Agave Syrup - Is It Really Good For You?
Agave Syrup - Is it Good or Bad?
On a scale of good to bad sweeteners, how does agave syrup rate? On the surface, it seems great: A low glycemic, natural sweetener made from the agave plant and certified organic to boot. That sounds pretty good. However, just because a product carries an organic or natural label, doesn’t automatically mean that it’s good for you.
As author Marion Nestle says: “Organic junk food is still junk food.” And she’s right. Organic sweeteners are still sweeteners that can contribute to many health problems when used in excess. Agave syrup is no exception to this rule.
Moreover, it didn’t take much research to realize that company labels don’t exactly tell the whole story. Yes, it does come from the agave plant, however, their idea of natural is a stretch. The syrup is made from the slightly sweet sap of the plant. It takes 7-10 years for agave plants to reach maturity. Once the sap is removed, the plant is destroyed. Agave syrups were developed in the 1990s as an alternative sweetener even though the label implies that native Mexican peoples have used this syrup for centuries.
But once the sap undergoes hydrolysis - a chemical process that uses heat and enzymes - it is converted into high fructose syrup. Its ultimate composition is about 90% fructose and 10% glucose, a ratio that does not exist naturally in any other food source. Its closest competitor is high fructose corn syrup, which is about a 55% to 45% fructose to glucose. Table sugar is about 50/50 and honey about 50/40, fructose to glucose.
Fresh fruit on the other hand has a small percentage of natural fructose as well as sucrose and glucose as well as an abundance of minerals, vitamins, enzymes, and fiber that help our bodies digest it. Agave and many other sweeteners are devoid of the nutrients needed for digestion. Consequently, they tax our system by stealing from our reserves of minerals, just so our bodies can process them. Over time, this can lead to chemical imbalances because our bodies are always struggling to digest these empty calories.
But…what about the hoopla about it being low-glycemic? Here’s the skinny on that: 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.
There are varying opinions about fructose use and its associated health risks. But whether you use agave syrup or any other sweetener, do so minimally. Make whole foods, real foods, and organic foods the bulk of your daily diet.