Saturday, August 1, 2009

Well, I was fooled...

Since the paleo diet discourages the use of sugar and artificial sweeteners, adherents are generally looking for other ways to satisfy the "sweet tooth". I've already talked about stevia in a previous posting, but we had lately been using agave syrup as well.

As it turns out, this is a mistake on my part, and I'm just glad I never got around to encouraging its use here in this blog. Agave syrup is not "natural" or "organic", no matter what the label may say. To make it, they take the root bulbs of the agave plant, which are starchy tubers comprising 50% inulin fibre (a non-digestible long-chain saccharide with a slight sweet taste, often used to "cut" stevia to make it spoonable), and they "chop up" the inulin with enzymes to release the sugar molecules within, then run it through various not-particularly-natural processes to "purify" it. Unfortunately, these sugar molecules are all fructose, and our bodies just aren't meant to handle quantities of fructose - it has to be digested by the liver, and damages the liver in the process.

There are other potential problems with it as well, and I suggest if you're interested in reading why both agave syrup and high-fructose corn sweeteners (HFCS, or "glucose-fructose" as it's called on labels in Canada) have no place in our food then you might want to go read this report from the Weston A. Price foundation.

So what sweeteners can we use? Well, honey is about as raw as you're going to get, and maple syrup is also good (both in moderation, of course). Sometimes things are sweetened with concentrated juices (apple and/or grape are popular, but you can use concentrated orange juice in some cooking to good effect as well). I'm also looking into something called "yacon syrup", but I don't know enough about that one yet to form an opinion. Ultimately, though, all sweeteners should be used in moderation - they would not be common-place in the diet of early man, so they should not be a frequent guest at our table either.

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