There seems to be an uprising of attacks on a natural sweetener called agave. Agave nectar is a sweet syrup extracted from a plant similar to a cactus. However, some are claiming agave syrup has a negative impact on health and is even worse than high fructose corn syrup. In my opinion I feel that agave is fine in moderation – just as sweeteners are meant to be consumed. It has not had the same negative research as high fructose corn syrup.
Yes, if over consumed it may have a negative effect on the body, but so does regular table sugar. To help you get to the bottom of this controversy, below are what I have researched to be the facts on agave and more specifically the Madhava brand agave nectar.
- Agave does contain fructose, and it is due to this fructose content that agave has a minimal impact on the blood sugar. Madhava agave does not contain high fructose corn syrup. It is important to also note that honey, table sugar and even fruit contain fructose. When consumed in excess, high amounts of fructose can lead to insulin resistance. This is why, like all sugars, agave should be consumed in moderation.
- Agave tastes sweeter than sugar, so you should be able to use less of it then you would regular sugar. This is something I think most people don’t pick up on. To put it in perspective, there are about 13 teaspoons of sugar in 16 ounces of soda. This is equivalent to about 9 teaspoons of agave.
- Madhava agave does not use chemicals. The following is a statement from Madhava on the processing of their agave:
“The agave sweetener comes from both the Salmiana agave plant and the agave Tequilana which are both organically farmed in Mexico and certified organic by USDA approved certifiers. As the salmiana plant grows it produces a stalk, when removed, produces a natural liquid called “aquamiel”. This liquid is collected from the plant, while Blue agave is harvested and shredded to remove the similar juice. Either can be naturally processed thermally or by enzymes into agave nectar.
The juice of the plant is not naturally sweet. The string of connected fructose units that makes up the major proportion of inulin (a fiber) does not have a sweet taste, so the fructose units are separated in a process called hydrolysis. This is done by adding enzymes, similar to digestion, or thermally (heat) for most blue agave. That is the entire processing chain for agave nectar. There are no additives, other ingredients or chemicals in Madhava agave nectar. It is absolutely pure, organic and GMO free.”
- Some agave syrups contain a contaminant called hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), an organic heat-formed compound that arises in the processing of fructose. HMF has potential toxic health effects. Some agave is thermally (heat) processed, but only results in an HMF content of 5 parts per million. Agave produced with the use of enzymes will be HMF free. HMF is also commonly found to a much greater degree in wine.
- Agave is not a low calorie sweetener. It has 15 calories per teaspoon, the same amount as table sugar. Those looking for a natural non-caloric sweetener should try Erythritol (a sugar alcohol) or Stevia.
- Agave is meant to be a sweetener, not a source of other nutrients.
I personally like agave and I use it on occasion to sweeten coffee or a couple of teaspoons on a muffin. Again, I think the main problem is in over-consumption, which can be said of any sweetener. Try to limit your intake of any additional sweetener to less than 10% of your total calories. For more information on safe sweeteners, check out my last blog.
–Nicole Gould, RD LD