Agave – The Not So Healthy Sweet Sensation

blue agave plantationAgave is a succulent of which there are 130 different varieties.  The now popular trendy sweetener alternative much touted by the food industry is made from the blue agave.  Or should be.

Many consumers looking for a healthy sweetener have turned to agave syrup, mistakenly thinking it is a healthy alternative to the much documented, very unhealthy HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup).  However, agave really should be called HFAS (High Fructose Agave Syrup) as indeed, it has even higher fructose content than HFCS.

There is a two-fold problem with agave.  One is, if what one is purchasing is true blue Agave pure nectar and the other, is it really a little agave stretched with a lot of HFCS.

This is another one of those trends that once slightly popular, the food industry kicks in and starts using it in all their products carefully placing the words agave and natural in close proximity on the label.  The problem is, there just aren’t enough blue agave plants around to cover the demand.  And true, unrefined organic agave nectar is costly. So, what do you think the industry is using?

Is reading labels a bore and you prefer to believe the large print on the front of a label and believe the commercial hype?   Then you are probably missing that hidden somewhere in the fine print will be one of the names for HFCS, glucose or fructose, and of course, a little agave of uncertain origin just to keep it legitimate.   Have a closer look at that agave sweetened yogurt in the super market next time you shop.

I mention origin because so-called agave syrup can be made from enzymes such as Aspergillus mold.  Such lab-produced ‘agave syrup’ has literally no health benefits, neither minerals nor vitamins but with all the downsides, if not more, than the natural, but highly processed form.

Agave ranks rather low on the glycemic index because of the high fructose content, which the body does not metabolize well.  Excessive fructose compromises liver function and is a very key factor in obesity.  The less you consume of it, the better.

The Glycemic Research Center halted a five year study on the use of agave with diabetics and advise not to use it. In fact, it is as bad as using sugar but with more side effects.

It can produce uric acid and WILL increase triglycerides which has been proven in comparison blood tests 20 minutes after ingesting agave.  The triglyceride count rises dramatically.  Other documented dangerous side effects are miscarriage and insulin complications especially in diabetics, so much so in fact that the Glycemic Research Center halted a five year study on the use of agave with diabetics and advise not to use it.  In fact, it is as bad as using sugar but with more side effects.

It is also highly allergenic and was never used in the highly processed form of today in the Mesopotamic era, contrary to industry claims.

Make no mistake, the nectar does not simply flow from crushed piñas (the core after the leaves are removed) into the jar.  True agave nectar that is made by trustworthy, conscientious producers who use only organic blue agave is difficult to locate.  And even more difficult to locate are those who simply crush the piñas, filtrate the juice and heat no higher than 118°F to evaporate water content.  This produces unrefined, pure nectar.  Even so, no matter how lovingly it is produced, it is fructose.

Most of the agave nectar for mass production and the enormous food industry goes through heavy processing quite similar to producing corn syrup (HFCS) from corn starch.  And, as I mentioned earlier, often is lab produced with the only connection to agave being a photo of the plant on the label.

Organic or not, unrefined, not heavily processed or not, agave in any form is another one of those trends that is simply better left on the shelf.  Unless of course, it’s the tequila you are reaching for!

Related post: Artifical Sweeteners: Is your head in the sand?
Related video: What’s wrong with agave?

 

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