I can appreciate that controversial articles can make us question our choices. We’re constantly bombarded with various advertisements, opinions, figures, information, etc., and I know it can make you wonder… “WHAT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO?”
So, here is yet another opinion on the matter (mine). I’m emailed all the time about this issue and decided to blog about it.
Different Sweeteners For Different Reasons
The healthiest sweeteners are fresh, organic whole fruits, including dates. That said, dates sometimes compromise texture in recipes. As a chef, I look for beautiful texture, and as a health food advocate, I lean towards fresh dates. And, then, as a consultant helping people embrace a Raw vegan lifestyle, I’m supportive of helping them transition, which can mean using organic raw agave nectar (an easy-to-use sweetener that might not have the healthiest ranking in the Raw food world – especially to purists, which I am not), but is still much healthier than most sweeteners used in the Standard American Diet. I think it’s important to support people in the transition with eating a healthier lifestyle and, therefore, it’s important to be flexible. After all, a slice of Raw vegan cheesecake made with raw agave nectar is a heck of a lot better than a typical candy bar found in a convenience store or cookies made with white sugar and butter (and cooked!).
Agave isn’t something that you have to put in your recipes every day. If you’re unsure about it, then balance it out with dates. Many dessert recipes probably come out with the best texture if you use raw agave nectar (think mousse, pudding, etc). But, if it’s a soup or a smoothie or a dressing, then you can pretty easily just swap out the agave for 1-2 pitted dates. In my life… sometimes I use dates or date paste (recipe below), sometimes I use raw organic agave nectar, and sometimes I use a combination of both raw agave nectar and dates.
My main stance is that I’m comfortable with organic raw agave nectar and I use it in some of my recipes. I do not consume it every day.
Raw & Organic Agave Nectar – But Is It Really?
I agree that there are agave brands out there that claim to be raw and probably aren’t. The label says that it’s raw, but it doesn’t specify the temperature at which it was created. That’s why I stick with Madhava’s Raw Organic Agave for light agave (check out the FAQ of theirs for more details). I also use Wholesome Sweeteners Blue Agave when my recipe calls for a darker (or blue) agave nectar. Both companies claim on the label to not process their agave nectar over temps of 115F and 118F.
Update 3/6/09: I’ve recently been sent a sample of another Raw agave nectar. I’ll let you know my feedback, but from what I’ve read… it’s very promising.]
Update 3/17/10: I came across this blog where an article is featured “Agave Nectar: Hold on now… Response to Rami Nagel’s article By Craig Gerbore, President of Madhave”
Listen To Your Body
People are different and at different stages of raw (or even just healthy eating, for that matter) – this is important to consider if you have doubts about the health of raw agave nectar. Ask yourself… How does it make you feel? If you have something made with raw agave nectar, do you feel OK? Do you feel icky? Do you feel good and healthy? Many people on the Raw vegan journey find that over time, they eat meals that are simpler (for the most part) and don’t eat as many gourmet foods, where you find raw agave nectar used more. So, over time, you might not consume a lot of raw agave nectar, but to have some occasionally is common. Honey? Heck No!
As a happy and very proud vegan, honey is not an option, nor is it something that I advocate for other people. Dr. Michael Klapper, M.D., (a vegan doctor and best selling author) advises against using honey for health reasons, because it spikes natural sugar levels of the body. Honey is, basically, regurgitated bee vomit. Gross!
Bees make honey for the colony and pollen for the new queen. They don’t go to all the trouble to give it to me. When a colony is disturbed by someone taking their honey or pollen, it places a great amount of stress on the bees. This can disorient them and, in that sense, their whole order has been tampered with.I wouldn’t dream of stealing from bees. (There is a lot of information here about bees and their honey.)
In my opinion, there is no need to consume honey and harm bees, when you can use delicious and nutritious alternatives such as fresh organic dates to sweeten recipes. You can even make a date paste if you need something of a liquid nature (recipe below).Stress About It? Double Heck No!
Stress is one of the worst things for us. So, don’t stress about your choice to use, or not use, raw agave nectar. When you do things in moderation, it helps ease your mind. And, if you use agave nectar, get the best on the market (organic and raw) and feel secure with your choice.
Date Paste – Yummy & Healthy!
For those of you who want to stay away from both raw agave nectar and honey, here is a nutritious alternative that is smooth and delicious.
By Kristen Suzanne of KristensRaw.com
Yield 1 cup 15 Medjool dates, pitted, and soaked 15 minutes (reserve soak water)
1/4 – 1/2 cup reserved “soak water”
Using a blender, or a food processor, fitted with the “S” blade, puree the ingredients until you have a smooth paste. You can add a pinch of Himalayan crystal salt, if desired. Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator (glass mason jar is perfect), Date Paste will stay fresh for 10-14 days or longer.