Conscious Chocolates Ltd. Europe’s Leading Manufacturer of Raw Chocolate Bars Statement on Agave Nectar August 2011 Background Conscious Chocolates Ltd (CCL) uses high quality, raw, organic agave nectar as one of the main product ingredients in our handmade, raw, organic chocolate. We use agave nectar because it offers a number of advantages. Agave is particularly well suited to the production of raw chocolate, it is the sweetener that many of our more health conscious customers choose and because we believe that given the weight of evidence stacked in its favour, it is one of the healthiest natural sweeteners available. However, agave nectar has its critics; there have been claims that the health benefits we believe in are spurious. While many credible health organisations maintain that agave is a healthier sweetener, it has always been our policy to carefully select and rigorously test all our ethically sourced ingredients, ensuring that they meet our high standards. Therefore we have performed an in depth study of the available research into the health aspects of agave, and considered the findings. Following the study, Conscious Chocolates maintains its belief in the health benefits of agave nectar. The following report has been produced to clarify our position on the product and why we have decided it will remain a primary ingredient in our chocolate. The Critics’ Claims The relevant claims we have researched regarding agave nectar and discovered to be unfounded in scientific fact are listed below: 1. It has been claimed that agave nectar is not diabetic-friendly and may cause insulin resistance 2. It has been claimed that agave is not natural, but a refined form of concentrated fructose 3. It has been claimed that agave is a recent creation, developed in the 1990s; a deceptively marketed form of refined sweetener that will contribute to diseases 4. It has been claimed that agave is mostly chemically refined fructose and contains corn syrup 5. It has been claimed that agave has a high caloric content 6. It has been claimed that the basic constituent of agave is starch 7. It has been claimed that agave nectar contains saponins. Health Benefits of Raw, Organic Agave The list below outlines six established reasons that prove raw, organic agave nectar is a healthier sweetener, if you spoke to the traditional Mexican users of agave, they would describe many more, including numerous medicinal benefits. 1. Agave nectar contributes to improving metabolism 2. Agave has low GI and is therefore suitable for diabetics 3. Agave sweetens 30-40% more than conventional sugar; therefore a smaller quantity is required to achieve the same sweetening effect, requiring a lower calorific intake 4. Agave contains inulin, a probiotic that helps regulate the balance of sugar and glucose levels 5. Agave has a much lower glycemic load than regular granulated table sugar 6. Agave is pure, natural, sustainable, raw, organic and chemical-free. A Choice Ingredient The choice of raw, organic agave nectar as one of our main ingredients was taken following careful consideration and research. The most authoritative study to date (undertaken by the University of Guadalajara, a fore-runner on the subject of agave) concludes that raw agave, with up to 5% inulin in content, contributes to improving metabolism by stimulating the intestinal flora. Inulin is a natural probiotic that helps digestion and metabolism. It also helps to assimilate food nutrients in the body, such as calcium, vitamins and minerals. Inulin also has substantial potential in helping combat cancerigenous elements in the digestive system. Low Glycemic Index Agave has low GI and may be used in moderation by diabetics. Indeed, agave is 80 per cent natural fructose, which has the lowest glycemic index (GI = 19) of all the natural sugars. In comparison, ordinary table sugar (sucrose) has a GI of 65 and honey has a GI of 55. Fructose is fruit sugar, it occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables, particularly in grapes, apples and pears, each recommended as part of your 5-a-day. Fructose has the advantage of being nearly twice as sweet as ordinary sugar; especially relevant for diabetics. When not heat-processed, as the agave nectar used by Conscious Chocolates is not, the daily allowance can be increased, as less agave nectar is required for sweetening. Critics of agave maintain it is unhealthy because of its high level of fructose, claiming digestion of fructose is unhealthy. However, we believe the critics’ claims distort the facts, with all substances that can be safely ingested, including water, there is a limit to the amount the body can process, yet this is a large element of the critics’ argument against agave. The fact is, when taken in moderation, fructose has proven health properties, as one of the three vital dietary monosaccharides. Health and Nutritional Authorities Recommendations In its statement ‘Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health’ the American Heart Association, says, “As expected, a healthy, well-balanced diet contains naturally occurring sugars, because monosaccharides such as fructose and disaccharides such as sucrose and lactose are integral components of fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and many grains.” A recent study carried out by the University of Florida, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, stated that anyone, diabetic or otherwise, could ingest up to 90 grams of fructose a day and have the benefit of the lowering concentration of glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c). Sweeter than Table Sugar In terms of its caloric content, agave nectar contains a similar level of calories as table sugar, but as stated above, gram for gram it sweetens 30-40% more than table sugar, meaning a smaller quantity is required to achieve the same effect. A 40 gram bar of Conscious Chocolates’ plain chocolate contains less than 8.5 grams of agave nectar, which is less than a tenth of the maximum daily intake recommendation. The Benefit of Increasing Sensitivity to Insulin There are no credible studies suggesting that agave nectar could cause insulin resistance. The notion is derived from studies that have examined the effects of high-fructose corn syrup diets. This does not apply to the agave nectar we use at Conscious Chocolates, it is entirely natural and contains no corn starch. Nonetheless, all our chocolate contains natural cinnamon, which, in numerous studies, has been found to increase sensitivity to insulin, so is particularly helpful to diabetics. Preventing Sugar Rush Furthermore the inulin found in agave is probiotic which means it helps regulate the balance of sugar and glucose levels in the system. The inulin content in the agave is a soluble fibre that decelerates the digestion process in a way that avoids the rush of glucose in the blood stream, preventing excessive levels of insulin, particularly dangerous to diabetics. Natural Processing Commercially available agave nectar is found in several varieties, including light, amber, dark and raw genres. We only use the raw variety, derived from blue agave. Raw agave has a mild and more natural taste. The agave nectar used by Conscious Chocolates is of the highest quality. Therefore, it is important to distinguish raw, organic agave from some of the cheap, fraudulent imitations. The agave we use is not refined; it is pure and natural and contains no added corn starch. The agave is produced predominantly in Mexico, where it is taken from the blue agave plants, which naturally contain a significant level of fructose; it does not require modification or introduction of chemicals to increase this substance. The process of extracting the agave does not involve enzymes or other chemicals as some critics claim. The extraction process for the raw agave we use includes collecting the agave from the fields, twice a day. Only the core, known as the piña, is used; the rest of the plant is excluded. The cores are transferred to the processing facility immediately, before it begins to ferment, to have the juice (or inulin) extracted mechanically. Moderate heat (below 48 ̊C) is applied only during the removal of moisture. The juice is evaporated in a vacuum evaporator at low temperatures. Then the agave is handled and packed at room temperature. No further heat is applied. No chemical is added. In fact, no chemical is introduced during the harvesting and production of the nectar; agave nectar, as we know it, is not a “chemically refined fructose” as has been claimed. US FDA Approval This method excludes the use of excessive heat to hydrolyse in order to preserve its raw qualities. It is patented in the USA and recognised as a safe approach by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is also in compliance with the article (norma), NMX-FF-110-SCFI-2008 of the Mexican Productos Alimenticos – Jarabe de Agave Explicaciones y Métodos de Prueba. Typical Composition of the Blue Agave used as an ingredient in our Chocolates Fructose 80% Glucose 10% Inulin 5% Water 5% Does Agave Contain Saponins? The answer is both yes, and no. Saponins are a class of organic chemical compound, one of many secondary metabolites found in natural sources. Saponins are found in abundance in various plant species. Agave nectar does not contain saponins, but they are present in the leaves of the agave plant. Our agave nectar is extracted from the core of the plant only, not the leaves. Saponins occur naturally in many food sources including lettuce and onions, and have health benefits of their own, but they are not found in Conscious Chocolates’ chocolate. Reputable Suppliers We are satisfied by the assurances of our ethical and reputable suppliers regarding the strict quality control exercised over the blue agave product we use. This assurance includes SGS third party audit, HCCP plan, organic certification and KMD Kosher certification. Fair Trade In their commitment to fair trade, our suppliers pay over 30% more to the farmer for the product. Further Response to the Issues and Recommendations Many of the criticisms that we have found to be untrue of the agave we use, were suggested in an article published by Mr Russ Bianchi, the most authoritative opponent of agave, CEO of Adept Solutions, Inc., a food technology company based in California, which, among other food products, is a producer of sweeteners. Other than drawing comparisons with such product as corn syrup, Mr Bianchi offered little or no reputable scientific evidence in support of his thesis. He demonstrated a comprehensive dislike of agave, regardless of the difference between quality, products and origins. He claimed that agave nectar was generically high in fructose without mentioning the essence of fructose. He also maintained that agave is a “chemically refined fructose”; yet he failed to point out specifically what chemical component was included. The question that remains is whether Mr Bianchi had properly understood what was involved in the modern process of extracting raw agave before launching his all-encompassing attack on this product? It appeared that he had not been correctly informed of what was involved in collecting and processing of the product. Neither was he aware of how many different varieties of agave there were in the market. All agave nectar is natural in origin, but the quality of the product differs between producers. The agave produced in the 1990s, when agave was first promoted in the developed world as a sugar substitute, could be considered to be inferior, impure, and refined. We have found that it is this form of agave nectar that the strongest arguments against the health properties of the product are based. It is an unfair comparison, as modern agave nectar is far superior, especially the raw organic variety used by Conscious Chocolates. Conflict of Interest The argument against agave nectar falls a long way short of being scientific. Together with many other industry insiders, we strongly suspect this is a case of conflict of interests, with links to competing sweetener products. This study also uncovered a fundamental flaw in the attacks against agave. The principal opponents of agave, Mr Russ Bianchi, stipulated in his article that the basic constituent of agave was starch. This is of course not the case, as agave contains no starch. The argument against the established health properties of agave is therefore a very weak one. Mexican Heritage Agave has been used for centuries in Mexico as both food and medicine. It is a natural product in every sense of the word and we fully support its use as a healthier sweetener. We are always willing to listen to properly developed scientific arguments. But we stipulate our position, on this occasion, that those who advocate groundlessly that agave is a harmful product are irresponsible and unethical in their approaches to the subject. By attacking this product, they are putting the livelihood of hundreds of Mexican families at risk. Conclusion At Conscious Chocolates we maintain our belief that the raw agave nectar we use is diabeticfriendly when eaten in moderation, and can see no reason to stop using carefully selected, organic, and fair-traded raw agave as a sweetener in the chocolate we produce. Our advice that it should be eaten in moderation is not a change in our position or limited to diabetics, moderation is important in all aspects of life, especially in the consumption of all food products, including fruits and certified organic health foods. We firmly believe the benefits of raw organic agave far outstrip the dubious claims of harmfulness.