Why I was wrong to recommend agave nectar

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Posted May 8, 2011

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago claiming how great agave nectar is. With its sweet taste and natural, organic, raw and low GI guise, I thought it was the best thing since Ashton Kutcher in a rom com (we watched No Strings Attached on the weekend. Awesome movie). However it turns out that I, and many others in the natural health industry, was fooled. A couple of my clever readers left comments in the post alerting me to the fact that agave is not all it’s cracked up to be. After first being resistant to look into it further (I didn’t want this tasty treat taken away from me), I realised what a hypocrite I would be if I didn’t do the research. Boy am I glad I did, because agave is getting the boot from my diet for good. I feel thankful that I only had a couple of teaspoons of the stuff.

Agave syrup has been touted as a “healthy” natural sweetener that, because of its low glycemic index, was said to be great for diabetics. It is derived from the agave cactus plant in Mexico (the same plant that gives us tequila). But it’s the processing of agave that destroys its health cred. According to Dr Joseph Mercola agave is no better – and perhaps even worse – than the evil high fructose corn syrup.

“Most agave “nectar” or agave “syrup” is nothing more than a laboratory-generated super-condensed fructose syrup, devoid of virtually all nutrient value, and offering you metabolic misfortune in its place,” says Dr Mercola.

“Most agave syrup has a higher fructose content than any commercial sweetener – ranging from 70 to 97 percent, depending on the brand, which is far higher than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which averages 55 percent.”

You might be thinking that fructose can’t be all that bad, seeing as it is the main sugar in fruit. Fructose itself isn’t the devil – it’s the high amounts of it that we are exposed to that is doing the damage. Because fructose is so cheap and makes foods taste so much better, it is added to virtually every processed food. It is also important to understand that the fructose in fruits and vegetables is not the same fructose molecule you’ll find in synthetic high-fructose corn syrup and agave syrup, which is manufactured in the lab. Naturally occurring fructose comes with fibre, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, whereas fructose sweeteners have been stripped of all this nutritional value. Fructose is one of the leading causes of obesity because it is almost exclusively broken down in the liver and is directly converted to dangerous fats.

Dr. Ingrid Kohlstadt, a fellow of the American College of Nutrition and an associate faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, confirms the dangers of agave:

“Agave is almost all fructose, a highly processed sugar with great marketing.”

The news isn’t all bad though. We don’t need agave to make the world go round. Check back in tomorrow and I’ll give you the low down on the best healthy natural sweeteners so that you can choose the right ones for you.

Click here to read about the dangers of artificial sweeteners.

Were you already aware of the agave con? Does this information make you want to avoid it?

Positive affirmation for the day: My life is determined by how I react to my circumstances. I have the power to create the life I want.



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Anonymous says:

sarah wilson covered this quite well on her blog – you should check out her 'i quit sugar' post.

livefearlessandfree says:

thanks jess just re posted this on fb after vic (my real sweet ;) re-posted which for some reason ticked me silly!
great work mama!
xo

Anonymous says:

Jess:

I admire you for being honest. I do however also think each one of us is in a different phase of life, education and spiritual path. I have watched many of the leaders in the raw vegan world swear by a product one day and then swear against it soon after.

I realize I must be responsible for my own education and I know only one thing to be true. Nothing is completely wrong and nothing is completely right. Somewhere, somehow there is an individual out there who can make anything work. For my own path I've decided to keep learning but to also know I am more than the teaspoon of agave nectar I might dare to eat today.

Since I've followed my health to better and better places I have occasionally found I've gone to far and must start all over again. For me, I think it is imperative we can all only do our best–and our best may not be someone else's best. Naturally this is a fuzzy area without a perfect formula for every situation. Once I came to this realization, I've admitted I simply don't know what the right answers are. I am constantly working to accept this idea.

I wish you the best on your journey, and please don't be hard on yourself–be good to yourself.

Blessings and love.

Judy Griffin says:

Good for you to point this out. Agave is a source of much confusion. I too did believe that Agave was a healthy alternative but in recent months have learned quite the contrary. I removed it from my list of healthy sweeteners and encourage clients to use it sparingly and experiment with healthier alternatives.

Jeri says:

So disappointed…I love Agave Nectar & felt so proud of myself after giving up all other sweeteners except for Maple Syrup & Natural Honey….Of course Agave would be my favorite. I am thank-ful Jess that you provided the real truth…Now what to do with the two bottles in my pantry!
J

susanelizabeth says:

I found out about this a while ago from Dr Mercola. However my ND, who is very much the vegan, believes it is safe and has studied it as well. I chose not to use it even though I was told that it was the best choice for me being I was a Type 1 Diab. I use(on rare occasions) Raw Coconut Crystals which are recommended by Garden of Life. Thanks Jess for the update and who knows, in a month or so we may hear differently. Things seem to change so often in our world.
Susanelizabeth

Becky says:

What about Raw Agave Nectar?

Jess says:

Hi Becky,

Raw agave nectar is no better I'm afraid. There are no regulations that these products need to meet to have 'raw' on their label. It often means nothing, especially when it comes to agave. There's no way it can be raw when you consider the processing it has to go through.

Jess x

Sara says:

It takes a lot of courage to acknowledge something like this Jess. That's why I love you :)

lovlondon3 says:

Hi Jess,
I'm so glad you looked further into the cleverly disguised agave syrup.
I would hate to see anything interfere with your path of healing & wellness after coming so far.
Your honesty & courage is always an inspiration, so if this blog can help us all help you….just as you do for all of us who follow..it has to be a good thing !
Peace, Love & healing light :)

Anonymous says:

Great + interesting article, but name ANY food and I'll bet I can find articles/research/testimonial/following that says why you should eat it – and the same for why you shouldn't. Seriously – ANY food.

Mercola also recommends that certain metabolic types mix cream with their vegetable juice. He doesn't recommend fruit intake at all for some metabolic types, and in very minimal quantities after the consumption of animal products for others.

I go through phases of having agave in small amounts in baking, desserts, hot carob drinks, etc – I feel good when I have it. Stevia, which is preferred by a lot of people makes me feel crazy in the head – go figure.

My favourite natural sweets are raw honey, dates, maple, molasses, figs, agave, carob and fresh fruit.

I think you just have to listen to your own body :)

Anon says:

I agree with you.
Just because one doctor files a report doesn’t mean they are correct on everything they say/research or that the lots of people who are getting health benefits from something should stop using it and I wouldn’t personally follow any “expert” that recommends people avoid fresh fruit!!

Great honest approach there though Jess :)

Anonymous says:

I highly respect with what you wrote in this article. Not many will admit their mistakes.

People that are search for a "CURE" need to understand that **ALL** processed foods in a package are stripped of its vitamins, minerals and most importantly its ENZYMES(vital life force).

When I look at the agave plant, I don't salivate. I wouldn't ingest it. Simple as that. We could go right into biology, just as we humans have a defense mechanism, so do plants and unripe fruits/nuts. A lot of acids in plants harm our beneficial bacteria that produce vitamins and acids that are needed by the MILLIONS of biochemical processes of the body.

In short; I would rather spend my money on organic fruits and raw nuts. :)

Anonymous says:

Hi Jess,

Just thought I would add to this stream a recommendation for the book 'Sweet Poison' and 'The Sweet poison Quit Plan' by David Gillespie. A very interesting read telling of the 'poison' that is fructose and how it wreaks havoc with our bodies in the amounts that we consume. I read in the latter that Agave Syrup is usually about 90% fructose! (So I did find your original post about it a little curious!)

Full of information – cant recommend it enough actually!

Sam says:

Hey all,
please read the full explanation on agave syrup from Cyndi O'Meara – a very eye-opening report! That's why I never touched the stuff!
Best, Sam

link:
http://changinghabits.com.au/_webapp_459508/Shocking

Anonymous says:

Thanks Jess ~ I think when it comes to any sweet products like agave, honey, maple syrup we are fooling ourseveles in thinking that they are magic substance that are healthy. Sugar is sugar. I personally dont' think it is all that bad – moderation is key. It depends how the rest of our eating habits are, and where we are as individuals health wise. I do have a little maple syrup with my oatmeal, but feel I don't get the same sugar spike vs having something sweet on it's own which I don't do.

Anonymous says:

I wonder what Brendon Brazier says about this? He tends to recommend unfermented agave for sports performance & a slow release energy hit, a use where fructose isn't necessarily the bad guy. It tastes devine, and being a health freak this info still wouldn't put me off using it altogether. So what if it contains high fructose, a healthy body should be able to cope with a bit of it now and then if we've been looking after it right? I'm still going to use it on pancakes which I only have very rarely and I doubt it'll be detrimental to my overall health!

Anonymous says:

What about white agave?

Joel says:

Great article – I've also been looking online at Natural Market Australia for natural and organic foods – there's heaps of categories and they only have products from different Australian retailers…

If you're interested, there's also a section for natural and organic sweeteners if you're trying to cut out sugar or artificial sweeteners!

Abel Butler says:

Hi Jess. Admire that you’re so quick to admit when you might have made a mistake! Are all Agave Syrups created equal though? I was surprised to see your comments as we stock Loving Earth Agave Syrup on our health shop, and it’d be awful to think it was doing our customers more harm than good. Loving Earth seem to address these concerns specifically though, as follows: “Loving Earth Agave is processed at below 40ºC using a vacuum evaporator and certified organic vegan enzyme as a catalyst to concentrate the natural sugars into a stable form. It’s minimally processed and comes from long-chained fructans, called inulin… There has been some recent controversy regarding the consumption of Agave Syrup at its affect on one’s health. Our Agave Syrup is a minimally processed natural certified organic sweetener. It is a concentrated food like any concentrated fruit juice or honey for that matter and should therefore be consumed in moderation.” Thought this might be a worthwhile contribution to the discussion… Cheers!

Paolo Grossi says:

Hi Jess, hi everyone.
I was raised in Jalisco Mexico home of the agave plant and while living in New Zealand my youngest son developed diabetes type one. My wife did some research and we started using agave syrup experiencing some benefits on his blood glucose control. A short time after that, we founded Maretai Organics. Our son is now a young teenager using an insulin pump and thus the low GI index quality is not so critical since he can bolus for both high and low GI foods. We still use our agave syrup but as with every natural sweetener, we use it in moderation. Agave syrup is nothing like corn syrup. Corn syrup is extracted from a fruit that is not sweet in the first place and thus has to go through a lot of chemical processing with additives. Agave syrup is the sweet juice of the agave core, filtered and excess water evaporated to thicken. There are no additives involved. Please visit our webpage for more information or write to me directly and I will be happy to share my experience on the subject. Here I have to be brief and keep this post short.
My advice to everyone is to be careful with Internet “literature” and stick to well referenced sources. Dr Mercola sells honey and has many incorrect statements in his poorly documented and much circulated internet post. Please read further. I recommend an article on the Better World Blog
http://betterworldcookies.blogspot.com.au/2010/06/why-i-use-agave-nectar-examination-of.html

If you would like other formal references on the subject please write to me and I will be happy to share them as well as my experience as a father of a type one diabetic.
I respect all of your opinions and commend Jess for her quest for truth.
Warm regards to everyone.
Paolo Grossi
Maretai Organics – Director and founder
[email protected]

Shan says:

Thanks for this info on agave . I have run into so many people that swear by agave .They are so resistant to hearing the scientific truth behind the evils of agave. It’s their life. As for me I always prefer the educated route. Thanks so much for your wisdom and sharing your wisdom with the rest of us. I am diabetic . I am very grateful I didn’t fall into the path lots of others have. Continued success Wellness Warrior !

Bernd Wechner says:

fructose is not the problem alas at all. It is the underlying addiction to sweetness that is amplified out of all proportion by sweet indulgent societies. To reduce indulgence in sweetness is to heighten your sensitivity to sweetness and hence increase your satisfaction with unsweetened foods.

Consider you’re out in the sun and it’s great, you come indoors and can’t see a thing right. But others are enjoying the indoor space, reading, playing games, and they can see what they are doing? But you feel blind and want to turn the light on. But your eyes adjust, a lot faster than your palate does, in literally seconds, your pupils dilate and you can see the rich colors in that room. Your palate does the same thing but my most reports it takes weeks, from 2 to maybe 8 depending. Cut down your sweetness intake (i.e. no processed foods at all, or at least none where you can find sugar products on the ingredient list) and stop sweetening the things you make. Various people report that in as little as two weeks and no more than about 8, you’ll take a sip f soft drink and spit it out for the unmeritorious icky lolly water it is, and if someone inadvertently puts a spoon of sugar in your coffee you will look around and wonder who has spiked your drink and ask for another. Because your palate is very content with the flavour of coffee now which has a subtle sweetness to itself depending on the bean …

Point is spot on about Agave, but the problem is the persistent identification of evil foods whether it’s fat or fructose or corn syrup or sucrose or dextrose or whatever. The problem is never the food, but the indulgence in a sense the over consumption, the raffination (removal of all the “other” stuff in the food) and so on. The solution is generally simple, a balanced and diverse diet. If you eat a lot of any one thing, it’s probably worth asking about it.

Maz says:

I think sometimes YOU need to do your research more indepth, I’d hat to think people try or stop something just because you are ill informed
Agave..good or bad? Read this. http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/agave-nectar/

Maz says:

Hate *^

Jan says:

Hi, you may want to consider more in depth articles/studies and not demonise a product per se. You need to be conscious about where and how the product treated. You sure will find non-chemical treated products and hey why not visit Mexico and see it with your own eyes. There are small dairy farmers and large dairy corporation – which milk would you consider healthy?

https://lovingearth.net/media/files/great_analysis_of_agave.pdf

Best Jan

suzanne redita says:

can you send me your article on agave nector to my face book time line please
thankyou
my face book name is
suzanne redita
please be a friend
thanks

Jason says:

We got a bottle of agave syrup today and its 17% carbohydrates, which is all sugar (fructose) but honey is over 80% sugars. So agave can’t be that bad, maybe there is a wide variance of sugars in agave and some a much better than others.

anna says:

so… what should agave be replaced by… any suggestions. I want as unprocessed as possible.
I try and use dates for sweetness or organic maple syrup but both are high in sugars too. Any suggestions would be much appreciated (especially is they are chemical and preservative free!)
thanks anna

michele wood says:

thanks for having the courage to change your point of view. I am trying to eat the best and I am keen to learn about food… I have pretty much given up my chocolate addiction, substituting cacao, coconut oil and maple syrup. I eat less of it and feel amazing. My recipe did suggest agave as a sweetner, but I stuck with organic maple syrup because of its calcium content. I saw agave in the supermarket today and erred on its purchase, because I was not sure.. You have solved this for me and I am very grateful that you have helped me and my family make better food choices and be more knowledgeable about what we choose to put in our bodies. Thank you.

Brigitte says:

You were not wrong. Please check this article. Raw organic agave syrup is good for us! In moderation, as all sweeteners… https://lovingearth.net/media/files/great_analysis_of_agave.pdf

Nina says:

Thank you, i had just finished fonding recipes with the agave necture, as we need alternatives to sugar. As i wasn’t sure what it was I googled thak goidness i read this
nina