Tag Archives: Sugar substitute

Agave Syrup – the carefree alternative sweetener?

Blue Agave (Agave tequilana)

Image via Wikipedia

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.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Diet, Public Health

High Fructose Corn Syrup – The Natural Killer

Sugar Blues and greens

Image by Mona Loldwoman (Look for the good) via Flickr

You’ve seen the commercials haven’t you?  Two fit young adults are sitting on a grassy hill having a picnic.  The woman says to her partner, “Would you like a bite,” as she extends a popsicle.  The man responds, “I thought you loved me, that has high fructose corn syrup in it.”  She says, “So what.”  He says, “Well you know what they say about it.”  She interrupts and says “What!?  That it’s made from corn?  That it has the same calorie content as table sugar and that it’s fine to eat in moderation?”

All of this is to suggest that high fructose corn syrup really isn’t bad for you because it’s made from corn and that its calorie content isn’t any higher than regular sugar.  While those facts are true it’s only a tiny fraction of the story.

The truth of the matter is that high fructose corn syrup is one of the worst additives you can possibly consume because of the metabolic effects it has once it has been consumed.

Until the 1970’s cane sugar was the sweetener of choice for the food industry.  In the 70’s the corn derived sweeteners like maltodextrin and high fructose corn syrup were developed.  It was sweeter and cheaper so of course the food industry moved to using it instead of cane sugar.

You can find HFCS in a wide variety of foods like soft drinks, salad dressings, processed cakes and candies, breakfast cereal and brand-name breads.  This additive raises the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

HFCS intake increased by more than 1000% from 1970 to 1990 and now accounts for more than 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages.

Cardiovascular Risk

Unlike regular table sugar that contains 50% fructose and 50% glucose, HFCS contains 80% fructose and 20% glucose.  This is problematic because glucose and fructose are metabolized differently in the body.  Glucose is a readily available source of energy and is metabolized more slowly into energy for the body to use.  Fructose is processed differently.  It is metabolized extremely quickly.  In fact, it is metabolized so fast that the body cannot use all of it for energy.  This becomes problematic because our bodies are not designed to get rid of extra energy.  Our bodies view this as a reserve that could be used later.  And how do we store energy?  As fat!  When you consume HFCS you increase your production of triglycerides and fat storage in the liver.  The rise in triglycerides promotes atherogenic lipid deposition and raises the risk of heart attack and stroke.  If severe enough it can even lead to liver dysfunction.

Diabetes

HFCS also raises the risk of diabetes.  Before a person develops full-blown diabetes they go through a stage called insulin resistance.  In this stage your body actually stops responding to the hormone insulin.  This causes your body to not be able to effectively process sugar into energy.  If this continues diabetes results.  The list of complications from diabetes includes heart disease, neuropathy, blindness, kidney disease and circulatory issues.

High Blood Pressure

HFCS also contributes to high blood pressure.  When you consume HFCS you inhibit an enzyme called endothelial nitric oxide synthase. This enzyme is located in the walls of your arteries and is responsible for producing nitric oxide.  This is a potent dilator of the arteries.  It basically allows the vessels to relax.  If the vessels cannot relax they do not allow blood to flow unimpeded.  When blood meets resistance in the vessels, high blood pressure is what occurs.

Gout

Consumption of HFCS has been linked to a condition called hyperuricemia.  In this condition, uric acid levels in the blood rise.  This leads to the painful condition called gout.  In gout, uric acid crystals are deposited in the joints of the body causing a very painful arthritis.

The Bottom Line

HFCS is ubiquitous in our food supply.  I always recommend that my patients avoid it at all costs.  If you eat a natural diet and avoid processed foods as much as possible avoiding HFCS is actually very easy to do.  HFCS raises the risk of many diseases and recent research even indicates it accelerates the growth of some cancers.  While it is a cheap way to sweeten food, it costs the public their health.  Do yourself a favor and keep it out of your diet.

2 Comments

Filed under Diet, Public Health