The niche market of raw food products is certainly not immune to these marketing tactics. Dangerously, these products are touted as “healthy alternatives” to foods many health enthusiasts are still addicted to, such as sugar and chocolate. These are often replaced by the addictive substitutes “raw” cacao and agave syrup. Adding insult to injury, many of these foods are labeled as “raw,” when they are anything but. You can bet the goal of the deceptive businesses pushing these “Raw Fraud” products is not to make your health flourish?—?it is to make their pocketbooks grow.
In 2002, the USDA started the National Organic Program. This established a legal definition of the word “organic.” If manufacturers falsely label a food “organic,” they are susceptible to fines, lawsuits or even being shut down. This isn’t the case with products labeled “raw.” There is no legal definition of the word. This means any company can use the word “raw” on their package, even if the item is not raw.
An Addiction that May “Bug” You
A very popular food today is “raw” cacao. Cacao seeds (usually called cacao beans) are from the fruit of cacao trees. Chocolate is made from these seeds. The marketing idea behind “raw” cacao powder or nibs seems to be that health conscious, albeit caffeine-starved, people can still get their chocolate fix without the refined sugar (by using “raw” agave nectar or other sweeteners) and dairy and processing inherent to most ?chocolate bars and candies. Controversy?shook the cacao trees when it became known that most cacao products labeled as “raw” were actually cooked. During the processing that all cacao must undergo to make it palatable, it is often heated to the point of being considered “cooked.” Recently, one company came forward, ostensibly, to set the record straight. They admitted all the cacao products they’d sold up to this point were not really raw, then went on to claim they now manufactured the only truly raw cacao products. Raw or not, cacao is more junk food than health food.
All chocolate is notorious for containing foreign matter such as rodent feces and insect parts. As quoted from Poison with a Capital C, “every time you eat a chocolate bar, it may contain a rodent hair and 16 insect parts and still carry the blessing of the FDA…for chocolate powder or cakes there must not be more than 75 insect fragments in three tablespoons of powder…four percent of cacao beans may be infested by insects. Animal excreta (such as visible rat droppings) must not exceed 10 milligrams per pound.” Considering its addictive properties and its propensity for nasty foreign “ingredients,” it is best to steer clear of this Raw Fraud food.
A Not-So-Sweet Invention
“Raw” agave nectar (also known as agave syrup) is a sweetener that’s making its way into the mainstream. Consumers can even find agave nectar in large jugs in the big box stores. Marketers of agave nectar make two principal claims, “agave nectar is raw” and “agave ?nectar is a safe alternative sweetener for diabetics.”
First off, most agave nectar is not raw. It is heated well above 118°F during processing. This excerpt from FoodProcessing.com outlines how agave is processed: “Agave plants are crushed, and the sap collected into tanks. The sap is then heated to about 140°F for about 36 hours not only to concentrate the liquid into a syrup, but to develop the sweetness. The main carbohydrates in the agave sap are complex forms of fructose called fructosans, one of which is inulin, a straight-chain fructose polymer about eight to ten fructose sugar units long. In this state, the sap is not very sweet. When the agave sap is heated, the complex fructosans are hydrolyzed, or broken into their constituent fructose units. The fructose-rich solution is then filtered to obtain the desired products that range from dark syrup with a characteristic vanilla aroma, to a light amber liquid with more neutral characteristics.”(1)
Agave nectar is not a safe alternative sweetener for diabetics. Most agave nectar has a higher fructose content than any commercial sweetener. While the syrup has a minimum fructose content of 55% (depending on the source and processing method), most of the agave nectar on the market averages 70?–?97% fructose (depending on the brand). You read it right?—?most agave syrup has a far higher fructose content than high fructose corn syrup (which averages 55%). Agave does have a low glycemic index, but of greater concern to diabetics is the fact that fructose radically increases insulin resistance. While it’s normal for insulin levels to temporarily rise, insulin resistance causes levels to remain elevated.
Simply put, agave nectar could be more threatening to diabetics than high fructose corn syrup.(2) Diabetic or not, people would do better to use sweeteners such as pure glucose ?(dextrose) or stevia leaf (not processed stevia-based sweeteners like Truvia ?and Purevia).
This Law is Nuts
Raw Fraud isn’t limited to junk food. “Raw” almonds from California, available at most health food stores and many grocers in the bulk food section, have actually been pasteurized. California state law went into effect September 1, 2007, stating that all almonds from California must be pasteurized. According to the FDA, they can still be labeled raw.
This is fraud, plain and simple. If the almond industry can legally label almonds “raw” after steaming them?—?or even after treating them with propylene oxide(3) (formerly used for racing fuel and still used as a military explosive) as is the case with non-organic almonds?—?then imagine the deception surrounding other “raw” foods that are not in their whole state.
“Raw” cashews are another Raw Fraud nut. They have to be steamed to remove the shells but are still labeled as raw. To the industry, if nuts aren’t roasted, they’re raw. As stated, there are no laws or guidelines that companies must follow, so they invent their own.
Raw Junk Food
Raw foodists may think they are safe from the reach of slick advertising since they no longer eat fast food, microwave dinners and candy bars. The truth is, modern marketing wizards are pulling one of the slickest advertising maneuvers to date. They are taking the world’s conventional junk foods and creating their raw food counterparts, producing “Raw Junk Food.” Two examples: from cooked chocolate to “raw” cacao; from white (bleached) sugar to “raw” agave nectar. As someone who eats raw, living foods, you may think, “Wow! I can eat raw cacao and raw agave syrup, because they are ‘raw’.” Well, you can…but just because you think they are not cooked does not mean they are healthy. The goal of any company selling a product is to sell as much as they can, and the ones selling cacao and agave are making a killing because these foods so overwhelmingly appeal to our addictions.
If you aren’t getting your food fresh off the plant it was grown on (as is the case with home grown or locally grown), it has likely undergone some form of processing. The goal of most food processors is to extend shelf life?—?which extends their profits. They process the food, turning it into “products” with “shelf lives,” that can sit in “inventory” indefinitely. If the food spoils, they lose their profits. Steer clear of this raw junk food and eat some fresh fruits and vegetables, which are always healthier than any packaged product.
1. Mark Anthony, Ph.D. (2010) Nutrition Beyond the Trends: Sweet Like Cactus. Retrieved July 22, 2010 from ?http://www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2007/065.html
2. Dr. Joseph Mercola (2010) This Sweetener Is Far Worse Than High Fructose Corn Syrup. Retrieved July 22, 2010 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/agave-this-sweetener-is-f_b_537936.html
3. No author cited (2010) Almond Pasteurization: The Food Safety System. Retrieved July 22, 2010 from http://www.almondboard.com/FoodProfessionals/Documents/Pasteurization_Sheet%205.22.09.pdf
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