Agave nectar syrup has gotten a lot of press lately. I must admit that I dismissed most of it and until today had not really looked into whether or not this natural sweetener was good or bad for us.
This afternoon I had a patient call me and ask me if it was ok. I told her that I wasn’t sure, but to be safe, she should stay away from it. I am glad that I did. Here is what I found out about agave nectar syrup.
Agave is marketed as a health food for several reasons. Extracts from the agave plant have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These extracts, however, are NOT in the syrup you can buy in the stores so there’s no value there.
Secondly, agave syrup is low glycemic so it has been marketed as a safe sugar for diabetics to use. This, as it turns out, is only a half truth. We’ll talk about that in a moment.
Thirdly, because it comes from a plant it has been marketed to the vegan crowd as a better alternative to table sugar (because it’s “healthier”) and honey (because vegans don’t eat anything that has been taken from any animal, in this case, bees).
Agave has some slick marketers. The truth about agave, however, is not so great and from now on I will advise my patients not to use it. Here’s why.
Agave is low glycemic because it is made almost entirely of fructose, or fruit sugar. Fructose is, by nature, a low glycemic sugar. Fructose, however, is just about the worst sugar to use as a sweetener.
All sugars are a mix of fructose and glucose. Table sugar is a 50/50 blend. High fructose corn syrup is a 55/45 blend. Agave is usually about 90/10.
But what about fruit? Yes, it is true that fruit is naturally sweet because of fructose. It has very low levels of fructose. An apple for example is only 7% fructose. Plus your apple comes with vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. Agave syrup does not.
Fructose, when consumed in high amounts raises triglycerides (which increases cardiovascular risks) and increases the risk of diabetes. And rats fed a high diet of fructose have been shown to build abdominal fat which is the worst kind.
When agave is processed it takes any health benefit that it might have and throws it away. In the end, agave syrup is no better for us than high fructose corn syrup and may in fact be worse.
Bottom line – stay away from it.