You’ve heard the reports… It’s a modern health-conscious foodie’s dream sweetener! And I was totally sucked into the movement.
Agave nectar or syrup is the latest and greatest way to sweeten anything. Low in calories. Delicious taste. Easy to dissolve in beverages hot or cold and useful in cooking. Because it’s sweeter than the same quantities of other sweeteners such as white sugar or honey, you can use less of it, therefore consuming fewer calories. It’s got all the buzzwords going for it: “low glycemic,” “organic,” “natural.” And, “diabetic-friendly.”
Well, guess what. Put the stuff down, turn around and RUN. Do not look back.
Literally, run for your life. It’s not natural at all. The list of chemicals that are used to make it is impressive, and its FDA-approved name "hydrolyzed inulin syrup" just reeks of the statuesque ancient agave plants growing wild, doesn’t it?
What makes agave nectar extra sweet? Fructose. The evil component of high fructose corn syrup, which is lately taking the fall for all our country’s dietary ills.
High fructose corn syrup in its various forms typically has around 42-65 percent fructose, which is metabolized in your liver, and gets turned into fatty acids very quickly. It’s a big reason behind blood fats and belly fat, deep inside you, in and around your organs, the most unhealthy fat of all.
Get this: Agave nectar can have 75 to over 90 percent fructose! It’s higher than even high fructose corn syrup! Sure, the Aztecs have been sucking on the cut leaves and extracting juices from roots of the agave plant for centuries, but modern “agave nectar” is highly processed in comparison. (The Spanish, by the way, figured out how to make tequila, not the Aztecs.)
Manufacturers are going to great lengths to eliminate high fructose corn syrup from their products, which is a positive move. Why would we substitute something even worse? And, even more insidiously, we think it’s healthy and natural, and it is low glycemic, it’s easy to feel good about consuming more and more of it.
Read the labels carefully. Agave nectar is sweeping the processed food industry, particularly segments selling natural, “healthy” and organic foods.
Without getting too technical, when you eat things such as white table sugar, molasses, brown sugar, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, concentrated fruit juice, honey, and maple syrup, you get mostly a combination of simple sugars, primarily fructose and glucose. Table sugar is sucrose, a 50-50 mix fructose and glucose. Less processed foods such as whole raw fruit, dates, figs, genuine maple syrup and honey also have varying amounts of sucrose as well as fructose and glucose, but you get the benefits of extra fiber and/or nutrients to go along with sweetness.
Your body has to work hard to break down sucrose and other complex sugars. They’re converted into energy, some to use right away and some for later, stored as fats, throughout your body. Of course, if you eat more than you need of anything, no matter how healthful or organic it is, you’ll store the excess and pretty soon your pants won’t fit.
In short, the best strategy is to eat sensibly, avoid added sugars and wean yourself off sweets. Read the packaging… it’s really hard to find even “healthy” foods without added sugar. Even better, buy foods without packaging such as vegetables, fruits, meats, cheeses, grains, etc. The less processed, the better. If your great great great grandma would know how to cook it, and your 7 year old can pronounce it, then our bodies can probably handle it.
Avoid no-calorie sweeteners, too. Even diet sodas, stevia, Truvia, “Equal” and other non-caloric sweet substances don’t diminish your appetite for sweets, and may have you seeking alternatives that aren’t so diet-friendly. There have even been studies done that your body may hold onto calories from foods eaten along with (or even hours later) because it thinks it got some real sugar, even if it didn’t.
Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is… for recipes that call for agave nectar, substitute an equal amount of honey or 100 percent real maple syrup. It’ll be less sweet, but still really tasty. Maybe even tastier knowing you’re not doing as much damage to yourself in the process.
Until next time!
Photo courtesy of Madhavahoney.com.