Agave Syrup, Agave Nectar Good or Bad
What is Agave Nectar
Agave nectar, like HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) is not a natural sweetener, Agave syrup was developed in the 1990s and HFCS was developed in the 1960s. Agave syrup, being up to 90% Fructose, may have even more fructose than HFCS!
Agave does have a low glycemic index because of all that fructose but fructose presents another set of problems.
Many brands of Agave nectar sold in supermarkets are little more than man made fructose. Most brands are made not from the sap of the Agave but from the fructans in the giant root bulb. The fructans are either cooked or treated with enzymes that separate the fructans into fructose and glucose the same ingredients in HFCS.
Fructans are non-digestible carbohydrates. They consist of molecules of fructose -- the sugar found in honey, grapes, and ripe fruits -- linked together into chains.
The best brands are made by collecting the sap from the Agave plant similar to collecting maple sap for syrup. These good brands may offer some slight nutritional benefits over table sugar; some enzymes and minerals are still present. When shopping, look for nectar that is labeled as “Raw” or uncooked. "Raw" means that they used lower temperatures in the production process so the enzymes retain some vitality. There are no laws that regulate what “Raw” means and even the good brands are cooked at 140 to 160 degrees so, is that raw?
Agave won’t be sweet without this cooking process! Whatever process is being used, be it concentration by cooking or conversion with enzymes, what the consumer receives is concentrated fructose. Any benefit is derived from the small amount of nutrients in the brands that are labeled “Raw”, but you are still eating pure fructose, something that doesn't even exist in nature. All brands should be “Organic” but check the labels.
The problem remains with Fructose, Studies have connected Fructose with increased blood triglyceride levels, heart disease, problems with copper metabolism, insulin resistance and liver disease.
Fructose has to be digested in the liver where it is separated into glucose molecules for the body to use as energy, because of this fact fructose doesn’t raise blood sugar the way glucose will. That may seem like good news to diabetics but it is just changing problems. The liver converts fructose to glucose to use as energy, BUT! When you consume too much Fructose for your daily energy needs that excess fructose will be stored in the liver and muscles as Glycogen and triglycerides.
Agave and ancient tequila drinkers
Glycogen is a molecule that stores glucose in our bodies and is made up of a long chain of glucose molecules. Glycogen is the animal equivalent of starch in plants, it’s our way of storing carbohydrates.
Triglycerides are the main component of fat in our blood and an excess of triglycerides is a predictor of cardiovascular problems.
When you are fasting, even just fasting overnight the liver does its job of transforming glycogen back into glucose. This is why a diabetic can waken to a high blood glucose level even after fasting, that high level is a measure of glucose that the liver was releasing overnight.
Conclusions, there is no free lunch, while there are some “good” agave syrups the only way to avoid problems is to limit the amount of sugars in your diet and control your weight.
The best advice is to treat Agave syrup or nectar like High Fructose Corn Syrup or any other sweetener and use it in moderation, or take your Agave in a shot of Tequila and accept the consequences! For more info see my article on HFCS