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Agave Nectar: How bad (or good) is it for your health?

January 7, 2013

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As many of us look for alternatives to sugar, there’s no shortage of options. One that has been hot for the past few years is agave nectar.

It’s been noted as a great alternative for diabetics because it doesn’t have the same blood glucose impact as sugar. And because it’s derived from a plant, it is also suitable as a vegan sweetener and as a replacement for honey. 

But is agave nectar actually a better choice as a sweetener

Agave nectar is harvested from the Mexican agave plant, the same one that is used to make mezcal. It takes a lot of refining to turn this cactus-like plant into a sweetener you can use in your tea or in baking. The juice from the heart of the plant is collected, and either filtered and heated or fermented and coal-filtered to reduce impurities. By the time it becomes the fluid sweet liquid, it is a highly concentrated, refined sweetener.

While agave is low on the glycemic index, it is still about 1.4 times sweeter than sugar. It gets the low glycemic index rating because it contains fructose rather than glucose, which does not have the same blood sugar impact. Depending on the brand of agave nectar, it can contain up to 90 percent fructose. However, fructose might have an even worse impact on the body than glucose.

As noted in the Harvard Heart Letter, an abundance of fructose can be damaging to your liver and heart. The liver processes fructose into triglycerides, or blood fats, which increase the risk of heart disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This process also increases LDL cholesterol, promotes the buildup of fat around organs, increases blood pressure, makes tissues insulin-resistant (a precursor to diabetes), and increases the production of free radicals.

According to recent Yale University brain imaging study, results indicated that high concentrations of fructose does not promote the feeling of satiety and can contribute to overeating.

Does that mean you should abstain from agave completely? Not necessarily, but like all sweets, it’s something that’s best to consume sparingly on special occasions. If you are looking for a sweet alternative, you’d be better off eating whole food that’s naturally sweet instead – such as fresh fruit, sweet potatoes, or other sweet vegetables.

What do you think about agave nectar?