11 Mar
2017

Xylitol is a relatively new sweetener on the market that has joined the lo-calorie sweetener club.  Many are justifiably concerned with the regular consumption of chemical sweeteners and are regularly on the look-out for sweeteners that are made from natural sources.  While xylitol is made from natural sources, it has been discovered that it may not be without health risk.

The Making

Xylitol crystals as seen under a microscope

Xylitol was discovered at almost the exact same time by German and French scientists during the late 19th century and has been used throughout Europe since World War 2.  As with all good tasting things, it has been readily adopted in the U.S. and used in sweetening many different types of food products.

While xylitol can be extracted from many fruits and vegetables, the majority of xylitol used for food consumption is taken from either corn cobs or birch trees, and because corn cobs are easier and a more renewable resource this is the primary source.   Birch trees must essentially be killed because the bark must be harvested to extract xylitol and we all know that trees don’t grow in a year!

Xylitol is produced primarily through hydrogenation, being processed with steam, hydrogen and hydrochloric acid.  This leaves waste water that can be used for mushroom farming and corn cob pulp that can be used for fuel.  The processing of birch bark is similar but substitutes sulfuric acid for hydrochloric acid, rendering the waste products unusable.

How Xylitol May Impact your Health

The good:

  • Xylitol is a low-calorie sweetener called a sugar alcohol, containing about 1.5 kcal less than the equivalent amount of sugar.  It is also a low glycemic index food, meaning that it does not cause the same rises in blood sugar as sucrose.  This makes it attractive for those with diabetes.
  • It is good for your teeth
    • While there is always conflicting research, most of it shows that it helps to reduce plaque build-up and tooth decay by reducing the levels of strep mutans bacteria in dental plaque and reducing the amount of bacteria that stick to the teeth [1].
    • The caveat to this is that this benefit only lasts while the xylitol is present in the mouth, and it does not reduce the bacteria in the saliva [2].
    • To receive maximum benefit, one must use an oral product containing xylitol a minimum of 3 times per day, for a total daily dose of 5-6 grams [3].

The bad:

  • Xylitol is included in the same class of low-digestible carbohydrates as dietary fibers such as pectin and inulin, and other sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and erythritol.  While there is no immediate health risk associated with consuming these products, any consumption of low-digestible carbohydrates increases food fermentation in the gut.  This leads to abdominal discomfort, gas and bloating [4].  Those of you that have had severe episodes of digestive discomfort know that it can be quite miserable.
  • Explosion of a hydrogen balloon

    Hydrogenation is used to make xylitol.  This is the same process that is used to make hydrogenated oils (trans-fats), and requires a catalyst such as nickel, palladium or platinum.  Hydrogenation is linked to a scad of health ailments, including:

    • Coronary heart disease
    • Inflammation [5]
    • Alzheimers
    • Cancer
    • Obesity
    • Diabetes
    • Compromised liver function
    • and depression [6].
  • Nickel and palladium are all heavy metals used regularly in chemical reactions.  Both are known to be toxic and create the following symptoms:
    • Palladium
      • Bone marrow damage
      • Liver Damage
      • Kidney damage
      • Cancer
    • Nickel
      Nickel
      • Cancer of the respiratory tract and prostate
      • Heart disorders
      • Birth defects
      • Respiratory failure
      • Asthma and chronic bronchitis
    • Platinum is relatively non-toxic in most applications

While these risks are relatively low, in my opinion (and contrary to FDA allowances) no level of toxic metal is safe for ingestion.  There are some metals the body requires in small amounts but even those are toxic at high levels.  Another concept to consider is that each unique person has different tolerance levels for toxins, so what may be fine for your friend may not be fine for you.  Listen to your body and treat it with respect.

GMO Watch

Corn, corn, corn…I’m sure you see my mention of corn in this section of MANY blogs.  It goes to show how the role that corn-based products play in our food supply because of its crop sustainability and ease of use.

Xylitol is made from corn cobs, and it would be ignorant of me not to mention it.  If you can ingest xylitol without digestive issues and choose to keep using it, be sure to seek out non-GM sources.

Check out these blogs for GMO free xylitol-based products!

 

 

 

 

1. Nayak, Prathibha Anand, Nayak, Ullal Anand, and Khandelwal, Vishal. The Effect of Xylitol on Dental Caries and Oral Flora. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dentistry. 2014; 6: 89–94.
2. Söderling, Eva;  Hirvonen, Aino; Karjalainen, Sara; Fontana, Margherita; Catt, Diana and Seppä, Liisa.   The Effect of Xylitol on the Composition of the Oral Flora: A Pilot Study. European Journal of Dentistry. 2011 Jan; 5(1): 24–31.
3. Söderling, Eva. Controversies around Xylitol. European Journal of Dentistry, 2009 Apr; 3(2): 81–82.
4. Livesey, Geoffrey. Tolerance of low-digestible carbohydrates: a general view. British Journal of Nutrition (2001), 85, Suppl. 1, S7±S16.
5. Kummerow, FA. The negative effects of hydrogenated trans fats and what to do about them. Atherosclerosis. 2009 Aug;205(2):458-65.
6. Wikipedia.  Trans Fats, Other Health Risks.
7 Mar
2017

 Artificial Sweeteners-the Good and Bad

There are a number of artificial sweeteners on the grocery shelves these days, all created to provide a sugar free alternative for those that have blood sugar imbalances or wish to decrease their sugar intake.  Some are better choices than other based on how they are made and what potential negative effects they may have on your health.  For clarity, I have provided some information on each sweetener below.

A couple basic concepts to keep in mind pertaining to artificial sweeteners:

  1. Remember when discussing chemical reactions that when two or more chemicals combine to make a new chemical, there will always be remainders of the initial components left over.  So even though a product may be made mostly of the final product, there will always be remainders of what comprised it.
  2. Chemicals are chemicals, period.  They increase the toxic load on your body and use up energy for detoxification.
  3. Thorough studies were not completed to determine the safety or outcome with prolonged use of many chemical sweeteners before allowing them onto the food market.

Aspartame

Check food labels

Aspartame is made chemically from the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine.  There is a fair quantity of information about the potential negative side effects that aspartame may have on our health.  Much of this concern revolves around what it is made from and  chemicals are created in our digestive systems when aspartame is digested.

Consumption of aspartic acid increases blood levels of aspartate.  Aspartate can cross the blood-brain barrier, and excess levels cause nerve cell death by exciting the cells to the point where they die.  This also occurs with the consumption of monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG.  Children, pregnant women and individuals with existing brain disorders are highly encouraged to avoid products containing these products.  Russell Blaylock, M.D. published a book called Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills that has been very helpful in my understanding of this process.  It clearly outlines the effects that these excitotoxins have on our nervous system and how best to avoid them.  I highly recommend this book!  A general rule of thumb is to avoid any food that obviously states either aspartame or MSG and avoid using packaged foods.

Phenylalanine is normally found in the brain, but with the consumption of aspartame the levels can rise to those that are dangerous.  Increased consumption of phenylalanine can decrease serotonin levels in the brain, leading to depression.  Blaylock also addresses this in his book, pointing out that high levels of phenylalanine can cause schizophrenia and make one more susceptible to seizures.  In order for phenylalanine to be used in the production of aspartame, it must be treated with methanol and hydrochloric acid.  While most of the methanol is likely removed from the phenylalanine, small amounts remaining will likely contribute to the methanol toxicity from consuming aspartame, discussed below.

Two of the final by-products of the digestion of aspartame are formic acid and formaldehyde.  Formic acid is highly acidic and, according to MSDS, is listed as a corrosive and an irritant, and is known to be corrosive on the skin.  It is used commercially as a preservative and antibacterial agent in livestock feed, and it slows the decay of said products.

I think that many of us are familiar with formaldehyde as an effective preservative, and was once used to preserve cadavers before its severe toxicity was discovered.  What many may not know is that is it a product of the break down of methanol.  Methanol is released from aspartame during the digestive process in the small intestine.  Free methanol is the most easily absorbed by the body, and is created when aspartame is heated to over 86 degrees.  Consider food products like microwaved sugar free foods or foods that require heat for preparation. Methanol toxicity most commonly exhibits with visual disturbances like blurry vision, decrease in visual fields, retinal damage and blindness.

Formaldehyde is also used in the manufacturing of glues and bonding agents.  This is part of the familiar “new house” smell that emanates from cabinets, composite counter-tops, pressed bookshelves and other similar items.  Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, causes damage to the retina, leads to birth defects and interfered with normal DNA replication.

You will recognize NutraSweet and Equal as two of the most well-known names of aspartame products.  And you may be thinking ” I don’t consume that much aspartame so it can’t be that bad!”.  If you were to stop and consider the sweetened drinks you consume, the gum you chew, the frozen or packaged meals you eat and candy you buy you might want to re-consider.  If you intentionally seek out sugar free foods, unless you are intentionally avoiding aspartame you are probably eating more than you think.

Acesulfame Potassium (Ace K)

Created in 1988, it was not officially used as a food product until 1998 in soft drinks.  Initial research indicated that Ace K moved through the body without being metabolized, so it was deemed safe for consumption.  This information, however, was based on very few studies so the possibility of health concerns was not ruled out.

Ace K is made by combining acetoacetic acid and fluorosulfonyl isocyanate to create an unstable compound that is then reacted with potassium hydride under heat to crystallize it to a powdery sweetener.  Methylene chloride is a solvent used in the initial steps to create Ace K.  Per concept #1 at the start of this blog, even though these chemicals are reacted together to form Ace K, there will still be remaining amounts of acetoacetic acid, fluorosulfonyl isocyanate and methylene chloride in the final product.

Isocyanates are powerful irritants to the mucus membranes of the body, including the repiratory system, gastrointestinal system and eyes.  Most isocyanates are used in vapor form and are thereby inhaled and swallowed.  Methylene chloride is classified as a potential carcinogen by OSHA.  Skin exposure causes irritation and burns, and continuous exposure causes respiratory tract and eye irritation.

Ace-K is used in combination with other artificial sweeteners due to its intense sweet taste and bitter aftertaste.  It is most commonly used with aspartame.

A research study using mice was completed in 2013 that may indicate other potential effects of Ace-K that were previously unknown.  The study quantified ingestion levels for mice that were realistically comparable with ingestion levels of humans based on weight.  The outcomes showed that consistent ingestion altered fasting levels of insulin and increased leptin levels which correlated with increased total cholesterol levels, LDL and HDL levels.  It was also discovered that Ace-K consumption decreased the mitochondrial activity of nerve cells (decreasing the energy production capacity of the cell), compromising the ability of the cell to function properly.  Impaired cognitive function was reflected in decreased function of short-term memory [1].

You will recognize sweeteners that contain Ace-K by the names Sunnett or Sweet One.  I would include this with aspartame as a sweetener to avoid.

Neotame

Neotame is produced by combining aspartame with 3-dimethylbutyl.  The result is that it retains a 3, 3-dimethylbutyl group that prevents the complete breakdown of the sweetener.  This reduces the amount of phenylalanine produced, making it “safe” for those with PKU.

It has a sweetness factor that is over 7,000 times that of table sugar!  So it requires much less to achieve the same sweetness.  So little that you are probably consuming it without realizing it.  Because labeling laws do not require that an ingrediFront page of 'Methanol Poisoning'ent be labeled if it is 1% or less of the ingredients, it is added and not labeled but is combined with other artificial sweeteners.

While this sounds wonderful, the reality is that, because it is a derivative of aspartame it is metabolized to the same end-products, namely phenylalanine and methanol.  I explained under the aspartame section how methanol is broken down to formaldehyde, and the dangers of phenylalanine.  The same apply here.

I attempted to locate and retrieve research studies on the safety of neotame and was unable to find any, which leads me to believe that the true safety of this product has not bee studied.  Again, beware of what you eat.  Because of the likelihood that it is not on the label and is combined with other artificial sweeteners, you are likely consuming it and do not realize it.

Saccharin

Saccharin is made from sugar so it tastes more like sugar, but by the end of processing sugar to make it, it retains none of the chemical characteristics of sugar.  During its making, sucrose is chlorinated to leave a chemical with three chlorine molecules attached.  Yes, similar to the chlorine that goes into your swimming pool.  This yields a compound called an alkyl halide, which the body has great difficulty detoxifying.  This puts it in the same category of DDT…comforting, right?

Saccharin was approved for food use in 1998 under the pretense that it was not metabolized during digestion and studies showed no carcinogenic effects.  However, like all other chemical sweeteners, long-term studies were not conducted before release of the product onto the market so the outcomes were really not clearly or carefully investigated.

Research studies since then have shown that saccharin is likely more toxic that originally thought.  According to the Sucralose Toxicity Information Center, the absorbed sucralose and its metabolites concentrate in the liver, kidney, and gastrointestinal tract. While Splenda manufacturers claim that there is minimal absorption after ingestion, the FDA says there is only 11 percent to 27 percent absorption and the Japanese Food Sanitation Council dictates as much as 40 percent.

A rat study conducted in 2013 by Susan Schiffman and Kristina Rother determined several things that were not yet understood:

  • The consumption of sucralose initiated the pre-systemic detoxification systems to prepare the body to detox the chemical, indicating that the body sees sucralose as something toxic.
  • It was also found that some of the sucralose is metabolized in the gut and the metabolites created are mutagenic at elevated concentration (meaning they have the potential to cause cancer).
  • Sucralose in the large bowel was seen to decrease the level of beneficial gut bacteria.
  • Cooking sucralose at high temperatures created choloropropanols, that have been shown to be carcinogenic, genotoxic (damage DNA), and contribute to male infertility.
  • Sucralose may alter glucose and insulin levels. [2]

While some may question if the outcomes of the study pertain to humans because rats were the test subjects, it was shown that sucralose in indeed not an inert compound as previously believed and may have more serious health effects than we thought.

While it may seem small, one study carried out in 1994 indicates that there may be individuals within the population that are more sensitive to the toxic nature of sucralose than others.  One patient experienced hepatotoxicity (liver toxicity) after ingesting three different medications that contained sucralose, and the study later determined the sucralose was causing the toxicity.  I do understand that this is certainly not reflective of the entire population, but there are segments of the population that will have a similar reaction.  It may very well be you!

GMO Watch

Because sucralose is so sweet by itself, it is mixed with either maltodextrin or dextrose in a ratio of 1% sucralose to 99% dilution powder.  Since both are maltodextrin and dextrose are derived from corn, and corn crops are over 90% genetically modified, chances are your sucralose sweetener is GMO.  Look for Sweet ‘N Low, Sweet Twin and Sugar TwinSplenda when weeding out sucralose products.

Cyclamate was banned in 1969 by the FDA because it showed cancer causing potential.

Do artificial sweeteners really help you lose weight?

Quite to the contrary, research has shown that artificial sweeteners may actually contribute to weight GAIN, nor are they always effective in reducing weight.

A trial study published in 2014 completed at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel may shed some light on this. This study indicated that consumption of moderate amounts of sucralose causes an imbalance in gut microbes that created metabolic changes normally associated with obesity and diabetes.  This means that there is a likelihood that replacing all of your sugar needs with artificial sweeteners may very well make it more likely for you to gain weight and develop type 2 diabetes.

At the 2009 meeting of the Endocrine Society, a conglomeration of research was compiled that showed that increased consumption of artificial sweeteners leads to obesity, increased insulin resistance and an increased likelihood of diabetes.  A thorough paper by Susan E. Swithers discusses the evidence that has accumulated that indicates the consumption of artificial sweeteners is linked to obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, and may interfere with learning processes.

Research into basic physiology also explains why this is the case.  It has been shown that sucrose plays a role in satiety by causing a response in the amygdala of the brain, and subsequent to this it has also been discovered that consuming artificial sweeteners decreases the response of the amygdala to sugar intake so we eat more [3][4].

What to do?

Avoid chemical artificial sweeteners.  If you have an intense craving for sugar, find a practitioner who can evaluate you for metabolic issues such as systemic candida, hormone imbalances, adrenal fatigue and intestinal dysbiosis.

 

 

1. Wei-na Cong, Rui Wang, Huan Cai, Caitlin M. Daimon, Morten Scheibye-Knudsen, Vilhelm A. Bohr, Rebecca Turkin, William H. Wood III, Kevin G. Becker, Ruin Moaddel, Stuart Maudsley, Bronwen Martin.  Long-Term Artificial Sweetener Acesulfame Potassium Treatment Alters Neurometabolic Functions in C57BL/6J Mice. August 7, 2013
2. Schiffman, Susan and Rother, Kristina. Sucralose, A Synthetic Organochlorine Sweetener: Overview of Biological Issues. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health B, Critical Reviews. 2013 Sep; 16(7): 399–451.
3. Rudenga, K.J. and Small, D.M. Amygdala response to sucrose consumption is inversely related to artificial sweetener use. Appetite, Volume 58, Issue 2, April 2012, Pages 504–507.
4. Anderson, G Harvey and Woodend, Dianne. Consumption of sugars and the regulation of short-term satiety and food intake. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2003 Vol. 78, No. 4:843S-849S.
21 Feb
2017

Cassava the Ancient

Also called manioc, the domesticated version of cassava is thought to be a relative of the wild version originating in west-central Brazil.  By 1492 when Columbus arrived in America, cassava was already an established staple food in South America and the Caribbean, so no one truly knows how far back in human civilization cassava held a place.

Even though the Spaniards refused cassava in their diet in preference for more “civilized” foods like bread, olive oil and meat when they first occupied the Caribbean, cultivation of manioc continued and flourished.  Ironically, cassava bread became the first Spanish industry established in Cuba and was depended upon by ships carrying exports from Cuban ports to Europe, as the bread was more resistant to becoming stale.

Cassava was introduced to Africa in the 16th century and quickly became a staple food.  Being a drought-tolerant crop, it can be grown in minimal soil.  Nigeria is now the world’s largest producer of cassava.

The cassava plant is actually a shrub that grows from one to three meters in height, but the root is the part that is used as a food source.  Resembling a yam, the root is long and covered with a thick, brown rind with flesh that is white or light yellow.

In the Diet

Cassava Bread
Cassava exists in both sweet and bitter varieties, and each has nutritional benefits and cautions.  As cassava contains toxic anti-nutritional factors, improper preparation of cassava can lead to residual cyanide levels high enough to cause cyanide toxicity, goiter and potentially more serious conditions leading to death.  Bitter varieties are more likely to cause these effects so they must be processed properly.  Sweet varieties are safe for consumption after boiling.

The cassava root is primarily a source of carbohydrates, with a small amount of protein and micro-nutrients.  The roots are rich in calcium and vitamin C and contain a significant amount of thiamine, riboflavin and nicotinic acid. While it is low in protein, it does contain respectable levels of all of the essential amino acids except methionine, cysteine and cystine.  Cooked cassava starch has a digestibility of over 75 percent, making it a reasonable food source if supplemented properly.

Unless you live in or visit an area where cassava is cultivated, it is unlikely you will consume anything that is made from cassava.  Cassava flour is well available in the U.S. and is quickly becoming a popular flour for gluten-free diets as it is the most similar to wheat flour.  If you are looking for an easier way to make bread, this is a great option.

Cassava sweetener is a very recent addition on the market.  It is produced from the cassava root like other cassava products, and enzymes are used to yield a liquid sweetener.  Calorically, it is very close to that of table sugar, but without the fructose.  It can be used as a replacement for sugar in any use.

Why You Will Love Cassava

If you prefer the taste of sugar over lo calorie or no calorie sweeteners, but worry about the fructose, cassava is your answer!  It is the only natural sweetener that does not contain fructose but still retains that sweet-like-sugar taste.

Fructose is a simple sugar that joins with glucose to make sucrose, or table sugar.  It also comprises either 42% or 55% of high fructose corn syrup, depending on its desired composition during manufacturing.  These two sweeteners are the predominant sweeteners on the market today.

Dried cassava

Fructose is not inherently bad, as it is the sugar that makes fruit sweet.  It has become a dietary concern because of the amount that many consume as a food additive.  If you are a regular consumer of soda, candy, or packaged foods it is a guarantee that you will find sugar or high fructose corn syrup, or both, on the label.

Consumption of large amount of fructose can damage your health in several ways:

  • Fructose is the preferred food source of cancer cells.  The human body is built with cellular processes that work all day, every day to kill cells that have the potential to become cancerous.  The less fructose there is available for these cells to use as energy, the less likely they are to become problematic and the easier it will be for the body to continue its management of these cells.
  • The liver suffers a great deal when fructose is ingested.  The liver is the only organ than can metabolize fructose, and if you consume large amounts this puts a great strain on this important organ.  The higher the consumption of fructose, the more the liver has to work at metabolizing it and the less time it can spend on other important functions like detoxifying the blood, making bile, and making other important blood proteins like immune and clotting factors.
    • This metabolism creates many waste products, one of which is uric acid, that causes gout and can raise blood pressure.
  • Because fructose cannot be used as an energy source, ALL OF IT is automatically stored as fat or fat precursors: free fatty acids, VLDL’s and triglycerides.  The latter two you may recognize as numbers on your lab report that need to be kept low for health concerns.
  • Fructose does not suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin or stimulate leptin, as glucose does, so you overeat.  Is this possibly why we have an obesity epidemic in America?

GMO Watch

Cassava is currently undergoing a field trial in East and Central Africa that began in 2015.  This field trial is testing a virus-resistant variety due to the declining yields of the crop due to the black streak virus.  The country has tabled the decision to allow the crop to continue being grown until further notice.

Even if for research, the introduction of GM cassava has opened the door for the possibility of it spreading even if Africa chooses not to allow it to be grown.  As we all know, once the possibility is there, the likelihood of it being used increases.

Read my GMO Free Cassaav Products Review blog to find cassava products!

 

 

11 Feb
2017

It’s not Related to the Monkey

The monk fruit is a large fruit that looks very much like a honeydew melon of a different color, but is actually a member of the gourd family.  According to legend, it is named monk fruit after the Buddhist monks who first cultivated the fruit over 800 years ago.

The first recorded mention of the monk fruit was in 13th century records of Chinese monks, where at the time the plant was only grown in family gardens due to it being difficult to cultivate.  1813 showed the beginning of cultivation in China.  The English first reported monk fruit in a 1938 manuscript, and it was taken to the U.S. in the early 20th century.

Current crop cultivation is still located primarily in southern China where the climate is ideal.

The monk fruit can be cut open and the inside eaten fresh.  The juice from the monk fruit is known to be up to twenty times sweeter than other fruit juices.  The rind of the fruit can be used to make tea.  If the fruit is to be stored, it must be dried at low temperatures to retain the nutritional value.

Improve Your Health with Monk Fruit Sweeteners

Making sweet water with monk fruit
Monk fruit initially gained popularity as a no-calorie sweetener substitute and it serves that purpose quite well.  It is several hundred times sweeter than sugar!

What I find unique about the monk fruit is that the very thing that makes it sweet is what also gives it its greatest health benefits!  Mogrosides are very powerful antioxidants that give the monk fruit its sweet taste, and are very effective at fighting free radicals.  This can reduce the symptoms of painful inflammatory disorders and even improve the healing of inflamed injuries.

Historically, monk fruit juice was used by the Chinese as a healing remedy for colds, cough, immune deficiency, fever, lung disease, and digestive disorders.  In Chinese medicine, it is used to balance out heat build-up to relieve respiratory conditions, constipation and enteritis.

Using a no-calorie sweetener has benefits all its own.  Decrease in sugar intake leads to decrease in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  Why not use one that has all of these other very important benefits!

GMO the Monk Fruit

Screenshot of In The Raw Monk Fruit Sweetener

Which is currently not happening, and is not likely to happen.

However, because of the intense sweetness of monk fruit extract some producers dilute their monk fruit powder to dilute the sweetness.  The most common substance used for this dilution is dextrose.  The texture of dextrose makes it ideal for dissolvable sweeteners.  But, it is also a derivative of corn, and corn crops are now largely genetically modified.

Finding non-GMO Monk Fruit

Read my Monk Fruit Review Blog to find out!

9 Feb
2017

Short and Sweet

The agave plant is a native plant of Mexico, and is where a large amount of agave products still come from.  The Aztecs used both the flower and nectar as a food source, eaten as a cooked or raw vegetable.  The flowers, the leaves,
the stalks and the sap are all edible.  Agave nectar is used to make the drink called Aguamiel, otherwise known as honey water, or fermented to make Mescal and Tequila.

Agave plants grow from a short stalk, and the leaves can be quite long.  Agave plants bloom only once in their lifetime, growing a large stem and a number of short tubular flowers.  The original plant dies but suckers at the base of the stem regularly grow into new plants.  The stalks may be harvested before the plant flowers and chewed as a sweet treat.

The agave plant exists in many different sizes and colors, but the blue agave is a popular choice for food related uses.

The juice of the leaves will lather in water like a soap.  Natives of Mexico used parts of the agave to make pens, nails, needles, and string to sew and weave. Leaf tea or tincture is used to treat constipation, flatulence and as a diuretic. Root tea or tincture is used to treat arthritis.

Making the Syrup

Agave hollowed out and ready to harvest

Agave nectar, first realized in the 1990’s, is harvested by cutting the off the top of the plant, hollowing out the core, and replacing the top.  The nectar is harvested after several days of collection.  Harvest occurs when the plant is 7 to 14 years old.

After harvest, the nectar is boiled down to increase its concentration and yield a sweeter syrup.  Heating also breaks down the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars that make it easier to digest.  A heat-free method of processing involves the use of enzymes derived from Aspergillus mold.

Raw agave nectar is produced in a similar fashion, with the exception that it is not heated above 118 degrees.  Similar to honey, this retains the live enzymes to yield greater health benefits.

The Grades

Like honey and maple syrup, there are several grades of agave nectar that yield different flavors.

  • Light agave syrup-almost neutral flavor, mostly just sweet
  • Amber agave syrup-caramel flavor of medium intensity
  • Dark agave syrup-stronger caramel flavor than amber.  This will be the most flavorful as a topping for foods. It is unfiltered and contains a higher concentration of minerals.
  • Raw agave syrup-mild taste similar to light.   Because it is produced at temperatures below 118 °F, it retains the natural enzymes.

To your Health

Agave has been proven to be a low glycemic index food, meaning its fructose is released slowly into the blood stream.  This is good for diabetics, who have difficulty with blood sugar maintenance.

It also contains high levels of vitamins E, C, D, and E. and the minerals calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium.  And if you are buying the raw variety, the natural enzymes help with inflammation and healing.

There is some controversy of the overall health of agave nectar because its sugar content is primarily fructose.  Fructose has been shown in studies to be the primary food source for cancer cells, so there is questions surrounding if its benefits outweigh that concern.

GMO agave?

To this date, agave has not been genetically engineered.

However, agave is a farmed plant and may be treated with fertilizer or other plant food products.  For this reason I would seek out non-GMO verified agave products.

Find Non-GMO Verified Agave Sweetener on my blog!

 

 

6 Feb
2017

Let the Trees Share their Wealth

Maple syrup is another sweetener whose beginnings were with the indigenous people of North America, and later adopted by European settlers.  Maple was used by settlers primarily as a source of concentrated sugar because cane sugar had to be otherwise imported.

While the retrieval of maple has always been done by boring and tapping the tree trunk, processing methods have been refined over the years.  In the 1850’s, flat sheet metal pans replaced iron kettles for boiling as the increased surface area made evaporation faster.  In 1872, a firebox was developed that shortened the boiling time considerably.  And in the early 1900’s, the bottom of the pan was bent into flues to increase the surface area of heating to further speed up evaporation.

Collection methods have also been modified from buckets to plastic bags, and tractors allow for delivery of larger quantities of maple to the evaporator at a faster pace.  Filtration methods have been developed that eliminate
contamination and heating methods are more efficient.  Plastic tubing methods have been perfected that allow the maple to be pumped from the tree directly to the evaporator.

The Process

Maple tree tap

Making maple syrup is really quite simple.  Sap is collected from the tree, usually sugar maple, black maple or red maple, and heated to evaporate the water and leave a thick syrup.  The boiling process is monitored to ensure that the sugar content is at the correct concentration to prevent crystallization or spoilage.  Many large producers use reverse osmosis to separate the water from the sap.

Maple trees must reach an age of 30 years to be useful for syrup production.  Maple season is typically in the spring, and each tree can be tapped one to three times per season depending on the size of the tree.  Tapping is only productive during the daytime when the sap rises up the trunk with the warmer temperature.

Today, Canada produces approximately 80% of the world’s maple syrup.

Making the Grades

The grading of maple syrup was revised in 2015 to eliminate Grade B and C and create four unique yet overlapping Grades of A.  When you head to your grocer to buy maple syrup, you will now see the folllowing grades:

  • Grade A: Golden Color and Delicate Taste
    • Usually from the first tap in colder climates.  Has a light flavor that can easily be overcome with other
      The Grades

      foods.

  • Grade A: Amber Color and Rich Taste
    • Mid-season tap, more flavorful and well-used in baking and cooking.
  • Grade A: Dark Color and Robust Taste
    • Flavor is similar to that of brown sugar.  Can be used for a tasty glaze for meat or a flavorful BBQ sauce.
  • Grade A: Very Dark and Strong Taste
    • Last tap of the season, the strongest tasting.  The flavor is very similar to that of molasses.

Why is it Good for You?

Maple syrup provides significant levels of manganese and riboflavin with moderate levels of zinc and calcium.  It also contains polyphenols, antioxidants that help to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.

Its sugar base is comprised of sucrose and water, with small amounts of glucose and fructose.  Maple syrup is a sugar product and is best used in moderation with other sweeteners.

GMO’s may be an issue

Because maple trees have to be 30 years old or more to produce maple syrup, the  likelihood of GM maple trees being introduced to the market is very small.
If, however, you are not buying 100% maple syrup you need to pay attention to the ingredients.  Brands like Aunt Jemima contain zero maple syrup.  Their primary ingredient is corn syrup to make the syrup base, which as you know is derived from corn.  Over 90% of corn crops grown in the U.S. are genetically modified, making it very likely that your “maple syrup” is indeed GMO.

Buying non-GMO Maple Syrup

You might ask yourself why it would be necessary to purchase non-GMO Verified maple syrup when the trees are not GM.  If it is non-GMO verified, it ensures that there are no products used in the process that could potentially contaminate the syrup during tapping or production.

Visit my Non-GMO Maple Syrup Review Blog to find it!

 

 

31 Jan
2017

Sweet Straight from the Bees

When I think about honey, I am reminded of the scene in Fried Green Tomatoes when Idgie waltzes right up to a tree with a beehive inside, reaches in with her bare hands and grabs a chunk of honey-laden beeswax.  She calmly walks away unscathed, while Ruth stands back in awe.  Wouldn’t it be lovely to have such direct access to honey?  If you do, tell the rest of us how wonderful it is in the comments below!

Honey has most assuredly been a part of human food culture since the beginning of time.  Historically, honey has been used for many more uses than solely a food product.  In history, it has been recorded that honey was used for digestive ailments, ulcers, skin ailments and skin burns.  Because honey contains anti-microbial properties it was found highly useful.

Religious significance was also attributed to honey in several people groups.  For the Jewish people, honey is a symbol of the Jewish New Year and is a dip for apples to bring in a new year.  Buddhists use honey in the festival of Madhu Purnima, a day that celebrates when Buddha made peace with his disciples.  In the Quran, honey is promoted as a healing food, and in the Bible there are many references to honey both in the Old and New Testaments, symbolizing prosperity and health.

Classification of Honey

You have probably been to the store and seen quite a selection of honey and wondered why they are different.  Let me shed a little light on this for you!

Honey is classified by the floral source, meaning the flowers from which the bees took nectar.  While is it possible to limit bees to one floral source by containment to produce a mono-floral (one flower) honey, free-living bees feed on many floral sources and produce blended honey (or polyfloral, many flowers).

Filtering honey

Grading of honey is optional for honey producers, so if you do not see a grade on your honey do not be alarmed.
Producers are required to pay a fee for having their honey graded and some simply choose not to do so.  Grading level standards were established by the USDA to establish some consistency of marketing.

Honey is graded based on many factors: soluble solids, flavor, aroma, consistency, appearance of defects, and clarity.  Grade A is the highest quality grade with the best flavor and aroma, least amount of defects and the highest clarity.  Reduced clarity may be from retained pollen, air bubbles or other small particles.

Honey is sold both raw and pasteurized, and both types are graded under the same standards.  Raw honey may be packaged filtered or unfiltered.  Filtering raw honey does not involve heating but will aid in removing some of the particles.

Honey and Your Health

Plant nectar is comprised of sucrose and water, but when the bees harvest the nectar they contribute enzymes that break down the sucrose to fructose and glucose.  Bees make honey with the intent of it being a food source for their hive during the winter months when flowering plants are dead, and fructose and glucose are simple sugars that yield easy energy for the bees.

The nutrient profile of honey varies depending on the source of the nectar, but generally you will find B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, certain amino acids, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc.  Honey also contains anti-oxidants that you won’t find in sugar!

As a source of sweetener, on the average honey contains approximately 50% fructose.  All sucrose-based sweeteners have a similar effect on the immune system, so excess consumption of even honey is not recommended.  It is not considered a “healthier sweetener” from the point-of-view of the sugar content.

Raw honey, however, has benefits that sugar does not have.  The sugar content of raw honey is no different that pasteurized honey, but it does retain the enzymes.  It is believed that the enzymes present in raw honey are what give it its anti-microbial properties.  The natural enzymes also allow for honey to be fermented to make honey wine.  This short paper details honey’s enzymes and potential benefits.

Manuka Honey is a True Healing Gift from Nature

Manuka honey is so named from the Manuka bush from which bees retrieve the nectar.  Manuka honey is particularly unique in that its nutrient profile contains up to four times as many nutrients as other raw honeys.  Manuka honey naturally contains more enzymes to create increased antimicrobial properties that exceed other raw honey products.

Manuka Bush Flower
But if you find the right Manuka honey, it contains even MORE enzymes that create natural hydrogen peroxide to give it much more effective anti-microbial properties.  UMF, or Unique Manuka Factor (also called KFactor), is the global standard that identifies and measures the antimicrobial strength of this unique Manuka honey.

UMF honey is also graded based on its UMF factor and benefit to your health.  Grading is determined by comparing the anti-bacterial properties of manuka honey to the disinfectant called phenol.  The following grading scale is:

0-4: Non-therapeutic

4-9: Maintenance level with general honey health benefits

10-14: Supports natural healing and bacterial balance.  This level is considered useful for your health.

15+: Superior levels of phenols that are highly therapeutic but shouldn’t exceed taking 1 tbsp at a time

Genuine UMF honey will be labeled with the UMF trademark label, be from a New Zealand UMF licensed company, have the UMF company’s name and license number on the label, and have a UMF rating number of 5-16+.

To find genuine Manuka honey, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the link to my Manuka Honey review blog.

GMO in honey?

It is a possibility.  Bees harvest nectar to make honey, but while they are harvesting the nectar there is a likelihood that they will also carry pollen spores back to the hive as well.  If these bees are feeding on plants that have been genetically modified, they are picking up pollen from GM plants.  Pollen is where the genes for the plant are located, which means that those genes are the same ones that have been genetically modified.

So, as innocent as it seems, bees may very well be depositing GM pollen into the honey to contaminate it with GM plant material.

Research has shown that bees have been found to carry soybean pollen, maize pollen and rapeseed pollen into their hives.  All three of these crops are over 90% genetically modified.

Where to find Non-GMO Honey

Visit my Non-GMO Honey Review Blog to find your perfect honey!  (The bee kind)

Visit my Non-GMO Manuka Honey Review Blog to find this excellent healing food!

 

 

 

27 Jan
2017

Sugar has been Around for a LONG time

Sugar Cane Field
So long, in fact, that we do not know when people discovered how to make sugar from sugar cane.  Historians believe that the sugar cane was first domesticated in New Guinea and spread from there to Southeast Asia and southern China.  The refining of sugar cane to sugar crystals began in India, and by the 6th century sugar cultivation and processing had reached Persia.  Arab peoples always had sugar on their expeditions, resulting in its spread.

Sugar was introduced to Europe and the Canary Islands via the Spanish and Protugese conquests, and Columbus introduced sugar to the New World on his second voyage.

It seems we are not the first culture to have a problem with sugar over-consumption!  Britain, for example, consumed five times as much sugar in 1770 as they did in 1710.  By the end of the 18th century, sugar surpassed grains as the most valuable commodity in European trade.  This speaks volumes because grain was often the primary source of nutrition for many people.  Once the many uses of sugar had been discovered, the sugar market boomed.  Prices soared, making sugar a commodity available for only the wealthy.  Before the boom the majority of sugar came from the West Indies, but island producers from Barbados and the Leeward Islands capitalized on demand soon took the lead in sugar exportation.

Mechanized Cane Crusher

Around the same time, mechanization became a reality in sugar processing much the way it is accomplished today.  It began with the development of a succession of closed heat chambers and evaporators to prevent loss of product, and the centrifuge process developed around 1852.

As we all know, all good things usually come to some sort of demise.  With the combination of depletion of soil from existing crops, the establishment of more sugar plants in the Caribbean Islands, and political unrest, the price of sugar significantly decreased.  What was once a food for the rich became available to all of society.

Sugar beets became a source of sugar in the mid-1700’s when it was realized that sugar beets contained sucrose but commercial production did not occur until the early 19th century in Berlin.  The concept of extracting sugar from beets soon spread to France, Europe and the U.S.

The first successful sugar beet factory in the U.S. was built in 1870 but waited nine long years to see a profit.  By 1914 the sugar beet industry had grown to equal that of Europe negating the need for large imports.

As of 2013, the world’s largest sugar beet harvester was Russia, while the most successful sugar beet harvesters in the U.S. come from the Imperial Valley in California.

Sugar Today

In our current age of sugar-addiction, many of us are always looking for something sweet to satisfy our craving.  The latest statistics tell us that the average person eats 60 pounds of sugar a year, which amount to approximately 16% of our daily food intake, according to the CDC.  Yikes!

And, if you are not highly particular about the type of sugar you eat, most of that sugar you consume will be in the form of white sugar.  As an interesting note, white sugar obtains its white color by exposure to bone char, or cow bones that have been incinerated turning them into a coarse dust.  This acts as a carbon filter of sorts, rendering the sugar crystals white.

Consuming white sugar can have detrimental effects on your immune system, and therefore your ability to fight off infections.  Sugar has a similar make-up to that of vitamin C.  Because of this, when we consume sugar it takes the place of what should be vitamin C in and on our immune cells.  Without vitamin C, the immune cells cannot fight off bacteria or viruses.  This effect on the immune system lasts for several hours after consuming sugar!  So if you consume sugar at regular intervals throughout the day, you are essentially compromising your immune system all day long….if you are sick often you need to consider severely limiting or even completely eliminating your sugar intake.

What About Brown Sugars?

As a processed food, sugar goes through a multi-step process.  Imperial Sugar has created a helpful diagram to understand this process with cane sugar, from which brown sugar is derived.  The shade of the brown sugar is determined by how many filters the sugar is filtered through to remove minerals and impurities.  The fewer minerals that are filtered out, the more nutritional benefit there is in the sugar so I always recommend using brown sugar when at all possible.

The taste will vary quite a bit between darker brown sugar and white sugar as well.  Brown sugars are less “sweet” so they are often not used for baking or beverages.  I personally enjoy using brown sugar in baking because of this very fact (and I feel like it’s better for us nutritionally).

The process is different for producing beet sugar, from which the majority of white sugar is currently made.  Sugar beets slices are first soaked in hot water to extract the molasses.  The liquid is then filtered, leaving the liquid without solids.  The molasses is placed in a centrifuge (a machine that spins at a high rate of speed) where the majority of the molasses is spun off.  The remaining molasses is rinsed off with hot water and the crystals are dried and packaged.

 Watch out for GMO

Single Sugar Beet

In the U.S., 95% or more of sugar beet crops are genetically modified in the form of gylphosate resistance.

Cane sugar has presently not been genetically modified but 70 field trials have been carried out in the U.S. to create GM sugarcane that is resistant to viruses, bacteria and pests, strains that are herbicide tolerant and strains that have a modified sugar content to increase yield.  Because current crops losses are at or exceed 50% due to pests and weeds, genetic modification may very well be on the horizon.

Find Non-GMO Sugar

While you may be tempted to think that using solely cane sugar is a sure way to avoid GMO’s, with the looming threat of cane sugar genetic modification I would suggest seeking out non-GMO guaranteed brands.

Find non-GMO cane sugar on my cane sugar review blog.

 

1 Nov
2016

Agave Nectar

Agave nectar became a fad in the not too recent past as a sugar substitute because it was deemed a healthier option.  With the current understanding of fructose and its effects on blood sugar and cancer cells, agave is also a product to be used in moderation as its sugar content is over 50% fructose.

It is, however, quite flavorful and provides a unique taste to foods and beverages that sugar doesn’t have.  Madhava produces non-GMO agave nectar and other agave products.  Madhava Raw Agave Nectar 23.5 oz  is one of the most popular agave products, in regular and light.

 

 

Stevia

Stevia is a no-calorie sweetener extracted from the stevia plant that is 200 times sweeter than sugar in the same concentration.  With the increased amount of sugar that is being consumed by society, stevia has become an increasingly popular ingredient to add sweetness without the calories or health detriments.

Pyure has created several varieties of stevia-based products for food use.  The all-purpose stevia blend and stevia drops are great for sweetening drinks.  Granular stevia gives the look and feel of sugar so you can stir it in your tea or coffee and watch it dissolve!  And the bakeable blend is sepcifically formulated for baked goods.

The best part is, it is a 5-starsproduct.

Use both Madhava and Pyure knowing that they are Non-GMO Project Verified.