May 30, 2012: The Truth About Agave
Agave may be one of the most popular
natural sweeteners today, but its rise in popularity in the U.S. didn’t begin
until around 2003. Now it’s commonly used as an alternative to sugar,
honey, or maple syrup for cooking, baking, and sweetening everything from
coffee to oatmeal.
nectar (or syrup) is produced from the agave plant – the same plant used to
make tequila. It tastes similar to honey with a hint
of molasses and is manufactured by extracting the juice from the plant’s core,
which is then filtered, heated or treated with enzymes and concentrated until
it becomes a syrupy liquid.
Proponents of this
natural sweetener claim that it’s a healthy alternative to sugar, honey, and other
sweeteners because of its low glycemic index. It’s advertised as ideal for
people who are watching their weight or folks with diabetes who are working to
lower their blood sugar levels. But before you add agave nectar to your
grocery list, here’s what the
heck you need to know.
contains up to 90 percent fructose. That’s significantly more than table sugar,
which is 50 percent fructose (and 50 percent glucose) once it’s broken down by
your body. Agave’s high fructose content gives it advantages and disadvantages.
The good part first: Because fructose has a low glycemic index, agave doesn’t
cause your blood sugars to spike as rapidly after eating it, which means it can
temper the sugar rush that occurs after eating something sweet. And even though
agave and white sugar contain approximately the same number of calories, agave
is markedly sweeter. That means you can get away with using less to flavor your
coffee, morning oatmeal, or baked goods and potentially save yourself a few
Now for the bad part. The
high fructose content in agave can have some undesirable health effects.
Studies have shown that large amounts of fructose can increase
blood-triglyceride levels, and high triglycerides are a known risk factor for
heart disease. In addition, some people have trouble absorbing fructose, so
eating it can cause bloating, gas and abdominal discomfort. Agave can be
especially problematic for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Verdict: Should You Switch to Agave?
As with so many issues in nutrition, the
health-related pros and cons of agave aren’t clear-cut. My feeling is, if you’re only using a few
teaspoons of sweetener a day, the differences are negligible and you can choose
whichever one you prefer. In other words, limiting the total amount of
sweetener you’re using will have a much bigger impact on your health than altering
the type of sugar you use.
With that in mind, don’t use agave as
an excuse to pump more sweet stuff into your diet just because it has a lower
glycemic index. Most of us consume
far more sugar in all
forms than we should. And if agave is your sweetener of choice, just remember
to keep your intake to no more than one tablespoon (that’s three teaspoons) TOTAL
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