What’s So Bad About Agave Nectar

What’s So Bad About Agave Nectar

Wait, what? A couple of years ago I made banana bread for all my clients for Christmas gifts and swapped out the evil white refined sugar for agave nectar. Why? Because everyone said it was healthier. Like, way healthier. Less refined, more natural and so much easier on blood sugar levels, even diabetics could have it (although I was sceptical about that and certainly not about to make any diabetic clients my own personal lab rats!).

But seriously, Dr Oz. was all “the next time that you’re craving something sweet, try using agave nectar as a natural sugar substitute. Derived from a cactus plant, agave nectar is low on the glycemic index, which means that it has only a small effect on your insulin levels and blood glucose. The honey-like consistency of agave is sweeter than table sugar, so you can use less” (Source) and I was all “yay”. Dr. Weil was like, “I like the taste of agave nectar and have started using it in my kitchen, as well as trying products that contain it” and I was like “yo dude, dope”. (Remember this was a couple years ago so I was practically a teenager!)

But lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of “expose” style stories about agave that seem less effusive about the angelic sugar sub. When a story about a food you have eaten (and fed to others) starts with a headline like “The Truth about… ” or “What’s Wrong with…”, you tend to take notice. Should we just use the refined white sugar? This could potentially be the best news ever given the ever growing pile of cookies and fudge we’re all looking at this week, no?

So it’s not horrible news for agave. It just seems, as so often happens, we got a little overexcited. Just like grapefruit won’t shave body fat off while you lay around and oat bran won’t gold plate your colon, thereby preventing any and all possible disease, it appears agave, a natural, plant derived sugar is very similar to white sugar…also a natural, plant derived sugar. Both are in fact processed and according to WebMD, “(agave) is no better for you than other sugars…don’t be dazzled by the word “natural”; U.S. food regulators do not legally define the term, so it’s left up to manufacturers. Ah yes, letting the people selling the product decide what the definition of natural should be…what could go wrong?

One of the main concerns about the hype surrounding agave is its high fructose content. In fact, most commercial brands range from 55-90 percent fructose, very similar to high fructose corn syrup. According to “a study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation …consuming fructose may be less healthy than consuming similar amounts of glucose. Study participants who consumed fructose were found to gain more unhealthy visceral fat, were more insulin-resistant, and were at greater risk of developing heart disease and diabetes (Source).

And what about the previous go ahead for diabetics to safely add agave to their diets? According to that same study “there is inconsistent evidence to assign a glycemic value to any food (including agave), and it should not be used as a green light for diabetics”.

One slight edge agave does have over other sweeteners and in particular over table sugar is that it is super sweet which means you can use less of it in baking or sweetening drinks and therefore cut down on the calories (agave has 60 calories per tablespoon compared to 40 calories in a tablespoon of sugar) (Source)

But even Dr. Weil has jumped off the bandwagon on this one. In response to a recent question about the conflicting information in the health community about agave, Dr. Weil said, “I’ve stopped using agave myself and no longer recommend it as a healthy sweetener. The reason agave ranks relatively low on the glycemic index is because it has a high content of fructose. New research suggests that excessive fructose consumption deranges liver function and promotes obesity. The less fructose you consume, the better.

…fructose is a major culprit in the rising incidence of type 2 diabetes and…it may also increase risks of heart disease and cancer. I now use maple syrup instead of agave”. (Source)

I certainly do not want a “deranged” liver so maple syrup it is. Oh, and generally cutting back on sugar too, yeah that, for sure, right after I deal with that pile of cookies and fudge.

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1 Comment

  1. Needful Things
    December 27, 05:46 Reply

    I’m not crazy about agave. It seemed like a great idea at first but for some reason it always gives me a very bad headache whenever I consume it. Why not just use the real thing (other forms of sugar) but in moderation?

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