Is Agave Syrup Better Than Sugar?

| November 18, 2012 | 3 Comments

Agave syrup is heralded as a natural sweetener that is actually good for us. Yes, it is said to be natural, healthy and delicious. With the increasing concerns over high fructose corn syrup, millions of people around the globe are looking for natural alternatives. Heavy and clever marketing has led them to agave.

Here is what manufacturers of agave syrup claim:

  •  it is really good for you because it has a low glycemic index (does not raise your blood sugar level)
  •  it is therefore a great sugar alternative for diabetics
  •  it is all natural, coming from an exotic medicinal plant
  • the agave has a long history as a miracle plant used to cure various diseases

If you have heard the above claims and are considering replacing your table sugar with agave, read this article in it’s entirety.

What Is Agave, Agave Syrup and Agave Nectar?

A Mexican farmer in his agave fields.

Agave is a plant that grows naturally in certain parts of Mexico, southern U.S. and the northern parts of the South American continent. Although the agave plant looks a lot like a cactus, it is not one. There are over 200 species of agave, the most famous one being Agave tequilana. And, as you might have guessed, it is used to make tequila.

The common name for Agave tequilana is blue agave. This plant stores energy in it’s roots in the form of inulin. In comparison, the potato plant stores its energy in its roots in the form of starch. While starch is a long chain of glucose molecules, inulin is long chain of fructose molecules.

Agave syrup is synonymous with agave nectar. Both are extracts of inulin from the agave plant that has been broken down into its fructose components, processed, packaged and presented to you as a miracle sweetener.

Is Agave Syrup Really Natural?

Well, it comes from a plant, right? So does cocaine. “Natural” has absolutely no definition. In the consumer’s mind, it implies made without any processing, nothing added, nothing modified. It implies made in the form that nature created it – thus natural.  The FDA has absolutely no definition for “natural”. This is not an official food label but a marketing tool.

Some agave syrups claim organic on them. This also does not mean that it is any healthier for you. It simply means that it does not have pesticides, that it is made form plants not treated with pesticides. Therefore, organic signifies that it does not  carry any extra poisons, not what the actual agave syrup is good for you. Going back to the cocaine example. If it is made from organic coca plants, does that make it any less destructive for your health?

Some believe that even the organic claims on agave syrup can not be trusted. Since most of the nectar is manufactured in Mexico, regulation is limited and not well monitored. Farming without the use of pesticides is expensive and there is a lot of profit to be made from not following organic farming regulations. There are reports that the FDA has even stopped some shipment of agave syrup from Mexico due to high levels of pesticide residues detected.

 How Is Agave Syrup Made?

 Without boring you with the chemical process of fructose extraction from plants, here are some highlights:

  • the pulp is harvested from the agave plant
  • inulin is extracted from that pulp
  • inulin is broken down into simple fructose molecules
  • these fructose molecules are packaged in the form of a syrup, slightly more liquid than honey, put in a pretty bottle, decorated with a succulent label, and sold to consumers as a miracle sweetener.

The above simplified explanation is actually quite a process and requires, among other things, a chemical laboratory, a chemist, activated charcoal, sulfuric acid, clarimex, fructozyme, cationic and ionic resins.

 Is Agave Syrup Better For Diabetics Than Sugar?

In this poster, the major sugar seller Domino is announcing the introduction of agave syrup to it’s products. As we can see, we can sweeten our tea with agave, put it on pancakes or bake with it. The applications are endless!

This is the major argument presented in the marketing of agave nectar. Yes, it’s true. Agave does not raise your sugar blood levels as high as white sugar does. It therefore does not require a strong insulin response to clear that sugar from your blood.

But do you know why?

Where does this sweet syrup miraculously disappear?

Fructose is the main sugar found in agave syrup. Unlike glucose, lactose, and the rest of the sugar molecules, fructose is different. Very, very different.

See, the food that we eat first goes to the liver for “inspection” before it is allowed in our bloodstream. The liver is a very important organ that, among others things, functions to clear toxins from your body. The liver also rapidly absorbs and metabolizes fructose. When excess fructose is consumed, the liver converts that fructose into fat and stimulates triglyceredies accumulation. The result is decreased insulin sensitivity and the development or worsening of diabetes. A very good description of this process can be found in this scientific report from The University of Toronto.

Let me put this in simple words: eating too much fructose makes us fat and diabetic. (and stupid too, as discussed here)

What is considered too much fructose?

Well, for thousand of years our only source of fructose was from vegetables and fruits. We averaged about 16-20 grams per day. This was actually very healthy for us. Small amounts of fructose have interestingly shown to increase insulin sensitivity and is good for us. In it’s natural form in fruits and vegetables, fructose also comes packaged with a whole lot of other healthy ingredients that our body needs.

Now compare this with the current average consumption of 85-100 grams per day. Our livers are simply not designed to deal with this overload.

If you are a diabetic and are considering using agave because it has a lower glycemic index than other sweeteners you need to know the full story.

The fructose in agave will do something much worse than request insulin from your pancreas or your medicine. It will make the cells in virtually every tissue in your body less responsive to insulin. It will decrease your insulin sensitivity and make matters much worse.

It is absolutely shocking to discover that agave syrup contains on average no less that 84.29% fructose!

A new report published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in September 2012 reveals that agave syrup is actually much worse than the notorious high fructose corn syrup. Scientist examined pure agave syrup from three major production regions in Mexico and reported the bitter truth. High fructose corn syrup is much better even than agave syrup! High fructose corn syrup contains “only” 50% fructose.

Looking at these numbers, why don’t we call agave syrup a more appropriate name:

 High Fructose Agave Syrup?

Or, to be even more descriptive:

 Extra High Fructose Agave Syrup?

If agave syrup is so healthy for us because it comes from a natural exotic plant, why don’t we extract fructose from other, even healthier plants. Take carrots for example – the icon of healthy eating. In a similar process as described above for the extraction of fructose form the agave, we could extract fructose from good old carrots and package them as Carrot Nectar.

I had a little bit of spare time today and made this advertisement for my new proposed health kick:


Endorsed by your friendly dentist, this Carrot Syrup is coming to make you healthy and me rich.





Category: General Health

Comments (3)

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  1. Minerva says:

    Thinking like that is rlealy impressive

  2. Michael Campos says:

    So it seems finding a simple, organic source for Raw Sugar is the best thing out there for us to sweeten our tea? Used in moderations, of course.

    Thank you for your site.

    • vs says:

      Yes, it is! There is a new study on artificial sweeteners that came out last month. Specifically how they alter our gut bacteria and the effect of this on glucose intolerance. Will write about this soon.

      Sorry for the delayed reply, your comment got picked up by the spam filter in error.

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