Agave Nectar: Healthier or Worse than Sugar?

Agave Nectar: Healthier or Worse than Sugar?

Agave Nectar

Browse the health-food section of your local store and you’ll see a sweetener called Agave Nectar.  If you read the label, you can easily become convinced that this sweetener is the best thing since – well – sliced bread!  In many cases, it’s organic.  It’s low on the glycemic index. Other points on the label include “Pure”, “Kosher”, ”Gluten Free”, “Wholesome” and “All-Natural”.  You’re assured that the sweetener is made from only the finest Mexican agave plants.  And now you’re asking yourself – can I really trust what the label says? 

Let’s talk label

Yes, it does appear that through laboratory testing with animals that agave nectar is low glycemic.  There is also anecdotal evidence from diabetics that agave nectar does not cause a blood sugar spike and they can easily handle small amounts of agave nectar without any noticeable reaction.  It very well could be kosher or organic.  And unless additional ingredients are added, it is gluten free naturally.  Considering it comes mostly from a plant source, it could very well be considered all-natural. 

So – in some ways – the label is accurate. 

What we’re learning:

The label is misleading as well. From the label, most people believe that agave nectar is raw – very close to what is naturally extracted from the plant.  This is not the case.  Although some communities in South and Central America do create a thick syrup from the agave plant called miel de agave, what’s purchased in the grocery store is nothing like the boiled sap. 

Agave nectar is actually highly processed and is extremely high in fructose.  In fact – it is much higher in fructose than the levels found in high fructose corn syrup.  When it comes to high levels of fructose, what we’re finding is that fructose is processed solely by the liver.  When high levels of fructose hit the livers, it leads to an increase in fat accumulation.  There is now the thought that too much fructose is a leading cause of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, whose levels have been increasing tremendously the past few years.  It’s also thought that too much fructose can increase insulin resistance in both diabetics and non-diabetics. 

Bottom line:

Although once heralded as a great alternative natural sweetener by many well-known doctors, we’re now seeing a turnaround.  Even Dr. Weil and Dr. Oz, who both once promoted agave nectar quite heavily have changed their opinion and now recommend against using it. 

The reason is solely because of the high fructose levels and the information we’re now finding out about how fructose affects the body.  Using sweeteners with extremely high levels of fructose is simply not recommended. 

If you’re someone who needs to consume low-glycemic foods, small amounts of agave nectar may be OK.  However, it’s important to remember that agave nectar should not be used in high quantities and it’s not the only healthy sweetener available to you.