Agave (pronounced ‘uh-GAH-vay’) nectar is a sweetener that ranks relatively low on both the glycemic index and glycemic load scales. Many health-conscious people have switched to agave as a safer alternative to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a sweetener that is well documented to cause many health problems.
Unfortunately, agave nectar is actually far worse than HFCS, which is why we only use whole food sweeteners like organic wildflower honey and organic coconut nectar in Honey Melt. Most agave syrup has fructose contents higher than any commercial sweetener ranging from 70 to 97 percent.
Leading experts across the country, including Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Mercola, and the Weston A. Price Foundation, caution against the use of agave nectar as a “healthy” and “safe” alternative to HFCS. As reported by Dr. Ingrid Kohlstadt, a fellow of the American College of Nutrition and an associate faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health: “Agave is almost all fructose, a highly processed sugar with great marketing.”
Fructose does not increase insulin levels but dramatically increases insulin resistance, which is far more dangerous. Research shows that excessive fructose consumption deranges liver function and promotes obesity. Fructose is a major culprit in the rising incidence of Type 2 diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. It may also increase risks of heart disease and cancer.
The less fructose you consume, the better.
(While fructose is the primary sugar in most fruits, fruits in their whole form also contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and vital nutrients like antioxidants. Fructose is not intrinsically bad for you, however moderation is highly recommended since HFCS is added to virtually every processed food.)
What is Agave?
Agaves grow primarily in Mexico but also in the southern and western United States and South America. Agaves are succulents of the yucca family, more closely related to amaryllis and other lilies. Edible parts of the agave are the flowers, leaves, stalks and the sap.
Blue agave is an exotic plant growing in the rich volcanic soil of Mexico under a hot tropical sun with a stately flower stem that blooms only once in its lifetime. “Agave” literally means “noble.” It’s generally recognized as a superstar of the herbal remedy world claiming to offer relief for indigestion, bowel irregularity and skin wounds.
Ferment it, and you have Mexico’s favorite adult beverage – tequila.
Unfortunately agave’s royal pedigree has no relation to the high-fructose syrup sold as agave nectar, which is a highly processed and refined product.
Most agave “nectar” is not made from the sap of the yucca or agave plant but from its pineapple-like root bulb. The root has a complex carbohydrate called inulin that is made up of fructose molecules. The process that many agave producers use to convert this inulin into “nectar” is very similar to the process by which cornstarch is converted into HFCS. Most commercially available agave is converted into fructose-rich syrup using genetically modified enzymes and a chemically intensive process involving caustic acids, clarifiers and filtration chemicals.
Other Reasons to Steer Clear of Agave
Poor Quality Control. Few quality controls are in place to monitor the production of agave syrup. Because most agave sold in the U.S. comes from Mexico, industry insiders are concerned that most agave producers are using lesser, even toxic, agave plants due to a shortage of blue agave.
Pesticides. There are concerns that some distributors are adulterating agave syrup with corn syrup – how often and to what extent is unknown. The FDA has refused shipments of agave syrup due to excessive pesticide residues.
Saponins. Agave is known to contain large amounts of saponins. Saponins are toxic steroid derivatives, capable of disrupting red blood cells and producing diarrhea and vomiting. There is also a possible link between saponins and miscarriage by stimulating blood flow to the uterus. So you should definitely avoid agave products if you are pregnant.
Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). Some agave syrups contain HMF (a contaminant also called 5-hydroxymethyl furfural), which is an organic heat-formed compound that arises in the processing of fructose – in both agave syrup and HFCS. HMF has potential toxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic effects.
Nutrient Void. Agave syrup is not a whole food as nearly every brand’s product is fractionated and processed, thereby devoid of the nutrients contained in the original whole plant.
Enzymes. Agave syrup is not a live food. The natural enzymes are removed by most companies to prevent agave syrup from fermenting and turning into tequila in your food pantry or cabinet.
Addictiveness. Agave is, for all intents and purposes, highly concentrated sugar. Sugar and sweeteners wreak havoc on your health and are highly addictive.