Myth: Agave Nectar is Healthy

Let’s face it – humans are genetically programmed to gorge on sweets until we explode. That was handy in the days when sweets were hard to come by and we were brow-beating saber tooth tigers into submission. But these days, our gluttonous predispositions do little more than encourage us to plump our bellies.

Agave nectar or syrup, marketed as an all-natural, raw, and organic sweetener, has thrust itself onto both on shelves and ingredient lists of many popular and organic items. The sicky-sweet syrup is made from a South American succulent, the agave plant. Although agave has a similar amount of calories as sugar, it has more bounce to the ounce: agave tastes much sweeter than table sugar (sucrose), so technically you shouldn’t need as much of it for the same sweetening effect. If you actually practice enough restraint to follow through, that could mean a significant calorie savings. The keenest marketers say you can use one-quarter to one-eighth the amount of agave nectar to deliver the same sweetening punch you’d get from sugar.

Agave syrup has an unusually high concentration of fructose (90%) relative to the small amount of glucose (10%). Such dizzyingly high concentrations of fructose to glucose simply do not occur in nature. Not even close. In fact, one of the next closest foods that contain this concentration of glucose is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS 55), but it only contains 55% fructose! Marketers are shrewd to distance themselves from the deservedly despised high fructose corn syrup, which is one of the most perniciously fattening substances on earth.

I can hear the suits clamoring now…

“Hey, how about we take something that’s just like high fructose corn syrup but even more fattening and then sell it at a premium? Brilliant!”

Once again, marketing doesn’t quite line up with reality.

If it were really all-natural, wouldn’t you be able to stroll up to an agave plant and wring the stuff into your tea? While you can plausibly saunter up to a beehive and lick yourself silly on natural honey, agave nectar is a refined and processed food, even though marketing claims list it as “raw.” Unfortunately, there are no “raw labeling” laws. Any devious marketing mogul can slap “raw” on their label because they consider it to be made from a “raw” material. So is it all-natural? Kind of, but if you’re defining it that way, then what isn’t?

Remember: the most healthy way to enjoy sweetness is in its truly natural forms (read: fruit). For the very occasional times when you can no longer ignore your inner sugar demons, add a little pinch (or a little squirt) of something sweet to an otherwise healthy food or drink. Go ahead, you deserve it. But don’t put too much mustard in the sauce.


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