Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Giving Agave another chance

You will likely remember that I have been less than enthusiastic about using agave syrup as a sugar alternative.  Well, today, a friend gave me a totally unexpected present, and it made me realize there's more to agave than I thought.  She gave me a package of Viv Agave.

This product is not a syrup.  It's not sugar as we know it.  It's a little sweet.  My friend tells me it's delicious when used to sweeten coffee.  Since I don't drink sweetened coffee, I'll take her word for it.

It's a fine powder described as "a low glycemic dietary soluble fiber".  On the back of the package, it states that it has "minimal impact on blood sugar, is not insulemic, will not raise triglycerides".  Why?  Because this powder that is also billed as a prebiotic is inulin from the blue agave cactus that grows in Mexico.



I am already familiar with inulin, because I've been growing jerusalem artichokes for a number of years, and they are filled with it.  Inulin is a sugar that is considered to be a soluble fibre.  It doesn't break down in the upper gastrointestinal tract.  Instead, it ferments when it reaches the large intestine.  This is exactly why the tasty tubers growing at the other end of the beautiful yellow flowers are also known as fartichokes

Back to agave inulin.  One tablespoon of this heavenly smelling powder contains 10g of carbohydrates, of which all 10g are fiber.  Sounds great.  I like the fact that inside the deceptively sophisticated packaging the ingredients are really unsophisticated.  There are in fact only two ingredients:  inulin powder and vanilla powder.  How often do you see that these days in something that is packaged?

I made a smoothie for lunch and added a spoonful of Viv Agave instead of my usual generous dash of vanilla extract.  I can't say I tasted the agave, but my smoothie was no less delicious than it usually is.

Next, I went online to look for more information.  Natural News has a good article explaining the pros and cons of eating inulin, concluding that it's generally better to eat whole foods, rather than isolating specific health-inducing ingredients.  This is something that I generally agree with, and so, from a health supplement point of view, I can't say I'm swayed by the agave labeling promising pre- and probiotic advantages.  I'm happy sticking with my ongoing yoghurt and kefir making adventures, and digging up some of my really plentiful jerusalem artichokes in the spring and fall.

Some people complain about constipation when they switch to a low carbohydrate lifestyle, as it usually takes a week or two for the body to adjust to a life without grains, rice and pasta.  A dose of inulin might help to relieve this discomfort during the transitional phase.  Having adjusted to this way of eating a long time ago, I don't think I'll be feeling the need to reach for it in order to benefit from its bowel-loosening properties.

On the other hand, in small quantities, as a mild sweetener or flavour enhancer, I'm pretty sure I'm going to be enjoying my new package of Viv Agave.

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