Sunday, October 27, 2013

What You "Should" Eat

Now that I am embarking on my new career as a nutritionist, you will probably see a lot of food, health, and nutrition themes infiltrating my blog. As I study nutrition, I am swiftly developing a pet peeve and I’ve gotta say something about this. I don’t think it’s helpful for health professionals to tell people what they “should eat.” The only person who decides what a person should eat is that person himself/herself. Providing people with information is important so that they can make an informed decision (and that includes information about food items that cause poor health outcomes), but once “should” appears on the scene then an invasion of personal space begins and also a measure of judgment. I hope I’ll be a nutritionist who reserves judgment.

A perfect example is the issue of whether or not agave nectar is a good sugar substitute for diabetics. Agave is low on the glycemic index, so it doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Ron uses agave almost exclusively now as his go-to sweetener. As I read more about agave in the context of my studies, I am disappointed to learn that it’s not the wonder sweetener it’s cracked up to be.

Agave is primarily fructose. It has a fructose content of 70%-90%, which is higher than the fructose content of agave’s evil nemesis, high fructose corn syrup (at fructose content of 55%). Ironically, many people use agave to get away from such nasty sweeteners as high fructose corn syrup. The reason why agave is so low on the glycemic index is because it is metabolized in the liver rather in the blood stream and that is why it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. But it can cause other stressors to the body, particularly to the liver. Because it is primarily fructose, it can contribute to weight gain and can inhibit weight loss. Perhaps agave is not such a bad choice for someone with Type 1 Diabetes (which is what Ron has). But, according to some reports, for those with Type 2 Diabetes, agave can contribute to insulin resistance and weight gain. Agave is also a highly refined sweetener (which means it can pick up traces of toxins during manufacture) and it has almost no nutritional value (unlike honey or maple syrup, which are not refined, and contain quality nutrients). Argh. I almost don’t want to know.

But let’s go back to the “should” issue. Should Ron stop eating agave? Absolutely not. There are a number of options for sweeteners touted as good choices for diabetics. One is stevia, which we think has a horribly bitter aftertaste. Perhaps others don’t notice this but Ron and I do. Another is Xylitol, which gives Ron indigestion. Agave works for him. It has helped him reduce his intake of sugar. Because it is low on the glycemic index, he doesn’t have to give himself a lot of insulin to compensate for it when he eats it. He loves the way it tastes. Perhaps most important is the fact that it has helped him lose weight. He buys only organic agave, so it’s top quality and is free of GMOs and toxins found in many sugar products. In short, of the many choices out there, agave remains a good choice for Ron.

In the end, armed with knowledge about health and nutrition, each person needs to develop their own healthy eating meal plan because food is personal. There may be things we know we shouldn’t eat. And I could recommend to people some things to avoid. But what people “should” eat? In the end that’s a decision that belongs to each individual person.

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