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Is Agave Nectar Really a Healthier Option?

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
2/22/2010 8:00 AM   :  210 comments   :  87,411 Views

Agave syrup has become a popular natural sweetener especially by vegans as a honey alternative. More and more people are becoming drawn to it because of the claims that it is "diabetic friendly" because of the low glycemic impact.

Here is some information that may help you see beyond the marketing hype as we debunk the agave myth.

Sugars from table sugar to honey contain a combination of fructose and glucose. Table sugar is 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose while HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) is 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. When it comes to agave nectar, it is 90 percent fructose.

The Blue Agave is found in the volcanic soils of Southern Mexico and is widely used to make tequila. To make agave nectar, the Blue Agave plant grows for 7 – 10 years and then sap, with its high carbohydrate content, is extracted from the core of the plant. The sap is filtered and heated at low temperatures to break down the carbohydrates into sugars, which results in a product that is approximately 90 percent fructose. The high fructose content is where the problems come in if we are consuming too much of this "natural" sweetener.

Both glucose and fructose have the same chemical formula (C6H12O6) but the atoms in fructose are arranged slightly differently. This slight difference requires the liver to convert fructose to glucose if it is going to be used as energy. Because glucose and fructose are metabolized differently, fructose isn't converted unless it is needed for energy so in many cases the body ends up converting the fructose to body fat.

When high levels of synthesized fructose are consumed it creates not only an increased risk of weight gain but also that the weight gained will be around the abdominal area. There is also a correlation with increases in blood triglyceride levels, heart disease, and insulin resistance. Another caution for pregnant women who consume large amounts of agave nectar is the presence of saponins. This steroid derivative has been linked to diarrhea and vomiting as well as some cases of miscarriage so it is important for pregnant women to limit intake of agave nectar.

The Bottom Line

Agave nectar provides a lower glycemic sweetener option that is suitable for vegans. Since agave is a highly concentrated sugar whether more "natural" or not, it should only be consumed in moderation.

Do you use agave nectar instead of honey or other sweeteners? Were you aware of its high fructose content and the health concerns it carries?

Photo Source: Flickr.com/photos/elanaspantry (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


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Comments

  • 210
    My husband is deathly allergic to agave, and I know others who are. There is a minor protein in the agave plant that can be an allergen. If you have any problems with tequila, you probably have a problem with agave nectar too. Be careful!

    Also, agave has about the same caloric range as high fructose corn syrup, and the reason it's so popular right now is as it's a replacement for that. If you avoid HFCS, try avoiding agave too. Simple cane sugar is lower-calorie and less-refined than agave is (yes, even when it's bleached white -- agave takes a LOT of processing!). - 1/21/2014   3:34:02 PM
  • 209
    I haven't read all the comments here but I do know that Agave affects the liver and when you are losing weight it can stop you cold. Not a good choice for weight loss. I was very disappointed when I learned this too! Thought I had finally found something... just use sparingly is all I can say about this. - 12/5/2013   6:07:00 AM
  • 208
    I use agave because I discovered a couple of years ago that I'm extremely sensitive to sugars of all kinds. I used to think it was only aspartame, but turns out regular sugar gives me headaches and migraines as well. I was/am aware that all sweeteners should be used carefully and in small amounts, and I only have about half a teaspoon on a normal day (in my coffee).

    The other benefit of agave for me is that it doesn't cause cravings for sweets and sweet things like sugar did. - 11/14/2013   8:16:06 AM
  • 207
    I bought some Agave nectar thinking it was a better option, but the calorie amounts are very similar to regular sugar and while GI is important to me, not so much for baked goods (which is where I would use agave) simply because if I'm going to eat a baked product I'm going to accept that it's not likely to be healthy for me haha. - 10/5/2013   5:13:04 PM
  • 206
    This was very helpful to me. I will now be monitoring my high fructose intake - 6/22/2013   9:04:41 PM
  • 205
    Wow-every time I find something new I read a report about the cons of it. I am going to gleam the good in the article and continue to use (in moderation) what I like. Glad to know the info. Spark On! - 5/29/2013   9:42:43 PM
  • JMB369
    204
    At the risk of being repetitious, let me say that a small amount of any natural sweetener, including agave syrup is not going to hurt you or make you get fat. No one compared the amount of fructose in a teaspoon of agave syrup to the amount of fructose in a large juicy peach or a bunch of grapes. Wouldn't that be interesting? Someone did say sugar is sugar is sugar. A couple of years ago, it was corn syrup that was 'the enemy." Now it's agave. let's just agree that refined sugar, honey, agave are ok in small quantities. Artificial sweeteners are never okay. Everytime the chemists introduce a new one, it takes years for the bad effects to surface. It's withdrawn fromt he market and a new one replaces it. Come on people, learn to drink your coffee and tea straight, and give up the baked goods that you shouldn't be eating anyway. Then this dilemma becomes a moot point. - 4/24/2013   7:52:44 AM
  • AZURE-SKY
    203
    You forgot to mention that because agave nectar is sweeter than sugar, you use less. Also, when I consume sugar, it triggers carb cravings. However, when I use agave nectar instead, I do not get those carb cravings. So, thanks for the info, but I will continue to use agave nectar. It's a good alternative to artificial sweeteners, which I despise for their chemical aftertaste - and I've tried them all. I've even tried 2 different types of stevia products, and I can taste that chemical flavor with them. - 4/23/2013   12:39:55 PM
  • PRAIRIEMIMI
    202
    I prefer honey and Sugar in the Raw. First, I've heard about issue with Agave. Good to know. - 4/20/2013   12:27:16 PM
  • 201
    I have used Agave in the past, & still have some on hand for the occasional time I want something sweet in my tea, as I don't like the taste of honey. I also use stevia, it does have a bit of a green taste, but if what you're adding it to has a strong enough flavour you can't really taste it. - 3/14/2013   4:30:11 PM
  • LSIG14
    200
    I bought a botle of Agave Nector yesterday since I'd heard what a great sugar sub it was and I'm always looking for little changes that make a big difference. I didn't really love the taste and after reading the nutritional info I decided that maybe I'd stick to regular sugar for the few times I use sweetener! - 2/24/2013   10:33:21 AM
  • JESS2911
    199
    It's pretty funny that I came across this article today- I just tried Organic Blue Agave Nectar for the first time this morning in my tea and I didn't love it. I have not used regualr sugar in years and have been a splenda user for a long time. As I embark on a new lifestyle of trying to lose weight and get healthier I found for the first time ever I am more concerned with the processed foods and unnatural ingrediants I have been consuming for years. I will not use Splenda anymore- I do not liek Stevias aftertaste and I really do not want to use the Agave Nectar now that I read this. So, for baking and for other recipes that call for sugar I am going to use natural raw sugar. As for my tea (gave up coffee, years ago). I found that drinking flaovred teas is the answer for me- they are naturally sweet and flavorful so they don't require extra sweetner or milk. - 2/18/2013   1:33:27 PM
  • 198
    Wow, I did not know this about Agave Necter. I use this as well as organic raw sugar. I agree with one of the posters that moderation is key. - 11/10/2012   6:46:30 AM
  • 197
    I use Stevia. I don't have an issue with the taste/after taste. Unless you are a Diabetic, sugar is sugar in my opinion. - 9/9/2012   7:31:57 PM
  • REDSHOES2011
    196
    I use the old products the new one's has just as many negatives or worse.. In the least I don't feel ill using the old and tried.. The food gets too sweet to eat and has to be thrown away.. The new sugar alcohols wreck intestine fuction and make them lazy.. As long as my blood tests return 100% super no one will convince me the new stuff is any safer than the old..
    I use what my husband diabetes diatitian suggested and last half my body weight and kept it off.. I will not be sucked into the new crap..
    I also don't confuse natural with healthy in light of the issue with high fructose is serious.. - 7/8/2011   11:52:32 PM
  • 195
    I like agave nectar for its lower GI as I watch my sugars as well (pre diabetic) I have not tried the stevia but I am willing to. I thought Splenda was the answer, but now I don't use to much of that, with all the hype. I do bake with it once in awhile, as well as Agave Nectar. - 4/30/2010   7:24:55 AM
  • 194
    I usually eat my Fage greek yogurt plain, but tonight decided to add a little agave that I saw at Costco and thought I would try after hearing about it on SP. Now I'm eating my new concoction as I read the article and thinking - as good as it tastes, I probably best go back to plain yogurt again! Thanks for the info. - 4/29/2010   9:14:35 PM
  • 193
    I don't use HONEY, since I read that most all of what is sold in America comes from CHINA and it has pesticides since they have so much pollution there. I don't use Agave as it is just another sugar and so I don't use it, either. - 3/22/2010   1:08:59 PM
  • BRANDIEY1
    192
    I use agave nectar because I don't like honey and rarely use it anyway. I don't have a problem with guzzling it so used in moderation is fine for me. - 3/21/2010   11:06:05 AM
  • MAGGIEMAGIC
    191
    I just love Blue Agave Nectar. Therefore I don't keep any in the house because I lose control. I learned to take my tea and coffee black a long time ago and now I cannot stand it with cream or any sweetener. - 3/8/2010   9:19:05 AM
  • 190
    I think the lesson here is to be informed and make the choice that is best for your body. Certainly anyone with liver problems should not consume agave. And people who are obese and have a lot of abdominal fat may do well to use honey and not agave. No one sweetener fits all cases. Thank you SP for providing this informative article. I have had agave before, never bought it myself, and I will stick with honey for occassional use. As for the artificial ones - I have heard they increase carb cravings and cravings for sweets - so again - I will stick with honey for a natural choice. But every person and every situation is unique - I think SP was just trying to inform so that people don't hear rumors that this is so good for the body and then some innocent person just trying to make some healthy changes finds themselves with fatty liver disease due to over consumption of something they assumed was a better choice. - 3/7/2010   3:49:14 PM
  • 189
    Well, yeah, don't overdo any sugar. I don't think anyone is going hog wild consuming agave nectar because it's natural. Common sense. But there are times that you will use sugar and I happen to really like RAW agave nectar. When I want liquid sweetener, this fits the bill. It doesn't come from animals, isn't refined through charred animal bones like sugar, and really does have a nice taste. I even use it in place of maple syrup on waffles. - 3/6/2010   11:10:24 PM
  • 188
    I just heard about Agave. I thought that it was a nectar like a fruit nectar. I am so confused. I like my coffee, tea and hot cereal sweet and am looking for an alternative to sugar. Yes, Knowledge is power but at this point I am just confused and frustrated. - 3/6/2010   7:06:06 PM
  • XIAXIA1
    187
    I had tried stevia, but didn't care for the aftertaste. I found KAL stevia available at health food stores & online has NO aftertaste at all. I can't tell any difference from sugar. I'm not sure how it reacts in cooking tho. I only use it for coffee. - 3/6/2010   3:21:16 PM
  • 186
    It's interesting to see there can be so many opinions about what seems a simple issue. Moderation is key for all sweeteners, and I agree that the less processed, the better. Chemical processing=bad in most cases. Raw, local honey is soooo good in tea. However, I've found that as I use less sweetener my taste for sweets has decreased (except chocolate!). Perhaps the goal should be to decrease sweetener use of any kind, except for special occasions, and grow to love the natural tastes in food. Great thread! - 3/6/2010   2:33:43 PM
  • 185
    Sugar is sugar and we don't need it even in moderation. Like "raw organic" sugar (or agave in this instance) is sooo much better? It suppresses the immune system. Has anyone comparison checked their blood glucose? My bg raises quite a bit. Never understood the claims it's "low glycemic" as it wasn't the case for me.

    I learned to not depend on sweet taste; salt? Another matter. :P - 3/6/2010   10:13:26 AM
  • 184
    A lot of useful information in both the article and the comments. Thanks for all the info! I use Agave only to sweeten my tea, and possibly my oatmeal as I don't notice an aftertaste with it as I do with Stevia. - 3/6/2010   9:52:15 AM
  • 183
    ....... agave is the only sweetener I use, and I use it in EVERYTHING. This is the most useful article I've read in a LOOOONG time. Thank you. - 3/6/2010   8:55:18 AM
  • 182
    I use agave nectar but only occasionally. I was not aware of the information this blog presents and I'm glad to know it. I will continue to use agave nectar in the limited ways I do now. - 3/5/2010   8:49:30 PM
  • 181
    For COOLMAMA11: You can find Stevia in the organic section of Publix. You can also find it at Amazon.com and other places online that have reasonable shipping. As for the topic, I don't know too much about Agave except for what I have read. --- Agave syrup comes from the agave plant and is also a great sweetener alternative to sugar. It contains 90% fructose (the type of sugar naturally occurring in fruits) and is much lower on the glycemic index than sugar. It is also much sweeter than sugar, so less can be used to achieve the same desired sweetness. Agave syrup still contains calories and is classified as a carbohydrate. 1 TBSP (or 3 tsps) of agave syrup is equivalent to 1 carb serving. As with any sweetener, moderation is key. - 3/5/2010   5:33:42 AM
  • SUENEWS
    180
    I use both dark lite agave as substitutes for sugar in baking and instead of maple syrup. I wasn't aware of the impact of its high fructose content and will re-evaluate. - 3/4/2010   3:53:03 PM
  • GUYINPV
    179
    Somebody said "Even glucose itself will be converted to fat if it is not needed for energy. Let's not single out fructose as the bad guy. Too much of anything would do the about the same."
    From what I've read, very little of glucose will go to fat because glucose is converted to glycogen for energy storage for LATER use. While Fructose is not converted for later use. Also, 80% of glucose ingested is used for energy before it even reaches the liver, while fructose is not, ALL fructose consumed is metabolized by the liver, so the liver has to work harder, and more of it becomes VLDL, and not used for energy or glycogen stores. I hope I got the facts right, but the point is that calorie for calorie, fructose IS the enemy, LESS is used for energy, LESS (or none) is used for storage, and MORE of it is turned to fat, VLDL back in the blood. Plus more acid "by products" are created to process fructose than glucose, which can cause problems, as well as lower your body's Ph balance over time. In almost every way, fructose and glucose are metabolized differently. In fact, when fructose hits the liver, its conversion process is almost identical to the processing of alcohol in the liver. As we know, alcohol goes strait to the gut and we talk about "beer bellies", well fructose processes the same, only we don't call it "fructose belly", but we should! - 3/4/2010   12:06:25 AM
  • GOTHICDRAGONFLY
    178
    i'll stick to using my sweet n low when i want something sweetened... - 3/3/2010   8:44:37 PM
  • JVEGGIE
    177
    I like this blog because I think a lot of people may assume agave nectar is like a stevia product. It is great that you let everyone know it is a sugar, low glycemic index or not, too much sugar can lead to weight gain. - 3/3/2010   5:28:39 PM
  • 176
    Well said, Emily, that's what is in my post below with the link to the article, thanks for stating it here... :) I also thought it was interesting that they had the Madhava brand in the photo when it really isn't the type even in question in this article...

    And kudos to you too EricB27 for your post. I am not a fan (ok don't get me started lol) of artificial sweeteners... I use local raw honey for nearly all my sweetening needs (though we don't need much sweetening honestly) even baking bread and etc... I haven't bought white sugar for anything in ages. I even do canning with honey and if I really want it sweet I'll use Evaporated Cane Juice to can some things. But again, that's rare. My feeling, if man made it, don't believe the packaging... be skeptical. Even processed honey isn't something I spend money on, I like it local as possible and raw as possible. We have such a way of screwing up everything with our chemicals... Packaging is a lot of hype, do the homework and don't believe something is good for you because a commercial says so- there is reason for concern with artificial sweeteners... Every time I hear the splenda commercial on TV I just cringe... And don't get me started on the others. ;) - 3/3/2010   4:09:21 PM
  • 175
    It's funny that such an article would use Madhava brand for the photo to go along with the article. The main article used as a reference about the bad effects of agave nectar does not reference anything about the specific variety of agave used by Madhava. Unlike blue agave or other companies, Madhava uses no chemical processing and their product is extracted by hand twice a day and doesn't boil their nectar. Furthermore, it is not overly processed, simply heated enough to extract the water away. All sweetener in high concentrations can be detrimental to ones health. But, Madhava agave is organically certified and not overly processed. I think spark should research the issue further before trusting the debunking article of one person and really look at why agave would be criticized. Perhaps its the lobbyists for sugar not wanting another sweetener cutting in on it's profits. - 3/3/2010   3:00:09 PM
  • 1SONFLOWER
    174
    I thought part of this article was misleading--the part about fructose being converted to fat instead of glucose if it is not needed. While that is true, I'm pretty sure that's true of any sort of energy compound. Even glucose itself will be converted to fat if it is not needed for energy. Let's not single out fructose as the bad guy. Too much of anything would do the about the same. - 3/3/2010   12:50:02 PM
  • 173
    Interesting facts about fructose, and how the body processes it, compated to glucose. I find less of a "sugar spike" when I use the TJ agave/maple syrup blend, a small guilty pleasure with french toast. - 3/3/2010   12:20:49 PM
  • ERICB27
    172
    Kudos to OURHEARTS4HOME for the great link, and shame on SPARK for posting this piece without including the #1 draw for using Agave, which as a few others have noted, is simply that you use less (plus it tastes GREAT, at least Blue Agave does, I haven't used any other). The comparisons floating around to HFCS are completely ridiculous, so hopefully people know better by now. Sometimes the Comments section is more valuable than the article! :-) As for DONOTBEAFRAID, well... be afraid, for you know not what Splenda really is based on your comment. I stopped using it after 3 weeks when I developed WELTS all over my face, and there are countless others who have the same reaction to it, because it's a CHEMICAL, a tri-chlorine molecule. That's how they breakdown the "real sugar" and turn it into the garbage that is Splenda.
    http://www.splendaexposed.com/artic
    les/2006/07/how_to_report_a.html

    There's also another book out there called SWEET DECEPTION that goes into detail about all of the problems of all the artificial sweeteners (including a severe lack of testing before FDA approval). Ever since the welts, no more articficial sweetener for me folks, there are too many great natural alternatvies out there! No need to support the shady tactics used by the folks who create the fake stuff! - 3/3/2010   12:20:21 PM
  • 171
    I'm so confused when it comes to sugar vs. sweeteners. I thought that Splenda was the best one but now I've been reading so much stuff that says it's not. I have to have something in my morning coffee, and my big question is which option is best? - 3/3/2010   12:19:17 PM
  • 170
    Just another interesting point about Agave - it's the same plant that is used to make Tequilla (the leaves). - 3/3/2010   12:15:01 PM
  • 169
    Only that which is simple will succeed, so why contaminate my body with things I do not understand. I avoid sweeteners in pink, blue or yellow envelopes or things I can only buy in health food stores, because its just not right. - 3/3/2010   11:45:08 AM
  • 168
    I am not a vegan, but I like and use Agave syrup...of course in moderation! Artificial sweetners such as Splenda and Aspertane are just that...artificial. Even Sugar is so highly refined that it is "pure" to the point of being a drug.

    If you use sweeteners for things like oatmeal, coffee, tea then I encourage you to try Agave syrup. If you find you like it and discover that your sugar cravings are lessened then you may also wish to use it in cooking. There is at least one excellent cook book using Agave syrup. - 3/3/2010   11:27:40 AM
  • FOCUSONRIGHTNOW
    167
    I'm trying to train myself to go for sweet fruit if I have a sweet craving. I notice when I limit sugar I get used to not having it. I used to put a lot in my coffee but now I put in 1 packet in a 20oz cup - thats just enough for me to be able to taste it. I feel that as long as I use sugar in small amounts then I don't need to go to chemical substitutes. Who knows what effects those chemicals will have on our bodies over the long term? - 3/3/2010   11:27:35 AM
  • 166
    Also, Agave is found in lots of places not just trader joe's... But again, the only brand I feel comfortable with is the one listed in that article I posted a link for, and it is even in the picture on this article. As for splenda and other sweeteners that are artificial, use extreme caution in those. - 3/3/2010   10:21:30 AM
  • 165
    I have heard the controversy, but as usual there are 2 sides... take a look at this link. I use this brand only when I use agave, and like all sweeteners I use it in moderation. I'll take this ANY day over an artificial sweetener. The main thing we use is local raw honey, but we do use this once in a while also... Anyhow, feel free to read this and make your decision, if the link doesn't work try copy and paste because it's worth a read...
    http://stanford.wellsphere.com/heal
    thy-eating-article/madhava-s-craig-
    gerbore-responds-to-agave-nectar-co
    ntroversy-here/584480
    - 3/3/2010   10:19:01 AM
  • GENOME
    164
    I too have not heard of this or paid attention to it... however after reading this blog and skimming comments... I guess I should not start using it? However someone said they craved for sweets less during the day using it in their coffee... I guess the word for the day is moderation... so I guess I will just keep to my spenda. I do not leave near a Trader's Joe to get it anyway. - 3/3/2010   10:04:04 AM
  • 163
    Since a little is very sweet, you end up using less... I'm sure it balances itself out. As many have already pointed out, MODERATION is the key. - 3/3/2010   9:45:28 AM
  • 162
    Have not heard of this product before. I use honey for everything, but baking. Might try it out. - 3/3/2010   9:41:29 AM
  • JCARPENTER10
    161
    I bought a bottle of agave syrup and like it in my smoothies if a little extra sweetness is needed. I generally just use stevia in my coffee in the mornings, and regular sugar for baking. But all in moderation. Have a great day! - 3/3/2010   9:37:32 AM

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