One of the few things that a majority of health experts agree on is that sugar causes many harmful effects. Everybody agrees that sugar is not very healthy. A majority of people who are health conscious try to not use it as much as possible.
It isn’t surprising that all kinds of other sweeteners, both artificial and natural, have become popular. Agave nectar is one of them. Various “health foods” contain this sweetener.
The claims are that it is natural. It is marketed to be a sweetener that is diabetic-friendly and doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels.
Once you take a close look at what is really contained in Agave nectar, however, and ignore all of the marketing claims, you will discover that this sweetener is actually worse than even plain sugar. I will explain the reasons why below.
What is Agave Nectar?
Agave nectar comes from the Agave plant, which is native to South America and the southern United States. It is associated with Mexico the most.
Most Westerners only became aware of Agave recently. However, in Mexico it has been used for hundred (maybe even thousands) of years. Mexicans in the past used it for many different purposes. They believe it had medicinal properties.
The Agave Plant at A distance…
The sap was also boiled by Mexicans to produce Miel de Agave, which is a sweetener made out of the sugary plant fluid. However, the Agave plant is most commonly used to ferment the sugars and produce tequila.
Today, Agave is most commonly used commercially to make tequila and is the best-known export from Mexico. The Agave plant, in its natural state, probably does provide some health benefits.
However, when it is refined and processed, there is a tendency for it to lose all or some of its beneficial health effects. That appears to happen with refined Agave sweetener that so many people consume these days.
So You See: the Agave plant is grown in large quantities in Mexico. This plant has long been used for medicinal purposes, as a sweetener and fermented to produce the alcoholic beverage called tequila.
How Agave Nectar Is Produced
The sweetener Agave nectar that you can purchase should actually be called Agave syrup. Truthfully, it doesn’t have much in common with the sweetener that is made traditionally by the Mexicans.
The process starts out in the same way. The plant is taken and cut and pressed in order to extract sugar circulating fluid from the plant.
This fluid has a high amount of sugar in it. However, it contains healthy compounds as well, such as fructans, which have beneficial effects on insulin and metabolism.
However manufacturers process it into syrup, the fructans break down into fructose when the sugary fluid is exposed to enzymes and/or heat.
All the beneficial health properties that the Agave plant possesses are destroyed by this process. It produces concentrated syrup instead that you can purchase from stores under the false claim that it is healthy for you.
The manufacturing process used to make Agave nectar is similar to how High Fructose Corn Syrup and other unhealthy sweeteners are produced. So Agave nectar really isn’t “nectar” after all. It is a processed and refined sweetener that is made out of Agave nectar.
So You See: Today’s Agave sweetener that you can buy in the store is produced by treating the Agave plant’s sugars with enzymes and heat. This destroys all of the Agave plant’s beneficial health properties. An unhealthy, highly refined syrup is the end result.
Agave Nectar Syrup Will Not Spike Blood Sugar Level
The Glycemic Index (GI) measures how fast a food’s sugar enters your bloodstream. In general, the higher a food’s GI rating is, the higher the blood sugar spike is, which is detrimental to your health.
Fructose, unlike glucose, doesn’t go into the bloodstream directly. Therefore, in the short-term, insulin or blood levels are not raised. That is the rationale for marketing high fructose sweeteners as – diabetic friendly or healthy.
The very low GI that Agave nectar has been primarily due to the fact the most of its sugar is fructose. There is not very much glucose in it compared to the amount in regular sugar.
A study was recently conducted with mice to compare the metabolic effects of sucrose (plain sugar) and Agave nectar over a 34 day period.
The mice that received Agave nectar did not gain as much weight and had lower insulin and blood sugar levels. We would expect this from a short-term study since plain sugar’s glucose elevates both insulin and blood sugar levels, while fructose doesn’t.
However, the Glycemic Index is only one of many factors to consider when examining the health effects that sweeteners have. Harmful effects from Agave and sugar overall are not really associated with the Glycemic index. They come from the high amounts of fructose that is contained in Agave nectar.
So You See: Agave nectar has a low amount of glucose in it. Therefore, a large blood sugar level spike is not produced, so the sweetener has a low Glycemic index score.
The Agave Nectar Sweetener Contains High Levels of Fructose
When you look closely at High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sugar you’ll discover the presence of two simple sugars: around half fructose and half glucose. Fructose and glucose might look quite similar. However, the effects on the body are completely different.
Glucose is a very important molecule and is present in many different healthy foods such as potatoes and carrots. It is even produced by our bodies to ensure we have enough of it at all times.
Every living cell in the world, in fact, contains glucose. The molecule is critical to life itself. Every cell that is part of the human body is able to metabolize glucose. However, the only organ that is able to metabolize significant amounts of fructose is the liver.
When placed within the context of the high-calorie, high-carb Western diet, consuming lot of added fructose wreaks havoc on our metabolism and health.
The liver becomes overloaded and begins to transform fructose into fat. This then is transferred as VLDL particles which raised blood triglycerides. Few notable researchers in top medical journals recently concluded that a portion of this fat can lodge inside the liver and result in fatty liver disease.
In the short-term, blood sugar levels are not raised by fructose. However, when large amounts of it are consumed, it often contributes to insulin resistance.
It can cause a major increase in insulin and blood sugar levels over the long-term, which raises the risk significantly of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Consuming large quantities of fructose can have other harmful effects as well, like belly fat accumulation, oxidized LDL (which is very bad) and an increase in dense, small LDL particles.
What is really interesting is Agave nectar is made of approximately 85% fructose. That is a lot higher than what plain sugar has.
None of this is applicable to whole fruit. They contain high amounts of fiber and can fill us up quite fast. Our bodies are very well equipped to manage the amount of fructose contained in fruit.
If you really feel the need to add extra sweetness to the foods and beverages that you consume, Agave nectar is not the healthiest thing to use.
Several natural sweeteners are available that are a lot healthier, including Xylitol, Erythritol and Stevia. Agave nectar is probably the world’s unhealthiest sweetener. Regular sugar looks healthy compared to it. That’s really saying something.