All A-Buzz About Agave

Agave is the "in" sweetener. Supporters claim agave nectar (or syrup) is natural, diabetic friendly, gluten-free, low on the glycemic index and vegan approved, not to mention containing anti-inflammatory properties and anti-oxidants. What's not to love?

You've got to admire the marketing behind agave. People are buying agave nectar and syrup like wildfire, convinced its a healthier choice than sugar, even though it comes with a heftier price tag. And, even though the claims are questionable...

Agave comes from the blue agave plant grown primarily in southern Mexico. The plant core is then processed into a sweet syrup that is less viscous than honey but with similar sweetening power. Both honey and agave are 1 1/2 times sweeter than table sugar, which allows you to use less to sweeten your coffee. However, one tablespoon of agave contains 60 calories while sugar has only 45. You may use less agave, but still use similar calories.

Table sugar is a 50:50 blend of fructose and glucose. Agave contains a much higher amount of fructose, with 57 to 90%. That's more than high-fructose corn syrup has at 55%. Most of agave's fructose comes in the form of inulin, a fiber with some health benefits. The trouble is, agave goes through a significant amount of processing to form the syrup, which breaks down the insulin and along with it, removes any slight health benefits.

High sugar consumption has been shown to increase the risk of multiple diseases. Research now points to fructose as the dangerous part of sugar. Fructose increases insulin resistance, triglyceride levels and promotes an increased amount of fat stored around the midsection. These in turn increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and diabetes. Fructose intake is also linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The once exception is the fructose found in fruits. The whole fruit package brings antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Only 7% of the fruit itself is fructose.

Agave is marketed as "natural," which grabs the attention of many consumers. Unfortunately, the U.S. does not regulate what can be called natural, so that label can be affixed at the manufacturer's whim. It doesn't mean much of anything.

Agave has a low glycemic index, which promoters refer to when they call it, "diabetic friendly." However, this is very misleading. Scientific evidences shows that agave does in fact trigger an insulin response. The American Diabetes Association lists agave on it's "limited use" list along with other sugars.

The bottom line: agave is a highly processed sweetener that is not the wonder item it's promoters would have us believe. It may in fact bring more health questions to the table than sugar itself.