By, Sammy Caiola
Native Foods Cafe
Here at Native, we use everything the earth has to offer, whether
sweet or savory. So when it comes to dessert, we turn to the southwest United
States, where 300 varieties of agave plants are waiting to share their nectar.
There is currently some controversy about whether or not agave syrup is truly a
healthful food item, but Native Foods is sticking to it, and we’ll tell you
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First off, agave nectar is undoubtedly, 100% vegan. Unlike honey
or white sugar, which is sometimes filtered using carbon made from charred animal bones, agave does no
harm to our animal friends. The plant’s sweet flavor comes from naturally
occurring fructans, particularly one fructan called inulin which is technically
a fiber. It does not cause the same spikes in blood sugar and cholesterol
levels as refined sugars, and studies show it can help treat colon diseases.
Two tablespoons of agave nectar rank a 30 on the glycemic index, compared to
the index average 100. This means agave has fewer carbohydrates and is more
easily digested. There’s a reason it’s been lauded in health food stores and
vegan restaurants (including Native Foods!) for the past two decades.
The problem comes up not with the nectar itself but with the way it’s
processed. Certain nectars undergo a chemical process in which enzymes get
added to the inulin, breaking it down into digestible sugar (fructose) and
raising the fructose levels to somewhere between 60 and 90 percent. That’s
pretty scary considering high-fructose corn syrup is 55 percent fructose, a
chemical which is notorious for causing fat build-up and liver damage. But it’s
an avoidable problem so long as you check your labels. Most vegan bloggers
recommend Mahava agave nectar, which is processed minimally and without any
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But, like my mom used to say, a little bit of anything won’t kill
you, and that includes a little sweetener once in a while. Another plus-side to
agave is it’s about 1 ½ times sweeter than typical refined sugar, so you need
less of it to get the desired effect. Take, for example, this awesome juice recipe from
chef Kendall that requires only 2 tablespoons of agave syrup. Agave’s strong
flavor and thick texture is vital to most vegan baking, and it’s a better go-to
coffee sweetener than fake sugars like Splenda, or anything containing
If you’re living a truly healthy lifestyle you’re probably not
eating much dessert anyway. And if you’re only going to indulge once in a
while, why not do it with an agave-sweetened peanut butter pafait at Native
Foods? It’s irresistible. And compared to the processed cookies and shakes
available at fast food joints, this is about as guilt-free as dessert can get.
So eat agave in moderation and do your research, but no need to give it up
entirely just because of some buzz on the blogosphere.
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