Agave is a Yucca type succulent plant processed to yield the sweetener we hear so much about. Agave syrup also called nectar is presented as a natural product similar to maple syrup or honey. With so much bad news about sugar and high fructose corn syrup it is natural to look for a different sweetener and if it is healthy and vegan too then those are added bonuses.
Problems present themselves when you look a little deeper. According to the Wiki Agave nectar consists primarily of fructose and glucose. One source gives 92% fructose and 8% glucose; another gives 56% fructose and 20% glucose. These differences, it is presumed, reflect variation from one vendor of agave nectar to another.
Whether Agave is 56% or 92% fructose is the accurate number for the Agave on the supermarket shelf, it is a high fructose sweetener. Fructose used to be ignored as a contributor to a healthy diet. The point of view was that it is basically from fruit so it has to be healthy. This has been challenged lately especially by Dr Robert Lustig based on his clinical experience of treating obese children and from a deeper investigation of how fructose is processed by the body. It turns out that fructose is treated like alcohol and produces similar damaging effects in the liver.
And how much impact this has on you will depend on the rest of your diet and on how much Agave you consume. If you use it occasionally then I don’t see any particular problem but if you use it daily then you may as well just use fructose.
It may be useful here to say a little on The Glycaemic index, GI. This often causes much confusion. If the GI of a food is high then your blood sugar may well rise rapidly and conversely if the GI of a food is low then it does not challenge your blood sugar but that does not mean that the food is healthy. Merely that the food in question does not have that particular problem – that of causing a blood sugar spike.
For Agave the G.I. will depend on the brand tested but values returned by the University of Sydney Database are 10, 11 and 19 and for fructose the values are 11, 12 and 23 which are all low values.
Who is Agave For?
Certainly not for health conscious people. The GI numbers quoted in the previous paragraph show that Agave does not provoke a blood sugar spike but that does not mean that Agave is a healthy food.
Nearly all the commercially available Agave appears to be as processed as most foods on the Standard American or Western Diet. Quite possibly there may be some wild crafted sources of Agave with minimal processing that have some health benefits for us health nuts but Agave seems to be for the dieter who wants to avoid sugar and who finds the taste acceptable.
Personally I think they would be better off using Stevia or a high quality honey – what do you think? Have you used Agave as a sweetener?