Agave syrup (also called “agave nectar”) is marketed as a healthy natural sweetener. I have some for sale in my store. But just what is agave syrup and how healthy is it?
The syrup is made from the agave plant which grows in Mexico and southwestern USA (and from which Tequila is made). The best quality syrup is made from the leaf sap which is processed at a low temperature using enzymes and chemicals. Most syrup, however, is synthesized from the starch in the root with a similar process that converts cornstarch to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Agave syrup comes in two main grades: light syrup which is more highly filtered and has a mild flavor, and the darker colored amber syrup which has a stronger flavor. Agave syrup has become quite popular as a sweetener because of its flavor, sweetness, and perceived health benefits. A strong selling point is its low glycemic index, which is a measure of its effect on blood glucose levels.
But how healthy is it? It has more calories than table sugar but is sweeter so you can use less. It is highly processed so has few trace nutrients, unlike raw honey. But the biggest problem with agave is the amount of fructose it contains, from 60-90 % (compare with high fructose corn syrup at 55%). It is the fructose content that creates the low glycemic index often touted as a benefit. I have written before about the dangers of fructose [#55 22 March 2012]. It increases uric acid which causes gout; it contributes more to insulin resistance and obesity than other sugars; and it has a toxic effect on the liver [“Fructose, weight gain, and the insulin resistance syndrome” Elliott et al, 2002, JAClinNutr].
Dr Joseph Mercola recommends people in good health consume less than 25g of fructose per day (about 1 tablespoon of the syrup). He also advises those with gout, diabetes or insulin resistance to avoid it completely. From what I’ve read, I tend to agree with Mercola, and suggest that agave syrup be used sparingly by healthy people only.
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.