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Food Focus – Agave Nectar

Friday Food Focus – highlighting one deceitful or surprising food item every week, this week Agave Nectar a “natural” sweetener marketed as a “healthy alternative” to sweeteners at your local health food store.

SUPER-High-Fructose-(not corn)-Syrup
SUPER-High-Fructose-(not corn)-Syrup

 

Food items like this one really get to me, it’s almost worse for a food item to masquerade as something it’s not than it is for something to be a walking heart attack (*cough*McDonalds,*cough*), because at least then people mostly know it’s bad for them (maybe not how bad, however).  But this sort of thing, hiding in those over priced “health” food stores just looking for a sucker who doesn’t know any better, is far more deceitful.

Agave Nectar is made by removing the “honey water” from blue agave or other varieties of the agave plant (there are many varieties).  It is heralded as a natural sweetener as a result, but it’s really about as natural as table sugar.  It’s processed in a manner similar to high fructose corn syrup, and is in fact much higher (percentage wise) in fructose than even high fructose corn syrup.  And that’s when you hear the fructose-addicts chime in that “it’s sweeter”, so you “use less.”  That’s great in theory, but not generally in practice.  It’s only 1.5x as sweet, which is hardly anything really when you think about the fact that other alternatives are 50-400X as sweet, so you actually use way less.

Nutritionally, it’s extremely similar to high-fructose-corn-syrup, except it is ~90% fructose (HFCS is 55%).  And when added into those health food store treats representing themselves as something good for you, well it truly is no better.  

  • Agave nectar is even higher in fructose than high fructose corn syrup
  • It’s true that Agave Nectar is “lower on the glycemic index” but most people when saying this don’t realize what that means.  Yes, it’s lower on the glycemic index (meaning it doesn’t raise blood sugar in the same way), but only because it is loaded with fructose and fructose is processed and handled by the body differently, in that it requires the liver (exclusively the liver can process it), and very high doses of fructose can therefore overload the liver. Not a good idea for lots of reasons.
  • Even if it’s sweeter so you have to use less, it’s only about 1.5x as sweet, not that impressive and not that likely that you’re going to use *that much* less
  • It’s better to wean yourself off your need for sweeteners than it is to look for alternatives anyway, if you absolutely need Stevia is a better option
  • It comes from a plant, but it’s not really all that *natural* because it is extremely highly processed and refined to render a concentrated product, much like HFCS

 

References

Zelman, K. M. (MPH RD LD) (2013). The truth about agave nectar. WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-truth-about-agave

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