Agave Nectar Good, Bad or Ugly?
The short answer to that question is simple: agave nectar is not a “natural sweetener.” Plus, it has more concentrated fructose in it than high fructose corn syrup. Now, let’s get into the details. Agave Nectar Is Not A Natural Sweetener.
Once upon a time, I picked up a jar of “Organic Raw Blue Agave Nectar” at my Costco. It was the first time I’d ever seen the stuff in real life before Vitamix Demos, and the label looked promising. After all, words like “organic,” “raw,” and “all natural” should mean something. Sadly, agave nectar is neither truly raw, nor is it all natural.
Based on the labeling, I could picture native peoples creating their own agave nectar from the wild agave plants. Surely, this was a traditional food, eaten for thousands of years. Sadly, it is not.
Native Mexican peoples do make a sort of sweetener out of the agave plant. It’s called miel de agave, and it’s made by boiling the agave sap for a couple of hours. Think of it as the Mexican version of authentic Canadian maple syrup.
But this is not what agave nectar is. According to one popular agave nectar manufacturer, “Agave nectar is a newly created sweetener, having been developed in the 1990s.” In a recent article now posted on the Weston A. Price foundation’s website, Ramiel Nagel and Sally Fallon Morell write,
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.
Compare that to the typical fructose content of high fructose corn syrup (55%)!
In a different article, Rami Nagel quotes Russ Bianchi, managing director and CEO of Adept Solutions, Inc., a globally recognized food and beverage development company, on the similarities between agave nectar and high fructose corn syrup:
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.
So there you have it. Agave nectar is not traditional, is highly refined, and actually has more concentrated fructose than high-fructose corn syrup. It is not a “natural” sweetener. Thus far, the evidence definitely points toward the conclusion: Agave Nectar = Bad.
“But,” you ardent agave nectar enthusiasts say, “agave nectar has a low glycemic index. I’m a diabetic, and it’s the only sweetener I can use!”
What’s wrong with fructose?
First, we need to clarify something. Concentrated fructose is not found in fruit, or anywhere else in nature.When the sugar occurs in nature, it is often called “levulose” and is accompanied by naturally-occurring enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fruit pectin. Concentrated fructose, on the other hand, is a man-made sugar created by the refining process. To clarify:
Saying fructose is levulose is like saying that margarine is the same as butter. Refined fructose lacks amino acids, vitamins, minerals, pectin, and fiber. As a result, the body doesn’t recognize refined fructose. Levulose, on the other hand, is naturally occurring in fruits, and is not isolated but bound to other naturally occurring sugars. Unlike man-made fructose, levulose contains enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fruit pectin. Refined fructose is processed in the body through the liver,
rather than digested in the intestine. Levulose is digested in the intestine. (source)
I want you to pay special attention to those last two sentences, for they are a huge key that will help unlock the mystery of why fructose is bad for you.
Because fructose is digested in your liver, it is immediately turned into triglycerides or stored body fat. Since it doesn’t get converted to blood glucose like other sugars, it doesn’t raise or crash your blood sugar levels. Hence the claim that it is safe for diabetics.
But it isn’t.
That’s because fructose inhibits leptin levels — the hormone your body uses to tell you that you’re full. In other words, fructose makes you want to eat more. Besides contributing to weight gain, it also makes you gain the most dangerous kind of fat.