The Sad Claims about Agave Nectar

During the past five year of practice, I’ve recommended agave nectar as
the sweetener of choice, having learned of its low glycemic index and
therefore, its benefits over table sugar, commercial honey and of
course, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This product of this noble
Mexican cactus, famed for it’s fermented beverage, tequilla, has since
then, replaced sugar, maple syrup and honey in many pantries across the
country.

September
2007, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – Happy to be amongst agave plants at a
local tequila factory.

Though it’s been known for quite
some time, I stumbled upon the claims that agave is worse for us than
high fructose corn syrup only recently. Earlier this year, an employee
of an agave manufacturing company clarified to me that raw agave was
actually heated. This nugget of information started my research on the
agave debate. I knew that “raw” honey is almost always heated unless the
label clearly states that it isn’t heated so I had to know…. how does
agave nectar end up on our shelves?

I shared in a previous
post
about the annual trade show I attend, where each year, a few
products seem to dominate the natural product industry. Well, this year,
one of them was agave. I saw brands of this sweetener that I’ve never
seen before which can only mean one thing: increased demand and
increased profitability. (Mercola’s post
last year outlines this attractive and tasty sweetener and it’s
marketability.)

So, what is agave nectar? According to this
article
on the Weston A. Price Foundation’s site,

“Agave
“nectar” is not made from the sap of the yucca or
agave plant but from the starch of the giant pineapple-like, root bulb.
The principal constituent of the agave root is starch, similar to the
starch in corn or rice, and a complex carbohydrate called inulin, which
is made up of chains of fructose molecules.Technically a highly
indigestible fiber, inulin, which does not taste sweet, comprises about
half of the carbohydrate content of agave.

“The process by which agave glucose and inulin are converted into
“nectar” is similar to the process by which corn starch is converted
into HFCS. The agave starch is subject to an enzymatic and chemical
process that converts the starch into a fructose-rich syrup—anywhere
from 70 percent fructose and higher according to the agave nectar
chemical profiles posted on agave nectar websites.”

High
Fructose Corn Syrup?!?!

Yes, HFCS.

“They
are indeed made the same way, using a highly chemical process with
genetically modified enzymes. They are also using caustic acids,
clarifiers, filtration chemicals and so forth in the conversion of agave
starches into highly refined fructose inulin that is even higher in
fructose content than high fructose corn syrup.” [source]

What’s
the deal with Fructose?

Fructose is the sugar found in fruit and
it is not ‘bad’. However, fructose isn’t found alone in nature but
rather accompanied by fiber, minerals and enzymes. Neither is fructose
meant to be consumed in large quantities as our bodies are fueled by glucose.
When extracted and refined or synthesized via chemicals,
fructose can be very harmful because it promotes fat production and
storage and inhibits a hormone called leptin, that gives you the feeling
of fullness after meals. In other words, this sugar doesn’t spike your
sugar because it turns to fat!

Are all agave nectar products created equally?

Just with anything else, no. Some producers do heat it at very low
temperatures without the use of synthetic chemicals so the final product
is lower in fructose (about 50%). I ‘test’ all the products that I use
and recommended for quality but there are differences in quality in
different batches from the same producer. [source]

So which sweetener should you use?

If you want to restrict caloric intake, stevia is the best choice.
However, many do not like the flavor of stevia. It has a similar
aftertaste to aspartame, so I find that people who enjoy the sweetness
in diet sodas, don’t mind stevia.  However, stevia’s usage is limited as
you can put it in your tea or lemonade but you cannot cook with it.

So I went back to my raw turbinado sugar. I usually buy a package for
Thanksgiving dinner and it lasts me all year. Raw unheated honey is
also a great option. For salad dressings and sauces, I normally throw in
a piece of apple or pear to add sweetness.

Xylitol is another great option but it is a sugar alcohol so people who have problems with bloating or intestinal gas, should avoid it as it may aggravate the condition. (It is a great ingredient to look for in toothpaste!)

Remember, with any sweetener, it’s about quantity. If you normally don’t use more than a teaspoon or so a day, you shouldn’t worry. And if you normally do eat more than that everyday, or binge every so often, you should lower your intake. 

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