Agave syrup/nectar (pronounced uh-GAH-vay) is a sweetener that has been gaining popularity, but is it all natural? How healthy is it? I decided to do a little research and find out more about this controversial sweetener. Here’s what I’ve learned – be prepared for some surprises. It certainly was an eye-opener for me!
About the agave plant:
- Agave is not a cacti nor is it related to the aloe plant, even though it looks similar
- The agave plant is related to the lily and amaryllis families
- There are a wide variety of colors & sizes, in up to 300 species of agave plants, which grow primarily in Mexico, the southwestern USA and South America.
- The sap is the source of the syrup. Other edible parts are: flowers, leaves and stalks. (Fermented agave sap is what tequila is made of.)
- Blue agave has a high carbohydrate content which means it also has the highest amount of fructose
About extraction and processing of the syrup:
- The syrup comes from the sap, which is extracted from the core of a mature plant
- The sap is filtered, then heated to break the carbohydrates into sugars
- There are 3 varieties of syrup that all come from the same plant, but the amount of heat used in processing is different for each one: raw, light and amber
- When the sap is processed at low temperatures (below 118 degrees F) it is generally marketed as ‘raw’
- According to Dr. Mercola “agave syrup is neither a natural food nor organic” – in the processing it loses any nutritional value it might have had, including any natural enzymes. When the sap is fully chemically processed it is called “hydrolyzed high fructose inulin syrup”
- There are a number of concerns about the purity of agave syrup due to a lack of quality control. Specific concerns are: use of poor quality plants due to a shortage of blue agave plants; whether or not HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is mixed with the agave during processing; and syrup that has signs of contamination from pesticides.
About agave syrup’s sweetness, calories, fructose content and impact on the body:
- It ranges from 1 ½ to 3 times as sweet as ordinary table sugar
- It has at least the same number of calories as ordinary table sugar
- It has a very high fructose content – anywhere from 55% to 90%, depending on the processing. Basically – it is a highly concentrated sugar, and just as addictive as any other form of sugar.
- There is no concrete evidence that it has a low glycemic impact or that it is safe for diabetics.
- Because of its high fructose content, Dr. Mercola maintains that it will likely spike blood sugar levels the same as HFCS and that it could also raise triglyceride levels.
- In their articles – both Dr. Mercola and Dr. Weil talk about the effects of fructose on the liver, such as fatty liver disease
- Dr. Weil indicates that fructose might increase the risk of heart disease and cancer and Type 2 Diabetes.
It definitely appears that agave syrup is not a good choice as a sweetener – not at all healthy or natural as most people assume it is. It can be just as addictive and dangerous as white sugar and HFCS. A dietary lifestyle consisting of high amounts of any chemical or processed sweetener can contribute to many degenerative diseases and health problems such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke, inflammation, arthritis and bone density problems – to name a few. So what’s the safest and healthiest sweetener? Whole foods, including whole fresh fruits will give your body the nourishment it needs, including a little sweetness from time to time. If you think you need a sweetener, try using only small amounts of natural sweeteners such as stevia, xylitol, maple syrup or honey.
Are you concerned about getting the right nutrients and whole foods into your dietary lifestyle? Do you want to “kick the sugar/carb craving” permanently? I can help! Contact me.
Copyright © 2013 Cathy Ormon – All Rights Reserved