Agave - is it really better than sugar?

April 4, 2014

I'm writing this blog, sparked by some misinformation I heard on the radio yesterday, on "better alternatives to white sugar".  Agave was promoted to be the best of the bunch by the nutritionist, but as you read below, the science and the facts tells us that it's not all that it's 'hyped up' to be.

 

So what is Agave?

 

Agave nectar is a sweet syrup commercially produced from several species of agave plants. The syrup is sweeter than honey and tends to be less viscous. Most agave syrup comes from Mexico and South Africa where the plant grows in the hot climate.

 

Agave has been labelled as a healthier alternative due to it's low glycaemic index (GI). It's also been labelled as a fabulous vegan substitute. However, most agave syrup is highly processed and concentrated and provides minimal nutrient value.

 

The main sugar in agave syrup is called inulin, which is made up mostly of fructose. In fact agave is 70 to 97 percent fructose, depending on the brand.  On the other hand white sugar contains glucose.

It is this high fructose content, which is even higher than that found in "high fructose corn syrup" by weight, that health professionals like Accredited Practising Dietitians criticise claims of agave syrup being a "better or more healthier alternative to sugar" by other so-called health experts.

What's the problem with a high fructose intake?

 

Fructose is one of our simple sugars, the others being glucose and galactose.  Any food or drink that contains carbohydrate will breakdown into one of these three simple sugars.

 

Fructose isn't broken down the same way as glucose and galactose, instead it's processed by the liver and converted into free fatty acids (FFAs), VLDL (the damaging form of cholesterol) and tryglycerides, which get stored as fat.

 

Fructose metabolism can also lead to insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), two major health issues, paritcularly in the Western/affulent society, that also lead to obesity. 

 

On top of this, we humans don't breakdown fructose very efficiently, and the gases produced in our gut as a result, can lead to diarrhoea, bloating, wind and constipation. Some people find relief if they go on a low FODMAP diet for a short time as per their guidance of an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

 

And this is just the start of the long list of problems from a high fructose load!!

 

 

 

Hold on! What about fruit? Isn't fructose the sugar found in fruit?

 

That's right, fructose is the main sugar found in our fresh and frozen fruits. However, the fructose in fruit is not alone. It's there along with a good dose of glucose, nutrients, antioxidants and not to mention fibre too! In fact, there are a number of fruits which contain more glucose than fructose, and these are the ones recommended on a low FODMAP diet.

 

So by no means should anyone skip their fruit, especially without the direction of their allergist or dietitian. But for the same reason as agave being highly processed and a concentrated source of refined sugar with low nutrient value, we do not recommend fruit syrups or juices either.

 

The Bottom Line ...

 

Is agave any better than white sugar? I hope you can see from the facts here that you won't be doing yourself any favours by doing the "switch".

 

 

 

References:

  1. Dr Mercola 2013 – Sugar substitutes, what’s safe, what’s not

  2. What is Agave nectar? - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agave_nectar

 

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