The Good, The Bad, The Agave
My Sweet Thoughts:
Like so many people I jumped on the agave nectar bandwagon the moment I heard about it. So many of my natural, healthy, organic friends suggested it to me. I must say, I joined the bandwagon ignorantly which is, well...ignorant. It wasn’t until months later when I decided to embark on a research journey of my own. Though what I gather is only my amateur opinion, I will say that I invested a significant amount of time in trying to get to the root of agave.
Agave is a natural growing plant most commonly found in mexico. Specifically, the Blue Agave plant is used most often to produce agave nectar, this is also the same plant that tequila is derived from. The plant resemble cactus but it is actually a succulent. The heart of the plant, the pina, is surrounded by spiny leaves and after they have been removed the sap can be extracted from the pina.
The sap is then heated and filtered. The amount of heating and filtration the sap goes through determines weather the finished product will be a dark or light in color. The final product is agave nectar or agave syrup. The darker colored agave nectar has a richer taste that is more similar to honey or maple syrup. The lighter colored syrup, to me, resembles a taste similar to corn syrup.
Regarding taste, agave nectar is an fine alternative to refined sugar. I have used agave nectar to sweeten homemade whip cream, coffee, and tea. I prefer the natural taste of honey, so I tend to also enjoy the taste of agave nectar.
Through this process I have learned that, similar to honey, not all agave nectar is created equal. There are a lot of different opinions about agave nectar and I have found an equal amount of information both supporting and opposing agave nectar.
The most important thing about agave nectar is choosing one that is raw. Technically, to be raw the agave sap must not be processed over 118 degrees fahrenheit. The importance of raw agave nectar is all the enzymes and nutrients are left in tact so that we consume them our bodies can use them, making agave nectar a food that “gives back.” The problem I found with this is that there seems to be a lot of controversy about to what tempter they actually heat agave in production.
Some raw agave nectars claim to be processed under 118 degrees fahrenheit and whether or not they actually are remains a mystery as any company can label something as “raw.” Some claim that the agave nectar is heated to at least 140 degrees fahrenheit, which would negate the raw.
When agave syrup ferments it will turn into alcohol. Remember, this same plant also produces tequila. So the enzymic activity must be stopped so that the syrup will not ferment sitting on the supermarket shelf or in your kitchen. So if you are consuming agave nectar under the assumption it is a raw food then you may want to think again, because it just may not be.
Agave nectar is not necessarily a “healthier” alternative to sugar. Yes, agave is not refined as much as sugar and certainly isn’t bleached, the fact is that it might not actually be raw. If indeed, agave nectar is not raw then it isn’t giving anything back to our bodies and is no better for our bodies, nutritionally, than sugar.
Be careful when choosing agave nectar because some companies have been found to mix corn syrup in with agave nectar. So what you think you may be consuming is in fact very different. Agave nectar is not low in calories and in fact, contains about the same amount of calories as sugar. However, agave nectar is much sweeter than sugar so less is needed to achieve desired sweetness (similar to honey). Perhaps, you are using an amount that would lower your caloric intake but probably not by much.
Agave nectar is 90% fructose and only 10% glucose. Glucose is processed through the pancreas which is why agave nectar is considered low on the glycemic index, and is considered (by some) to be a safe alternative for diabetics. However, fructose is processed though the liver and at 90% fructose the liver can’t break this down as sugar fast enough so it begins processing and storing it as fat.
There is also a small concern, it seems, among a small group of people concerned that the use of agave nectar could have negative effects on pregnant women. Agave nectar contains natural steroids that could lead to miscarriages. Some believe this issue to be so small that it isn’t a concern. Still, some believe that pregnant women should avoid agave nectar.
I think that agave nectar is probably a better alternative than refined sugar but I still believe organic raw honey is better than agave. I was sad and disappointed to learn all these negative facts about agave and have decided to cut back on my agave nectar use. My personal verdict on agave nectar now lies somewhere in the middle between the evil corn syrup and the nectar of the gods, honey. It is certainly better than artificial sweeteners.
Just be careful and mindful of agave because it might not be as healthy as you think. Hopefully, in ten years we will have much more information available about agave and we consumers will be able to form more informed decision