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AGAVE  (Agave schottii)

 

Also known as: Agave americana, agave azul, agave salmiana, agave tequiliana, blue agave and century plant

 

Agave plant

 

The agave are large, succulent plants that resemble cactus or yucca and are closely related to the aloe vera plant. The Anasazi, Aztecs, Hohokam and the Tohono O’odham tribal people have used the agave for adult beverages, building materials, fibre, food and medicine for thousands of years. The Aztecs treasured the agave as a gift from the gods and the earliest known use was in the Techuacán Valley of Mexico 10,000 years ago. Today it is used to produce tequila.

 

Medicinally, the agave  plant has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, similar to the aloe vera leaves, and can be applied externally to treat bruises, burns, cuts, insect bites, snake bites, sunburn, toothache and other inflammations and irritations of the skin tissues.  In 2013, the saponins in the agave schottii species was being investigated for cancer treatment.

 

The agave plant contains polysaccharides which are bactericidal, and saponins and sapogenins that have antibiotic, fungicidal and antiviral properties, however, agave syrup, which has been refined, contains very little nutritional value and very high sugar content.

 

Agave nectar

 

Native Mexicans make a type of sweetener out of the agave plant, called miel de agave, aguamiel or honey water, by boiling the agave sap for a few hours. Because this nectar comprises of fructose and glucose it has a much lower glycaemic index than conventional granulated sugar (sucrose). However, the agave nectar syrup that is produced commercially for use as a sweetener is not made from the sap of the agave at all. It is produced from the starch of the giant pineapple-like root bulb.

 

The principal constituent of the agave root is starch, similar to that found in corn or rice, and a complex carbohydrate called inulin, which is made up of chains of fructose molecules. Technically a highly indigestible fibre, inulin, which does not taste sweet, comprises about half of the carbohydrate content of agave.

The process by which agave glucose and inulin are converted into “agave nectar” is similar to the process by which corn starch is converted into high-fructose corn syrup. These production techniques involve a highly chemical process with genetically modified enzymes, caustic acids, clarifiers and filtration chemicals turn the agave starches into a highly refined fructose inulin that is even higher in fructose content than high fructose corn syrup.

 

Concentrated fructose is not found in fruit or anywhere else in nature. When the sugar occurs in nature, it is often called levulose and is accompanied by naturally-occurring enzymes, fibre, fruit pectin, minerals and vitamins. Concentrated fructose is a man-made sugar created by the refining process and has none of the nutrients supplied by nature left intact. Refined fructose is processed in the body through the liver, rather than digested in the intestine whereas levulose is digested in the intestines. This may account for the low glycaemic index, that diabetics often report from agave syrup, as the sugar does not enter the blood stream directly. But it also means this excess sugar will be immediately turned into triglycerides by the liver or stored as body fat. Commercially produced agave syrup contains 60 calories per tablespoon which is about 20 calories more than the same amount of table sugar.

 

Fructose inhibits the leptin that the body produces to tell the brain it is no longer hungry. This means that an individual who consumes refined agave syrup will continue to eat more food leading to weight gain and the fat that is stored is the dangerous visceral type of deep fat that wraps around internal organs such as the kidneys, liver and pancreas.

 

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