Saturday, March 23, 2013

Agave, Not a Healthy Choice

From all the rap in the media and health documents about artificial sugar being more harmful than sugar itself, I questioned the sudden appearance of agave syrup (not that I can eat a sweetener yet) and its viability as a "healthy" sugar replacement. So far, there just hasn’t been a healthy replacement. Well, John Kohler did some pretty heavy research and his findings corroborate what I've found ... that agave is NOT good for the body. With its high fructose, it stresses the pancreas, one of my key problems as I can't handle hardly any kind of sugar in my body, not even carrots. Systemic candida and those sugar-hungry bacteria really have done a number on me. But really, each generation ingests w-a-y more sugar than the previous generation, so no wonder so many people are getting sick. Why do we need a sugar replacement for something that is not essential for our lives, just our benumbed taste buds? We actually don't. We are just addicted to sweetness and the sugar high, and to stay high we need more and more sugar. People really need to reconsider their diet content, eliminate some of that "unnecessary" and go back to whole foods which are full of their own flavors, flavors that are rich and natural and come with the added bonus of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.
Following is the research article written by John Kohler pasted here in its entirety. I really agree with the content, and wow, does he ever that a lot of it, much more than I found when doing my research. Very impressive!

by John Kohler
A relatively recent trend in raw food preparation is the use of agave syrup (also called agave nectar) as sweetener called for in raw recipes. I am often asked about my views on this sweetener.
When I first switched to a raw food diet in 1995, agave syrup was unknown and was NOT USED IN RAW FOODS!I first learned about agave syrup back in 1999 or 2000 at a trade show for the health food industry, which I attend regularly to keep up with the latest in the health and nutrition field. I asked several questions, got some samples, and inquired on how the company processed the agave syrup. At that time, I learned that it was processed at roughly 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit11, so I certainly didn’t consider it a raw food by any means. Just like agave, some people consider maple syrup a raw food, but all maple syrup is heat-treated and is therefore not raw at all.
Unfortunately, there are no “raw labeling laws.” Anyone, anywhere, at any time can put “RAW” on their label and to them it can be supposedly raw since it is made from a “raw” material or simply not roasted. Just because it says “RAW” doesn’t necessarily mean that it was processed at a temperature under 118 degrees and still has all its enzymes, nutrients, and “life force” intact. For example, when you notice the difference between raw carob powder and roasted carob powder in the store, it is my understanding that the “raw” carob powder has been heated to about 250 degrees, whereas the “roasted” carob powder has been heated to about 450 degrees. The additional heat applied to the “roasted” carob powder causes the carob to “carmelize,” thus making it darker in appearance and different in taste as compared to the “raw” carob powder. Some stores sell “truly raw” carob powder, it has a chalkier texture than supposedly “raw” carob powder. Jaffe Bros in Valley Center, California is a source of the “truly raw” carob powder. There are several raw food snack bars that say “RAW” but have ingredients such as cooked cocoa powder (that can’t be raw) and cashew nuts (most of which are not truly raw).
An excerpt on how agave is processed
...Agave plants are crushed, and the sap collected into tanks. The sap is then heated to about 140°F for about 36 hours not only to concentrate the liquid into a syrup, but to develop the sweetness. The main carbohydrates in the agave sap are complex forms of fructose called fructosans, one of which is inulin, a straight-chain fructose polymer about ten eight to 10 fructose sugar units long. In this state, the sap is not very sweet. When the agave sap is heated, the complex fructosans are hydrolyzed, or broken into their constituent fructose units. The fructose-rich solution is then filtered to obtain the desired products that range from dark syrup with a characteristic vanilla aroma, to a light amber liquid with more neutral characteristics. Excerpt from:
So agave needs to be hydrolyzed so that the complex fructosans are "broken down" into fructose units or it won't be sweet!! Great! Now I'm eating hydrolyzed raw agave syrup!
Let’s suppose for arguments sake, and to give agave the benefit of the doubt, that even with “new” technology companies are somehow able to process agave syrup below 118 degrees so it could be considered actually “raw”. We still need to ask the question, is it good for us? Some foods, even if they truthfully are raw, may not actually be HEALTHY. Based on what I have learned about agave syrup, I believe it to be one of these foods.
My answer to the question “Is agave nectar good for us?” would be “NO” based on my research. Here is a sample of my findings:
1.     Agave syrup is not a “whole” food. It is a fractionated and processed food. Manufacturers take the liquid portion of the agave plant and “boil” it down, thus concentrating the sugar to make it sweet. This is similar to how maple “sap” that comes directly from a tree is heated and concentrated to make maple “syrup.” Agave syrup is missing many of the nutrients that the original plant had to begin with.
2.     Agave syrup was originally used to make tequila. When agave syrup ferments, it literally turns into tequila. The enzymatic activity therefore MUST be stopped so that the syrup will not turn into tequila in your cupboard. Raw or not, if there is no enzymatic activity, it is certainly not a “live” food. As Raw Foodists, we want the enzymes intact.
3.     According to my research, there are three major producers of agave syrup. Some of these companies also have other divisions that make Tequila. For the most part, agave syrup is produced in the Guadalajara region in Mexico. There are those within the industry who I have spoken to at various trade shows who say that some of the agave syrup is “watered down” with corn syrup in Mexico before it is exported to the USA. Why is this done? Most likely because agave syrup is expensive, and corn syrup is cheap.
4.     Agave syrup is advertised as “low glycemic” and marketed towards diabetics. It is true, that agave itself is low glycemic. However, we have to consider why agave syrup is “low glycemic.” It is due to the unusually high concentration of fructose (90%) compared to the small amount of glucose (10%).Nowhere in nature does this ratio of fructose to glucose occur naturally. One of the next closest foods that contain almost this concentration of glucose to fructose is high fructose corn syrup used in making soda (HFCS 55), which only contains 55% fructose. Even though fructose is low on the glycemic index, there are numerous problems associated with the consumption of fructose in such high concentrations as found in concentrated sweeteners:
A. Fructose appears to interfere with copper metabolism. This causes collagen and elastin being unable to form. Collagen and elastin are connective tissue which essentially hold the body together.1 A deficiency in copper can also lead to bone fragility, anemia, defects of the arteries and bone, infertility, high cholesterol levels, heart attacks and ironically enough an inability to control blood sugar levels.2
B. Research suggests that fructose actually promotes disease more readily than glucose. This is because glucose is metabolized by every cell in the body, and fructose must be metabolized by the liver.3 Tests on animals show that the livers of animals fed large amounts of fructose develop fatty deposits and cirrhosis of the liver. This is similar to the livers of alcoholics.
C. “Pure” isolated fructose contains no enzymes, vitamins or minerals and may rob the body of these nutrients in order to assimilate itself for physiological use.4
D. Fructose may contribute to diabetic conditions. It reduces the sensitivity of insulin receptors. Insulin receptors are the way glucose enters a cell to be metabolized. As a result, the body needs to make more insulin to handle the same amount of glucose.5
E. Consumption of fructose has been shown to cause a significant increase in uric acid. An increase in uric acid can be an indicator of heart diease.6
F. Fructose consumption has been shown to increase blood lactic acid, especially for people with conditions such as diabetes. Extreme elevations may cause metabolic acidosis.7
G. Consumption of fructose leads to mineral losses, especially excretions of iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc compared to subjects fed sucrose.8
H. Fructose may cause accelerated aging through oxidative damage. Scientists found that rats given fructose had more cross-linking changes in the collagen of their skin than other groups fed glucose. These changes are thought to be markers for aging.9
I. Fructose can make you fat! It is metabolized by the liver and converts to fat more easily than any other sugar. Fructose also raises serum triglycerides (blood fats) significantly.10
5.     Agave syrup and other concentrated sweeteners are addictive, so you end up trading a cooked addiction (eating candy bars or cookies)for a “raw” addiction which is not much better. Eating concentrated sweeteners makes it harder to enjoy the sweet foods we should be eating – whole fresh fruit – since they don’t seem as sweet by comparison.
6.     Long-time raw foodist and Medical Doctor, Dr. Gabriel Cousens, M.D. says that agave nectar raises blood sugar just like any other sugar. Dr. Cousens wrote a book, "There Is a Cure for Diabetes".
Whole fruits generally contain a much smaller amount of fructose compared to sucrose and glucose. In addition, fruits contain vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and other nutrients. Our bodies are designed to digest a complete “package” of nutrition that appears in whole, fresh, ripe fruits. Could nature be wrong? For example, it’s always better to eat fruits whole or blend them rather than juice them. When you juice fruits, you remove the fiber which helps to slow down the absorption of the sugars. Concentrated sweeteners also contain no fiber and have much greater concentrations of simple sugars than are found in fresh fruit or even juices.
Now that you have a better understanding about agave syrup, hopefully the companies selling “raw” agave won’t dupe you. They are out to make a buck, which in this case is unfortunately at the expense of your health. If you are making a “raw” recipe and it does require a concentrated sweetener, I have some recommendations for some better options to use instead of agave (listed in order of preference):
1.     Use ripe fresh fruits. Ripe fruits contain nutrients, fiber and water, a complete package, as nature intended. I find that ripe and organic fruits are usually sweetest.
2.     Use fresh whole stevia leaves. Stevia is an herb that actually tastes sweet but contains no sugar. This herb can be very hard to find fresh, so I personally grow my own.If fresh leaves are not available, get the whole dried leaves or the whole leaf powder. Avoid the white stevia powder and the stevia liquid drops as they have been highly processed.
3.     Use dried fruits .If you need a “syrup” consistency, just soak the dried fruits in some water and blend them up with the same soak water. Dates, figs, and prunes are some of the sweetest dried fruits that tend to work well in recipes. Try wet Barhi dates blended with a little water for an amazing maple syrup substitute. Please note: Since there are no raw labeling standards, some dried fruit may be dried at higher than 118 degrees, and thus, not really raw. If you want to ensure you are eating really raw dried fruit, it is best to dehydrate it yourself.
4.     Raw honey is a concentrated sweetener, and although not recommended, in my opinion it is better than agave syrup because it is a whole food and occurs naturally in nature. Of course, honey is not vegan and that may be a concern for some. I recommend purchasing local honey from a beekeeper.
Other “concentrated sweeteners” that are often seen in raw food recipes include:
1)     Maple Syrup which is not raw and is heat processed. If it is not organic, it may also contain formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals.
2)     Sucanat or evaporated cane juice is pure dried sugar cane juice. Unfortunately, this is processed at a temperature above 118 degrees and therefore can’t be considered raw.
3)     Yacon Syrup is a syrup from the root of the yacon plant in South America. It is once again, a concentrated sweetener, processed at a temperature of up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
The moral of this article: Eat whole fresh fruits and vegetables, they are always best. And, always question processed and concentrated foods that are not found in nature, even if “raw”.
1.   Fields, M, Proceedings of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine, 1984, 175:530-537.
2.   Klevay, Leslie, Acting Director of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Human Nutrition Research Center, Grand Forks, N.D.
3.   American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 2002 Vol. 76, No. 5, 911-922.
4.   Appleton, Nancy Ph.D., Fructose is No Answer for a Sweetener,
5.   H. Hallfrisch, et al., The Effects of Fructose on Blood Lipid Levels, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 37: 5, 1983, 740-748.
6.  J. MacDonald, Anne Keyser, and Deborah Pacy, Some Effects, in Man, of Varying the Load of Glucose, Sucrose, Fructose, or Sorbitol on Various Metabolites in Blood, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 31 (August 1978)): 1305-1311.
7.   Hallfrisch, Judith, Metabolic Effects of Dietary Fructose, FASEB Journal 4 (June 1990): 2652-2660.
8.   A. E. Bergstra, A. G. Lemmens, and A. C. Beynens, Dietary Fructose vs. Glucose Stimulates Nephrocalcinogenesis in Female Rats, Journal of Nutrition123, no. 7 (July 1993): 1320-1327.
9.   Roger B. Mc Donald, Influence of Dietary Sucrose on Biological Aging, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 62 (suppl), (1995): 284s-293s.
10. H. Hallfrisch, et al., The Effects of Fructose on Blood Lipid Levels, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 37: 5, 1983, 740-748.
About the author, John Kohler has been on the living and raw foods diet for nearly a decade; he turned to living foods for healing from a life threatening-illness (spinal meningitis) and has enjoyed dynamic health ever since. One of John's goals is to educate the world about the power of living and raw foods. He is the founder and webmaster of the largest living and raw food website on the internet,, and John is also the number one expert on raw foods appliances and gadgets in the world. He is widely sought out and regularly speaks and instructs at many raw food festivals and events. His area of expertise include recipe demos with 5-7 ingredients or less, young coconut recipes, traveling while raw, raw food appliances, successful transition to the raw foods diet, and the importance of a fresh organic whole foods diet. He believes that by using fresh, organic, and whole ingredients, that simple, healthy, and delicious recipes can be made with few ingredients and without the use of salt, oil, spices, refined sweeteners or chemical additives. He is known for his pragmatic approach to raw foods and has coached and helped thousands of people to incorporate more fresh raw fruits and vegetables into their diet. John is also available to individual raw food coaching.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

7 Healthy Habits

There's a lot to be said about living a healthy lifestyle. Eating well is not the only requirement of being healthy. The famous lifestyle center, The Golden Door, teaches lifestyle change and blogger Kathy of Healthy. Happy. Life. 100% Vegan blogged on her experience at the elite modern Japanese-like decor lifestyle center. In her 7 Wellness Habits I Picked Up at the Golden Door Kathy shares what she learned from the Golden Door lifestyle center on what a person should do to incorporate more well-roundedness in healthy living.

The 7 lifestyle habit summary:
1. Follow the sun. Wake earlier, sleep earlier.
2. Make tea-drinking a habit! After meals and late-afternoon tea times help to warm, hydrate, calm hunger cravings and ease digestion, not to mention the many tea antioxidants available to you.
3. Exercise, but try new things when it comes to exercise, and have fun doing it! So many options exist, from zumba to tap dancing. Fitness can be FUN!
4. Eat slowly. Avoid eating in haste, but actually dine when you eat. Practice mindfulness with each bite.
5. Be adventurous! Embrace your adventurous spirit in all you do. Fear nothing. Try everything. Live to the fullest. Dream big and live big!
6. Fruit. Veggies. Fruit. Veggies. Add them to your meals, snacks and eat them all day long. They are the healthiest foods on earth! Eat them raw with all their live and healing juices energizing you with live and healing strength.
7. Just MOVE. Whether you are taking out the garbage or taking a cardio class, find time in your day to move the amazing body you were given. Get that heart pumping and oxygen flowing. Moving more WILL give you more energy as well as improve your mood and metabolism. Just move, move, move!
Some of the pictures Kathy shared in her blog really focus on relaxation, heathy eating, hydration, rest, hygiene, and sunshine.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Leaves and Strawverry Juice

The market had a small package of luscious strawberries (yes, the promise of spring!) and since I've been doing much better health-wise, thought I would treat myself with a little fruit in my always so green, green, green juice. And btw, even though there appears to be a lot of strawberries in this picture, they're laying on a thick bed of iceberg lettuce, sesame seed leaves and one or two other green leafies. I wanted a lot of red in my picture but when looking at the pict, I realize the picture in retrospect is a bit misleading on the amount of fruit-sugar used. Suffice it to say, though, that there was more in this meal than in any other within the past two years.

The fruit juice had a very strawberry taste ... so nice! But this was actually a treat and is not to be confused with an everyday or frequent practice. Combining fruits and vegies is never a great ideas as fruits and vegies take different enzymes in the digestion process, and this little treat I'm sure did confuse my gut on how to digest the yumminess ..... but it sure was goooood!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Gone 80% Raw!

Actually, I went 70-80% raw back in mid-October, but my water situation in Seoul causes me problems as I need to wash my vegies in the tap water, which bothers me a bit. I've noticed I do better if I eat some of my vegies steamed (with Kirkland bottled water; locally bottled water is NOT an option! In the past it's made my head and arms numb and has instantly swollen my ankles - NOT an option!). So, I do 70-80% raw for a while, start to notice some problems, back off to about 50% for a few weeks, and then try again  ... with gradually the same results. In January/February I tried to leave Korea so quit my job, but I'm trapped here for another year because I can't break my apartment contract. Sigh ... but since I LOVE Korea, that's not so bad even though it is a health annoyance. So for the time being, I'll fluctuate as need be between my 50% raw diet and then the more enzyme-rich 70-80% raw diet. Right now I'm back to being a 70-80% raw foodie.

So why do I keep aiming for 80% raw? Well, last summer while I was visiting my parents, I did all the cooking. My family eats lots of salads and vegies and they also like, like most Americans, cooked entrees. So while I was home, I found myself eating more cooked food than raw. My previous food pattern was 50-50 but with the additional cooked food, maybe 40-60% and sometimes 30-70% raw to cooked became my norm, and I noticed I didn't have my previous energy. So early October without planning I just started eating massive salads in the evening again (all those enzymes!) ... and I noticed my energy shot up and I didn't need as much sleep. (Well, my body said it didn't need as much sleep, but if someone has health problems, sleep is not something to be compromised. I know my healing body still needs that sleep.) By mid-October I had started eating more raw, and had even made my first flaxseed wraps, which were less demanding to make than I had thought and they were quite good. And from there, the raw food percentage just kept climbing, so by late October I decided to go 80% raw. Making that conscious effort to systematically increase from 70% to 80% took a bit more ingenuity, but the rewards were great:

more energy
more bounce in my step
less of an urge or need to sleep
muscles feel elastic and supple (and that's a wow for me!)
mouth feels clean after meals, not just after salads
eyes don't get as tired (I read tons and tons!)
back and neck tension not an issue

In late November and December I was having problems with low vitamin E, which caused me to start having problems with the water again. I had to back off of the raw diet because it was putting me into too much contact with tap water and noticed that carbs (not good for candida) made me feel a lot better, so I was eating more carbs than I needed to keep eliminating the candida. By mid-January I was doing much better so started adding the vegies back in ... and juicing tons! And since mid-February I was back up to 70% and on some days even 80% ... well, until I got my molar pulled. For a few days after that, I either made soft soups or juiced piles and piles of vegies - about 2 cups of 100% fresh vegie juice a day to help with healing and provide loads of nutrients to counteract the amoxicillian, an antibiotic that's necessary to combat a bacteria that could be released in gum surgery and go directly to the heart. The two-cups a day of green juice was WONDERFUL! but ugh, it's hard finding so much time to do that kind of juicing (ugh, my excuse).

Anyway, someday, someday, someday (but it'll have to be after I'm away from Seoul water) I'll probably take the big step and go 100% raw, but for now, I'm absolutely happy to be a 70-80% raw foodist again!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sprouted Lentil Crackers

For 6 days after soaking a 1/2 cup of lentils overnight I allowed them to sprout in a plastic collander covered lightly by a silk-like cloth.  At least twice a day I rinsed the lentils (it's winter so I don't need to rinse them so often to keep them fresh). Because my apartment is cool and my pantry with large slightly opened window where I sprout cooler, it took longer than usual for the lentils to sprout and grow, but I didn't need to worry so much about e.coli forming, which is more likely to happen in hotter weather. 

So after 6 days when the sprouts were growing into a tangle, I found some time to finally make some crackers. Long ago I made some lentil crackers, which turned out really good, so since I was planning a weekend train trip, I thought some crackers for nibbling on the train or when hiking would be nice. And, yup, they were pretty tasty ... although I have to admit, the lentil crackers I made before were somehow better ... that usually happens when you don't write down a recipe. 

Sprouted Lentil Crackers

1/2 cup lentil soaked for 8-12 hours, then allowed to sprout a few days
1 medium onion
5 large kale leaves
1 3-inch chunk of ginger
sea salt sprinkled on top of crackers

Lentils after sprouting for 6 days. This is only 1/4 of a cup worth. I had to separate the lentils after 4 days because they were getting so matted and I didn't want them to mold in the center of the mat. That worked out just fine! I then had 2 collanders of sprouting lentils.
Blend lentil sprouts gradually. Add chopped onions, ginger and kale in phases and blend.
 Try not to overblend so as to keep texture.
Gradually blend in the lentil sprouts to not only stress the food processor but also to give the "dough" texture.
Spread out lentil "dough" on dehydrator sheets, at least 1/4" thick. I like a bit thicker when planning to take them traveling as they hold togther a lot better.
Make different shapes depending on your purpose.
Great texture. After "dough" has been spread, lightly sprinkle on sea salt and dehydrate.
Dehydrate at 115F for 1 1/2 - 2 days, flipping crackers at least half-way through.
Yummy! Thin, very tasty crackers!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Pakistani Treatment for Healthy Eyes

My Korean friend, who's married to a Pakistani man, invited me over for dinner recently and volunteered her husband (haha) to cook Pakistani food for me. Wow, I love Middle-eastern food and have been most successful with my strange strict diet with many of the Middle-eastern seasonings - cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, fennel, fenugreek, and a few others. Not all of them of course, especially since red pepper figures heavily and centrally in their food, but the majority perhaps are suitable for the candida diet. What's unsuitable is that Middle-eastern foods are made with a lot of oil, and it's not olive oil either. But I've improved a lot so thought, "Why not so? If we can compromise a little on the food, I should be OK, so asked if it were possible to cook gluten-free, dairy-free and to reduce the red pepper." Immediate response was the saddened groan, "Oh, no chapatis!" "Dairy-free is easy." "I don't know. Without the red pepper, there is no flavor." But the husband worked with my request plus had all organic foods and seasonings in the meal. Both chicken dishes were prepared halal, and though swimming in oil (guaranteed not to be olive oil either) were with greatly reduced red pepper. It tasted sooooo good to me because I just don't season my food much so what a delightful treat! I had tiny hints of inflammation later in my tell-tale knee joint, but no mucus in my throat, so evidently my problem is clearing up. The hints tell me I shouldn't push it, because I do NOT want to relapse like I did a couple years ago. Coming out of that relapse has been hard!

After eating, the three of us sat around and talked about so many things - the horrors of present-day food production, arising diseases because of it, so much. I even learned how to kill a camel and watched a video that my friend's husband had made to that effect when he was last home. Fascinating ... but good thing I don't have a weak stomach. I noticed great care was given in avoiding the head and commented on the camel's mighty teeth. The husband said if anyone was bitten by a camel, that person would go mad in a few weeks. There's something in the camel's saliva that messes humans (and probably animal alike) up. Everything was interesting!

Homeopathy for eye strength

Of course somewhere in the conversation we had to have a warming tea to combat the cold iciness outside. We had a lemonbark and something kind of tree that is good for elimination. And then as a parting gift when I was readying to leave, I was given a bag of fennel, almonds, with a few green cardamom mixed in. This mixture (among many others) is what Pakistanis nibble at after meals to freshen their breath, much like the after-dinner mints in the West. Unlike the after-dinner mints, however, there are beliefs of health advantages for the trio. Together they are said to work synergistically to strengthen the eyes. Just eating them alone will not do it; synergy is an important feature of even how other herbs and spices are blended in making food.

Very culturally interesting to me, the nutritional anthropologist!