The Truth About Agave Nectar

A few weeks ago I popped into my local Whole Foods Market because I wanted to buy an organic barbecue sauce. As I was looking at the different brands, it was interesting to see that agave nectar was in a few of them. I was chatting with one of the girls who worked there and she commented, “Well, agave is better than sugar.”

But is it really?

Somehow agave nectar has become the darling and healthy option for sugar lovers everywhere. It is in everything from breakfast cereals to soy ice cream. But it turns out that agave nectar may not be healthy after all because it’s really high in fructose.

Sugar is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is about 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose (although the amount of fructose in sugary drinks can be as high as 65 percent). Yet agave nectar can contain as much as 92 percent fructose!

So what’s wrong with fructose? Since fructose is metabolized in the liver, eating too much can cause fatty liver and high triglycerides. Fatty liver can negatively affect liver function. High triglycerides can increase your risk of heart disease. Fructose can also make insulin, the hormone that lowers blood sugar, less effective. Therefore, if you are choosing agave instead of other sweeteners for health reasons, you are missing the boat.

There are a few good points about agave nectar. One is that it’s sweeter than sugar. So you could use less and consume fewer calories with the same level of sweetness as sugar. Interestingly, I have seen many companies switch to agave, but I don’t see fewer grams of sugar on the label. Also, because it is high in fructose agave has a low glycemic index, which means it does not cause a big spike in your blood sugar.

Another good point about agave is that it is not genetically modified (see past post “What You Need to Know About GMOs”), at least not yet. High fructose corn syrup, because it comes from corn, is genetically modified. Sugar beets are now also genetically modified so most of the sugar you are eating is genetically modified as well.

The bottom line is agave nectar is not better for you than any other sweetener. And just like sugar, it will add calories, increase your desire for sweet foods, and help you gain weight. It doesn’t mean you should never eat it, but don’t kid yourself that it is somehow better than other sweeteners. All forms of sugar, including agave nectar, should be eaten in moderation.

Probably the best option is to have fruit for dessert or to add fruit to other foods for sweetness. For example, in place of adding agave nectar to your oatmeal, try adding blueberries or strawberries instead. Once your palate adapts to the less sweet taste of foods minus all the sugar, fruit will taste a lot sweeter.

Here is a frozen dessert recipe that hits that sweet spot without added sweeteners:

  • Peel and slice one really ripe banana and put it in the freezer.
  • Add the frozen banana to a blender or food processor with a little liquid such as rice or soy milk or even water
  • Add a teaspoon of vanilla (optional).
  • Blend till smooth and enjoy!

Do you have any ideas for incorporating more fruit into your diet in place of sugar and other sweeteners?

For more information on fructose, check out Dr. Lustig’s talk on YouTube called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” here.

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

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