Agave Nectar|Is it healthy or not?

Posted on January 26, 2010

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The world of food science seems to get thicker and thicker with information – and it’s often hard to sort out what’s real & what’s not. Some things should be fairly obvious. High Fructose Corn Syrup – not good. Organic – good! But the water gets thick when you start taking a look at all these ‘healthy alternatives’ that are battling it out for market share.

Take agave nectar. It’s more natural than sugar, right? It’s got a lower Glycemic Index, so it’s better for diabetics, right? Well I was surprised to learn that it’s not as clear cut as it seemed, even to me. Like you, I initially though agave nectar was a great supplement to sweeteners – like honey’s more chilled out brother. If having to choose between that and table sugar, I thought the answer seemed pretty clear – agave nectar.

I’d like to present you with two different viewpoints & then you can decide for yourself.

According to the Weston A. Price Foundation website, the most  well-respected natural solutions foundation that exists, agave nectar is processed the same way that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is, and contains up to 70% fructose- compared with 55% fructose found in HFCS.

According to a food & beverage development site, agave nectar is highly processed, thus making it not a truly “natural” product, as most agave nectar labels will have you believe with their picture of the agave plant and usually the words ‘natural’ or ‘raw’ on the packaging.

From an article on Food Renegade, the reason it is such a big deal just how much fructose is in agave nectar, “because fructose is digested in your liver, it is immediately turned into triglycerides or stored body fat. Since it doesn’t get converted to blood glucose like other sugars, it doesn’t raise or crash your blood sugar levels. Hence the claim that it is safe for diabetics.” And this “fructose also inhibits leptin levels — the hormone your body uses to tell you that you’re full.” So you essentially disable the mechanism your body uses to tell you when to stop eating.

An interesting study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, giving women agave nectar or another sweetener over several weeks – take a guess who gained more visceral fat (the dangerous fat around your organs in your torso) and who had worse blood panel readings? Read the summary & a roundup of agave nectar  here.

As mentioned above, agave nectar is processed in the liver – so this IS a good thing for diabetics as it means blood sugar levels are not as affected as when eating table sugar or a product made with it.

And according to one review, agave nectar is processed with minimal heat, and with no animal products, UNLIKE table sugar, which uses animal bone char to refine the color & remove nutrients.

I have to be honest here….I was trying to find other redeeming qualities about agave nectar & the truth is, I can’t. At the end of the day, sweetener is sweetener and they all could have harmful effects – especially if over-consumed – but fructose (the main component of agave nectar) seems to have damaging effects when done in studies comparing it to consumption of sugar. For this reason – that raising abdominal fat levels & raising triglycerides – I am capping my bottle of agave nectar for some future time….for what I’m not yet sure. But I certainly hate to get rid of something that seemed so promising as an alternative for my coffee or tea, on my yogurt, and so on. But the truth is, I do not want visceral/abdominal fat, and I do not want my triglycerides going up.

I’m not saying I’m throwing it out of the plan entirely – I’ll probably just wait and see what develops in food science over the next year and then make a new informed decision then. What I know for sure is that Splenda and HFCS are still a crapshoot compared to honey or stevia. What are you stirring in your coffee & on your yogurt these days?

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Posted in: nutrition