Is Agave Nectar Really a Healthier Option?

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
2/22/2010 8:00 AM   :  211 comments   :  91,321 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

  • 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
  • BIXNTRAM
    160
    Well, yeah, if you drink a half pint of it a day, it's not good for you. Ditto, maple syrup or honey. Even while knocking it the article says it's a lower glycemic alternative to honey. Agave is a great vegan alternative to maple syrup and other liquid sweeteners when you're cooking, which is what I use it for. For a table sweetener, on my cereal I use VERY small amounts of stevia. Yes it can be unpleasant if you use too much, but I find that xylotol has an off-putting taste and doesn't dissolve easily. Whatever happened to common sense and "moderation in all things?" - 3/3/2010   9:35:59 AM
  • APRILLONGE
    159
    This article seems slanted. Natural occuring froctuse, according to the doctors I work with, is a good option in moderate amounts. It get's a bad wrap, but it is the high fructose that you need to stay away from, not naturally occuring...Of course, moderation. I use xylitol, a naturally occuring sugar with 40% less calories than sugar. It is metabolized without insulin so it creates a significantly lower glycemic when eaten- only 7. Plus taste good. This is the sweetner Trident uses in gum because it is also good for teeth. It has bacteria inhibitor. I did a lot of sugar research and this was the best choice for my family. It taste and looks like real sugar, but is 100% natural derived from corncobs and birch trees. - 3/3/2010   8:13:44 AM
  • 158
    I have been using Splenda, but I would like to switch to Stevia, I haven't been able to find it, is it available here in Canada? - 3/3/2010   8:08:47 AM
  • 157
    I prefer to use stevia with it's zero calorie content and it tastes great! Plus it is natural too! - 3/3/2010   6:37:17 AM
  • TICA57
    156
    I have only tasted food with agave once and it was tasty. I have tried stevia and it is so bitter that I can't stand it. I use the bad sweeteners in my coffee and tea because they are relatively cheap. I spent what I consider a small fortune on stevia and couldn't use it. I think agave is safe in moderation, as mentioned in other comments this article was not well written so it doesn't carry any weight for me. I still plan to biy some and try it in my hot beverages. That is really the only time I need a sweetener. - 3/3/2010   12:08:09 AM
  • 155
    splenda rocks for the very rare occassions I need a sweetner - 3/2/2010   11:43:13 PM
  • YAABIRD
    154
    Not all Agave is the same. Dr. Oz promotes VOLCANIC Agave...there is a difference. Read more, don't listen to Mercola, because SPARK likes Mercola from what I have read. MErcola is alwasy trying to push thier own products. If it works for you then use it. Anything is better then splenda and aspertane. - 3/2/2010   10:56:38 PM
  • 153
    I buy Organic Blue Agave and use in moderation and I will continue to use it. As with all things, moderation is key -- whether it is artifical sweetners, natural, or HFCS. I also use stevia occasionally. - 3/2/2010   10:54:19 PM
  • JAYNEK62
    152
    Bottom line.... read everything about all the products for yourself and dump everything with chemical processing. The whole idea of a processed product is to make money for someone, and get you hooked on it regardless of what it does to YOUR health. Only a neutral lab can do neutral research and regardless of the safest product YOUR BODY will handle different things differently. Try what you like but LISTEN TO YOUR BODY and stick to the least processed product you can find and tolerate. Sadly, some of the health ramifications won't show up for years when it's too late to undo them. Then your hard earned dollars end up supporting the other big business in this country... drugs / medical doctors/ hospitals! - 3/2/2010   9:21:28 PM
  • MIKKI2U
    151
    I use Agave in coffee, tea, oatmeal, etc... I use just a little and have noticed a huge reduction in my sugar cravings. I totally disagree with this article and remind people that you should NOT believe everything you read and listen to your doctor. I also have to say that I believe Dr. Oz who is really a health care nut over this article. Nothing in excess is good for us. Moderation is the key in everything. In my opinion Agave is much better for us then sugar substitutes. - 3/2/2010   9:16:51 PM
  • 150
    Not only is Agave Nector highly recommended by Dr. Oz, a leading heart surgeon, but also by my DH's diabetic doctor. It would seem that everyone is on the bandwagon to not only say that high Fructose corn syrup is fine in moderation (check out that commercial)...NOT... but that they put Agave Necter down as bad for us....NOT!! For diabetes it's the carbs that are dangerous and raise your blood sugar...and Agave has less carbs and it takes longer to digest than any other kind of sugar...real or not. If the truth be known...it is the artifical sweetners that are the ones that are bad and can make you gain weight. They actually make people hungry. I have no clue as to why the vegan sentence was even put into this article...??? The word vegan should be changed to diabetic in my opinion. I choose to believe the diabetic doctor and Dr. Oz until proven wrong...and this article falls really short of any proof that Agave is bad for us or that it is not the better choice for a sweetner. - 3/2/2010   8:43:27 PM
  • 149
    Thanks for the info. I do believe this article provides enough info. I tried the Blue Agave Nectar and did not like it. Honey is all natural and I will stick to it - in moderation. - 3/2/2010   7:54:51 PM
  • 148
    I never knew about this type of sugar, I recone everything must have sugar in it. All things in moderation!!!!!!! - 3/2/2010   7:52:48 PM
  • WEBVENDOR
    147
    I have used the regular Orgainic BLue Agave Nectar without incident. I just purchased a bottle of Organic Raw Blue Agave Nectar from Trader Joes ($3). While I do not see any difference in carbs and calories per serving, I am wondering if there is a difference in impact to the system when one uses the raw version. - 3/2/2010   7:31:26 PM
  • VANESSAI
    146
    It also raises your cholesterol level. I have been using it for about 7 years and only in the last couple of months did I learn about that. I quit using it two months ago. - 3/2/2010   6:15:38 PM
  • JHAYWARD4
    145
    I have trouble controlling my sugar and am trying hard to get my weight down but I think I will stick to Stevia and Splenda. Thank you for the info it's appreciated. - 3/2/2010   5:56:59 PM
  • DEAFMACK
    144
    Thank you so much for the heads up. I am fructose intolerant so I will definitely avoid this sweetener. I knew that fructose is not a good thing except in tiny amounts but for me it is a must avoid thing. Thanks again for the information. - 3/2/2010   5:47:13 PM
  • 143
    Sorry but this is one of those times that I really have to disagree ... Both Dr Oz and The Anti-Cancer Diet recommend agave nectar in moderation and it is NOT in the same class as regular sugar or HFCS. Our bodies respond differently to it. And you can tell by the responses to this article that people are led to believe they are the same ... or that agave is worse. Pity ... - 3/2/2010   5:12:05 PM
  • 142
    I'm allergic to honey, so I use a tiny bit of agave where I years ago would have POURED on the honey. A smidge of agave goes a LONG way. And yah, it's big thing is that fructose doesn't provoke a insulin spike like sucrose does. That means less hunger in the long run. I have a bowl of berries after my bike rides, with rice milk and a drizzle of agave. By that time my body is screaming so loud for carbs that I burn MORE calories and it converts the fructose into glucose (yah fructolosis!). Oh, and most fruit has large quantities of un-bound fructose too... hence the name "sugar from fruit".. and it's what gives use the alcohol in beer and wine :D

    My sweetners of preference are stevia, fruit-juice, raw sugar, applesauce and molasses. Gotta have love for the molasses - high in iron and all sortsa vitamins and minerals!! - 3/2/2010   3:03:57 PM
  • SPINNER86
    141
    Everything in moderation. I still think agave is better than white sugar for you. Plus you use less because it is sweeter. I also find that it doesn't trigger more sugar cravings like artificial sweeteners do or even honey can (for me). Also, I have read more negative articles about HFCS and heard from more nutritionists who are against it so I avoid it whenever possible. - 3/2/2010   2:21:42 PM
  • KATYPIX
    140
    I started using agave nectar, after hearing about it from Dr. Oz; a little of this tasty sweetener goes a long way. Although I'm not diabetic, I try to eat like I am. Somehow, I ended up with a fatty liver - probably from years of consuming HFCS products. The article by Tanya says that "synthetic fructose", consumed in large quantities is the real beast, when it comes to sweeteners. It seems to me that the insinuation is that agave is almost as bad as HFCS, but the article does nothing to elaborate on whether the amount of processing agave goes through is actually anywhere near as harmful as the synthesis corn goes through to get to HFCS. Bottom line, as many have already stated, stay away from HFCS and limit your use of any sweetener - natural or processed. - 3/2/2010   1:44:57 PM
  • 139
    Moderation in all things, including, of course sweetners of all types. I like to eat as close to the ground as possible, I use honey which I buy fresh from the farm and use it in moderation. - 3/2/2010   1:18:36 PM
  • SMILE75X
    138
    I have never even heard of it. † - 3/2/2010   1:06:23 PM
  • 137
    I think we will grow sugar beats this year and make our own. Only way to be sure. LOL - 3/2/2010   11:39:28 AM
  • 136
    We should all use ANY sweetener is moderation. But my choices are sweeteners that are less processed and the most natural --including agave, honey, molasses, raw sugar and real maple syrup. - 3/2/2010   11:31:02 AM
  • JANNWINN
    135
    Interesting thoughts! I like agave better than honey because I don't need as much, and it mixes immediately with whatever I'm using. It doesn't crystalize. Many posts suggest moderation, and I cast my vote with this suggestion. I prefer to use as little sweetener as possible. When I do, it's agave. I hope an accurate and trustworthy study (by a neutral lab) can be done on this very soon! - 3/2/2010   11:28:12 AM
  • 134
    Thank you for the information. - 3/2/2010   11:16:41 AM
  • 133
    I tried this once when I was in a health food store they were giving out samples of a syrup that was delicious , but I got real dizzy like I was drunk and that last about 10 minutes so needless to say I didn't want to try it again. I don't drink because I throw up after one drink. LOL - 3/2/2010   11:09:08 AM
  • 132
    Bottom Line Personal says "agave syrup is no healthier than refined sugar. Agave syrup is being touted as healthier than sugar and used in an increasing number of foods and beverages...BUT..With 20 calories per teaspoon it has more calories than table sugar..(16 calories per teaspoon). It contains up to 90% fructose, depending on how it is processed..substantially more fructose than in high-fructose corn syrup. Agave syrup is marketed as "diabetic friendly," but their are no studies even suggest that large amounts of fructose can increase diabetes risk and have other harmful effects on the heart and liver.
    University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, 500 Fifth Ave., New York City 10110. 12 issues. - 3/2/2010   11:08:27 AM
  • PAMELALANDIS
    131
    Wow! Great information. I appreciate this since I know some folks who swear by agave nectar for diabetics. I plan to pass this information along.
    Blessings to all,
    Pam - 3/2/2010   10:50:56 AM
  • 130
    Great info, thank you! - 3/2/2010   10:47:58 AM
  • LILLYVIC
    129
    I'm glad that you've posted this article. I went to Whole Foods (an organic grocery...store) and priced Agave just for curiosity sake. It runs close to $7.00 a container...I can't remember how many ounces you get, but I know it's not worth $7.00. The ancients used honey as a sweetner, I've been using it for years...I'm sticking with honey and saving the extra $$$$ for something else. - 3/2/2010   10:20:02 AM
  • 128
    I appreciate the article and the comments. I like agave in my tea, and moderation is where it is at. For anything. - 3/2/2010   9:58:50 AM
  • 127
    Gee, we first read something is good for this or that then we hear it is NOT and visa versa....I sure wish they would get it straight before all the hoopla! The best rule I have ever heard is anything in MODERATION! - 3/2/2010   9:24:03 AM
  • SPARKEE
    126
    I think I'll stick with the basics in moderation: honey, maple syrup and sugar. - 3/2/2010   9:11:28 AM
  • JESTSMILN
    125
    Once again I am disappointed in Spark. This is another time that your facts are really not elaborated enough. The point of any sweetener is the spike it gives you in your blood. Agave does not do that. And like one other reader put it, aren't you the ones that posted an article also that said High Fructose Corn Syrup wasn't really that bad. Makes me wonder if you are linked to your sponsors more than we know. Agave is one of the best alternatives for a sweetner. And NOTHING should be eaten in over abundance!!! - 3/2/2010   8:09:45 AM
  • CHIBISEIRA
    124
    I completely agree with GratefulGreen, ATLASQK2, and others... this article is VERY misleading and biased, especially based on the comments. ALL sweeteners should be eaten in moderation, that's a given. However many people would rather have a sweetener higher in fructose (as in the sugar that's in FRUIT) as opposed to the kind that will spike your blood sugar and can be dangerous for diabetics/hypoglycemics/etc. (plus which can be addictive largely because of that spike). I'd definitely choose agave over processed, artificial sweeteners (look up the chemicals used to make Splenda or the term "aspartame poisoning" some time... scary stuff... and those are the PREFERRED ones, generally). I do appreciate the information on saponins, but after doing the research I'm not worried. Again, moderation is key. - 3/2/2010   6:45:27 AM
  • 123
    Wow, this article is very simplistic and misleading... just read the comments after it to realize just how misleading. It makes me wonder about the information I find on this site, and how biased it may be. While Agave isn't a wonder food in that you can eat as much as you want and not lose weight... that is a given, isn't it? It is a natural alternative. No food should be eaten in great quantities, not honey, not sugar, no HFCS (despite the food production industry's generous use of it), not agave. Splenda, your miracle sweetener, is made by injecting sugar with CHLORINE... you guys go ahead and eat as much of that as you want, I'm good. Honestly, what we need to do is reduce the sweet in our diets... that's the problem. Sugar didn't used to get added to everything, and we ate it as a treat. I've been cooking my food and buying food without added sweetener, and I don't expect everythign to be as sweet, I think it has helped with sweet cravings alot too. - 2/28/2010   11:17:01 AM
  • 122
    Great information, you learn so many different things with Sparks, it;s great. - 2/28/2010   2:32:30 AM
  • 121
    Splenda is by far the best thing out there. It's actually made from sugar, it has a low glycemic impact, no calories (unless you use lots of it), no carbs, and after you get used to using it you'll never miss sugar. I use it in my coffee every morning. I've never tried this Agave stuff and I see no reason to. - 2/28/2010   1:25:02 AM
  • 120
    I've never tried it myself. I try to avoid using sugars or subs at all, but I do enjoy sugar free creamer in my coffee. Everything is generally okay in moderation. Moderation is the key! - 2/27/2010   10:13:58 PM
  • _MAOMAO_
    119
    I have agave nectar at home and I have used it. Neat flavor. I use it sparingly, though. Sure, it's less refined than white sugar but it's still a concentrated sweetener. My cupboard has agave, maple syrup, sugar-free 'maple' syrup, rice syrup, evaporated cane sugar, Splenda and stevia. - 2/27/2010   1:50:34 AM
  • NIBLITZ
    118
    Wasn't there another article on here somewhere saying that High Fructose Corn Syrup isn't bad for you? So if the fructose in HFCS isn't bad (now that there's a huge PR campaign from the people who make it) then why is agave nectar bad? Because it's taking away money from the corn and sugar industries? Or because people, thinking they can just have as much of it as they want, eat too much of it?

    It's good to be aware of hype and marketing. But I think your explanation is simplistic and misleading. - 2/26/2010   11:08:25 PM
  • 117
    Never heard of it until today. I don't really do alternative sugar sources anyhow, just limit what real sugar I do use and stay away from artificial sweeteners altogether. - 2/26/2010   6:50:15 PM
  • 116
    I am still going to use it. I only use a tiny bit in my coffee every morning. It replaced sugar in my coffee and I feel good about that. As the bottom line says: moderation. (I buy the twin packs at Costco...they last a long time!) - 2/26/2010   2:51:03 PM
  • INFORM555
    115
    I have used Agave sparingly in my attempts to give up sugar and artificial sugars. I have to say that with the Agave, I DON'T have the horrible cravings that I have after eating sugar (or HFCS or honey or maple syrup)! That alone is a great reason for me to keep using it when a recipe is too bitter without some kind of sweetener, because those cravings are killer! - 2/26/2010   12:42:17 PM
  • TREGIANI
    114
    I love agave nectar, but I do use it with moderation. I rarely sweeten things, like coffee or tea (I got used to a more unsweetened flavor), and I get sick only thinking about artificial sweeteners... so there's room for some honey or agave nectar sometimes! - 2/25/2010   12:07:34 PM
  • 113
    I have tried agave and I liked the taste...only need very little as compared to sugar and honey. I did not know about the high fructose content. Not a good idea. Since I'm not a vegan I'll stick to honey! - 2/25/2010   9:43:32 AM
  • 112
    Yeah, it’s still a sugar. I use it and will continue to use it, but not much, only 5-10 grams per meal few times a week. I even learned (taught myself?) to drink my tea w/o honey or agave, unless I have a craving for something sweet (other than fruit) occasionally.

    -A - 2/24/2010   9:36:17 PM

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