Is Agave Nectar Bad for Your Health?

August 1, 2014

Agave nectar has been my go-to sweetener for the past five years. Not only does it have an amazing taste, but it is easily able to substitute for sugar and honey in most sweet treats that I make. From coffee to pancakes, I tend to put agave in and on everything. While I have also thought that “agave nectar” is a healthier alternative to sugar and other sweetener options, I was recently shocked to find out that agave is now being linked to heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

According to an article by naturopath and health expert Leonard Coldwell, agave nectar sold in many natural foods stores and markets is not a “natural” sweetener, or at least not how we imagine it. While many native Mexicans boil the sap from the plant and call it miel de agave, the beloved sweetener that I have grown so found of is hardly natural. Instead of using the sap, corporations use the starch of the giant “pineapple- like root bulb”. This starch then undergoes a long chemical process which ultimately converts it into a fructose dense syrup. While high fructose corn syrup only contains fifty-five percent fructose, refined agave can contain amounts seventy percent or higher!

agave_plant_root

Root of the agave plant used in making sweetener

Why Does This Matter?

Fructose is converted into fat more rapidly than glucose is because [fructose] is processed in the liver. It is almost instantaneously converted into triglycerides or “stored body fat”. Triglycerides, according to a blog post by Dr. Mehmet Oz, can contribute to the “fatty arterial plaques responsible for cardiovascular disease. In the same post, Dr. Oz reveals that agave syrup can increase your risk for metabolic syndrome and “increase insulin resistance for diabetics and non-diabetics” alike. Unfortunately, as the syrup gets metabolized in the liver, uric acid and free radicals form, which can spark inflammation and damage the cells in your body.

Should I Try to Cut Out Agave? 

While small amounts of agave are fine in moderation, in the long- run, raw sugar, maple syrup, and raw local honey are the safer sweetener alternatives to agave. Now–honey is a topic of debate among vegetarians and vegans. I’ve written previously about how buying local and raw honey from independent beekeepers is a great way to help save bee populations and support local agriculture. From a nutritional standpoint, honey is also the only sweetener that is microbial and anti-bacterial–so much so that it has even been used to heal wounds.  It is also anti-inflammatory with high vitamin content, including B6 and C.

Maple syrup is a purely vegan and natural choice. It also has less sugar (both fructose and glucose) than honey, and is equally anti-inflammatory as honey, with trace minerals like iron, calcium, zinc, and potassium. However, maple syrup has a very distinct taste that might not work for certain, non-pancake foods. 🙂

But as with all things, I think moderation is key–and when you have a sweet tooth, eating fruit is the best way to indulge it for every day!

agave_plant_mexico

Agave plant native to Mexico

For more information, check out: Dr. Andrew Weil’s Thoughts 

Dr. Leonard Coldwell’s  Thoughts 

Dr. Mehmet Oz’s Thoughts

What do you think, dumplings? Would you be giving up agave? What is your favorite sweetener?

Also by Karina: Easy Nectarine Pancakes for Lazy Sundays

4 Delicious Hummus Recipes for Summer

Also check out: The Great Honey Debate

Sweet or Dangerous? The Verdict on the Sugar Question 

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