GMO, ingredient that imparts a sweet flavor which also contributes prebiotic fiber. Although Shakeology was originally very low in sugar, this upgrade also lowered both the total sugar content slightly, as well as carbs. As with most fruit, Agave contains fructose and has the added benefit of being naturally high in inulin, a prebiotic fiber, to support digestive health. Unlike many of the cheaper sources of agave on the market, that use low quality materials and are enzymatically treated (similar to high fructose corn syrup processing) the organic agave used in Shakeology is naturally extracted without enzymes or chemical additives.
WARNING: The Agave Nectar you think is all natural may actually be processed pineapple, although it’s fast becoming the preferred sweetener for health-conscious consumers and natural cooks, the truth is that agave is processed just like other sugars — and is no better for you than other sugars. And don’t be dazzled by the word “natural”; U.S. food regulators do not legally define the term, so it’s left up to manufacturers.
The short answer to that reader’s question is simple: almost all commercially available agave nectar is not a “natural sweetener.” Plus, agave nectar has more concentrated fructose in it than high fructose corn syrup.
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