Agave Nectar: Healthy Sweetener or Health Disaster?

Agave nectar, also called agave syrup, seems to be a darling of the health-food set nowadays. In its most natural form, agave nectar is a healthy sugar alternative; however, most of the agave nectars you and I can buy in stores are said to be composed of anywhere between 70 and 90 percent highly refined fructose--a higher percentage than is found in high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Some health experts speculate, but have not proved, that HFCS is linked to the obesity trend in the U.S. (Read High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Villain or Misunderstood Sweetener?)

Increases your triglycerides?

I'm not suggesting that HFCS is linked to health problems. I will only note that if you add agave nectar to your diet, thereby increasing your intake of refined fructose, you'll be increasing your risk of raising the triglyceride levels (fat) in your blood.

And since triglycerides (like cholesterol) are a risk factor in heart disease, for optimal health you should try to keep your levels within the normal range. Agave nectar is hardly a low-calorie product, either, and so might thwart weight loss efforts.

A special label certifies it's legal

The Food and Drug Administration says that the manufacturers of agave nectar may not be labeling their product correctly, either. The FDA says that unless a container of agave syrup is labeled as "hydrolyzed inulin syrup," the contents cannot be considered unadulterated and genuine. As of yet, no brand of agave nectar I've seen carries this guarantee on its label. As a consequence, most consumers are ignorant of both its high fructose content and also the possible, albeit controversial, adverse health effects already linked to its cousin, HFCS.

My thoughts on agave:

  • Agave has about the same calories as table sugar but--whereas stevia is said to be 300 times sweeter than sugar--agave is only 1.4 times sweeter.¬†If you like things super sweet, the calories can really add up if you're using agave nectar.
  • If you're working on weight loss or management and you want a sweetener that will save you calories, consider a zero-calorie sweetener made from stevia, such as Truvia, Purevia, and SweetLeaf, and¬†SteviaPlus.
  • Processed agave nectar could elevate blood sugar levels, so agave might not be the best choice for people with diabetes or blood sugar issues.
  • Pregnant women may also want to consider another sweetener besides agave syrup because of speculation that certain agave nectars contain steroids similar to those found in contraceptives, which hold a slight risk for miscarriages.
  • Since some brands of agave nectar are more refined than others, always investigate the level of refined fructose in these products. If you see the FDA's stamp of approval ("hydrolyzed inulin syrup") on a container, it's probably not highly refined.

What are your thoughts on agave syrup, dear readers? Healthy or hype?

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