Tuesday eats: the deal with agave (plus, the sweetener you should be using)

A little while back, my friend Gez got fired up with me that I included some info about agave syrup, without explaining the downside of the stuff. So, I’ll try to rectify things here…


Never heard of it? It’s a sugar substitute made from a Mexican succulent. Tequila is made from the same plant. The “nectar” tastes a little like honey, but is clear in colour, and is 1.5 times sweeter than sugar. Thing is, it’s popping up everywhere as a “healthy” and “natural” alternative to sugar. And, I have to say, I was sucked in by the sell. Until…

I got naturapath Angela Hywood to explain, eloquently, as always, the real deal:

My view overall: it’s a shame Agave has snuck into the “health natural sweetener” category when its of absolutely no nutritional value at all and as highly caloric as corn syrup.

[From me, Sarah: Actually, Dr Mercola at Huffington Post argues agave is worse than corn syrup, containing up to 97% fructose. Why’s this bad? Your body metabolizes fructose in a much different way than glucose. Unlike glucose, fructose is broken down in your liver just like alcohol and produces many of the side effects of chronic alcohol use, right down to the “beer belly. Most cells in your body can directly use glucose as a fuel source, so it’s normally “burned up” immediately after consumption.]

The Pesticides. There are also concerns that some distributors are cutting agave syrup with corn syrup – how often and to what extent is anyone’s guess. In addition, the FDA has refused shipments of agave syrup due to excessive pesticide residues.

The Saponins. Agave is known to contain large amounts of saponins. Saponins are toxic steroid derivatives, capable of disrupting red blood cells and producing diarrhea and vomiting. There is also a possible link between saponins and miscarriage by stimulating blood flow to the uterus, so if you’re pregnant, you should definitely avoid agave products.

It’s Nutrient Void. Agave syrup is not a whole food. Nearly every brand is fractionated and processed, devoid of the nutrients contained in the original, whole plant.

Dr Mercola posts this helpful guide to which sweetners are best to use:

  • Avoid ALL artificial sweeteners.
  • Avoid agave and high fructose corn syrup
  • Limit sugar of all types as much as possible. You can buy pure glucose (dextrose) as a sweetener, which has none of the adverse effects of fructose if used moderately. It is only 70 percent as sweet as sucrose, so you’ll end up using a bit more of it for the same amount of sweetness.
  • Use raw, organic honey in moderation or avoid it completely as it is 70 percent fructose which is higher than HFCS. However the fructose is not in its free from so that moderates the damage. But each teaspoon of honey has nearly four grams of fructose so you will want to carefully add the total grams of fructose (including fruits) and keep them under 15 grams per day.
  • Use regular stevia in moderation, but avoid stevia-based sweeteners like Truvia and PureVia because they have undergone more processing.

To his list, I would suggest using maple syrup (the pure stuff). Dates (added to a smoothie or melted in hot water) are also good.

* An update:

Luke The Reader just emailed this, too: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400722/Is-Agave-Syrup-Dangerous.html

On the flipside xx sent this link (from an agave producer): http://www.livingtreecommunity.com/store2/articles/truth-agave.pdf

Someone else with this avatar:[email protected]  sent this http://betterworldcookies.blogspot.com/2010/06/why-i-use-agave-nectar-examination-of.html

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