Monday, October 4, 2010

The Truth About Agave

I've been using agave in my products along with local honey and pure maple syrup, from the beginning. I've never used any artificial sweeteners or overly refined sweeteners, as my policy has always been to use only whole-food ingredients, but all of a sudden agave nectar is the subject of some not-so-sweet controversy. How did this all-natural sweetener go from being applauded to avoided? And is the negative hype to be believed? The answer is a resounding “no.”

Though agave nectar has been around for centuries, its popularity has seen tremendous growth over the past few years—growth due in large part to a better informed, more health-conscious society. With obesity and type 2 diabetes on the rise and increased concern about chemically processed foods, all-natural sweeteners like agave nectar have become the chosen alternative to artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet’N Low) and sucralose (Splenda).

A little background about agave:

The agave plant is found mainly in western Mexico; it is also found in the western and southern U.S. and tropical parts of South America. The agave plant’s ability to grow in a harsh environment without the need of pesticides and fertilizers and little need for water make for sustainable growth and harvesting.

To make agave nectar from the Blue Agave plant, harvesters remove the core of the Blue Agave, or piña, by cutting away the plant’s long, spiny leaves. The juice is then expressed from the piña, filtered and turned into agave nectar by either a thermal or enzymatic process. Whichever process is used, the plant’s naturally occurring complex sugar molecules are separated into fructose and glucose.

So why the recent backlash?

Why the uproar about agave nectar when it’s still the same all-natural, organic, healthy product it was centuries ago? It all has to do with the f-word: fructose. We’ve all heard about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)—it is added to just about everything we eat from the obvious like sugar cereals to the less obvious like hot dog buns. But did you know HFCS is made by using caustics and acids to turn the glucose from starch found in milled corn into fructose? Sounds yummy, doesn’t it?

HFCS and agave nectar are NOT the same. Yes, agave nectar along with fruit, fruit juices, honey and HFCS contain fructose, but the similarity ends here.

The main argument against agave nectar made by so-called experts claims agave nectar’s high fructose content (agave nectar contains about 75% fructose compared to 55% in HFCS) makes it less healthy than HFCS or table sugar. This just isn’t true. It’s time to put an end to this and other unsubstantiated claims about agave nectar.

• Agave nectar is all-natural; it is derived from the agave plant using a non-chemical process.

• Agave nectar does have a high fructose content, which makes it sweeter than HFCS and table
sugar—you’ll need a much smaller amount to sweeten recipes.

• Agave nectar's glycemic index is comparable to fructose, which in turn has a much lower
glycemic index than table sugar.

• Agave nectar is as safe a sweetener as honey or maple syrup; it’s even as safe as apple juice.

The most important thing to remember is agave nectar is a sweetener, and while safer than HFCS or refined white sugar, should still be used in moderation.

When it comes to what we put into our bodies, the more natural the product, the better. Substituting agave nectar for those “other” sweeteners—and remembering less is more—is a simple and easy way to improve overall health and wellness. Any claims you hear contrary to this should be taken with a grain of salt, or in this case, sugar.

For more information on the controversy as well as the facts and the sources for this article, see the following: (excellent third party article complete with the scientific break-down of agave and HFCS and other scientific information regarding fructose)

Here are four articles that will give you even more information on agave. To read in different formats, use the zoom and fullscreen controls at the bottom and top.

The above articles (with the exception of the second) are from a company that makes agave. Please consider this when making your judgements about agave and read the third party article suggested above to make sure that you are well rounded in your knowledge.

I posted this article because my personal opinion is that agave is a wonderful natural sweetener and is not harmful to your health in normal quantities. I will continue to use agave in the production of the Raw Melissa desserts and hope that this information helps you to feel like a better consumer when choosing those products that are healthiest for you and your family.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Chocolate Banana Shake

In our Q&A with Raw Melissa - Session Two, Alica asked, "When you freeze bananas, do you freeze them with the peels on or off? If you leave the peels on, how do you get them off the frozen banana? Yes, this is rocket science for me."

To check out the answer, see the Raw Melissa Facebook Page and click on our notes in the tabs. Meanwhile, here is a great recipe for a Chocolate Banana Shake:

Chocolate Banana Shake

2 C water
2 C ice
3 frozen bananas
2 heaping T cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 T agave
1 C almonds

Put everything in a blender and blend until smooth, serve right away. This really is a delicious and creamy chocolate shake! Yum! Let me know if you like it. :)

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Dirty Dozen

Most of you have heard of the dirty dozen list. Well, did you know that there is a list that has, not only the 12 most pesticide laden produce on it, but also the 15 most clean? Here is a handy little printable guide so you can carry it around with you when you're shopping. There's also a phone app if you're like me and you tend to loose your lists.

Here's also a great video from Dr. Weil on why it's important to choose foods with less pesticides.

Q&A with Raw Melissa - Session One

We got our first question in our Q & A Series on our facebook page from Jennifer. She asked "What snacks can I give to my kids on-the-go?" To read the answers, see the notes on my facebook page. Meanwhile, here are two great recipes for feeding kids on-the-go:

Homemade Granola Bars

7 C of dry ingredients like rolled oats, raisins, pumpkin seeds, pecans, shredded coconut, chopped almonds, chopped dried apricots, rolled quinoa, hulled buckwheat, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, chopped dried pineapple, etc. GET CREATIVE! You can do it!

1 C coconut oil (organic, cold pressed)

3 C dates (soaked in water for 20 minutes)

1 tsp. salt

Drain the dates (set the water aside) and pulse in a food processor until a paste is formed. If it seems too dry, add 1 tsp at a time of the soaking water until you reach a peanut butter-like consistency. Mix all the rest of the ingredients together until well incorporated and t
hen press into a pan lined with wax paper. You can put these in an oven on the lowest heat possible, for 1-2 hours or you can pull them out of the pan with the wax paper and cut and eat as is. It helps to put them in the freezer for a bit to help bring everything together before cutting. You may wrap individual bars in waxed paper and then store them in an airtight container for months.

Homemade Almond Butter
(excerpted from my cookbook, available here)

This is probably more appropriately named, “Almond Candy.” Many of the class participants I’ve taught this recipe to have later told me this was much more like a candy than a spread. My favorite way to make it is with honey and walnut oil, although it’s great with almond oil and agave too. Try it with the proverbial celery, or spread it on some apples for a great treat. You may even roll it into long strips, cut it in 2” lengths and wrap it in brown wax paper for a wonderful refrigerator candy. To give it a punch, you may also add 1-3 drops of cinnamon essential oil.

2 C almonds

¼ - ½ C almond or walnut oil

¼ - ½ C honey or agave

1 tsp. vanilla

pinch of salt (optional)

Blend almonds as finely as possible in a high-speed blender (or a food processor). Pour into a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir together until thoroughly blended. (Add a small amount of water or more oil if needed, to create a spreadable consistency). You can blend ingredients in a blender if you want a smoother butter, but you’ll need to use the larger amounts of oil and sweetener so it will blend easily. Spread on bread or crackers or use as a dip for apples in as a spread on celery sticks.

Thanks again for your question Jennifer. Keep them coming!

photos by Jefra Starr Linn

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Question and Answer Sessions with Raw Melissa

I had the opportunity to attend the Start Up Princess event, Touchpoint, on Friday. I got to interact with tons of amazing women because I had a booth (we sold out of macaroons!) and as usual, I was asked many questions about nutrition and whole food eating and cooking. I love it when people feel comfortable enough to ask their questions because I appreciate being able to share the knowledge I've gained over years of research and experience, as it often enables the individual to be able to make one more change toward a better life.

It doesn't take much to get started on a path of purposeful eating, and if you've got a question or two that would help you, I really want to hear it! So, I decided to start Question and Answer Sessions on and on my twitter account (@rawmelissa). If you've got a question, please feel free to ask on either platform. You may also ask here in the comments section.

Can't wait to read your burning questions!

Always love,

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cookbook Signing Tomorrow

Many of you have asked if you can purchase a cookbook at the signing if you haven't already pre-purchased one. Of course!

I'll be at the Good Earth in American Fork to sign pre-purchased and just-purchased copies of FAVES: Fruits and Veggies, Energy's Secret and I'll also be giving out vanilla and chocolate covered macaroons! You definitely won't want to miss that.

Also, just to let you know, the cookbook presale was a HUGE success. I thank you all so much for your support! Hope to see you tomorrow. :)

In peace and health,

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

St. George Fresh Food Workshop!

Eat More Fresh Fruits

& Vegetables and LOVE it!

Join us for a Fresh Food Preparation Workshop

September 25, 2010 from 10:30am-3:30pm

in Beautiful St. George Utah

Taught by Melissa of and

Christopher Stefanciw, former chef of Maestro’s Cafe

The cost is just $80 for the whole day, PLUS, just for registering,

you get a Free Package of Chocolate Covered Macaroons!

At the workshop you’ll receive:

°Over 4-hours of Fresh Food Prep Instruction

°You're free package of Chocolate Covered Macaroons

°TONS of Samples &

°A Packet of Handouts and Recipes

Email: to register today!