Agave Nectar Is Not a Healthy Alternative

It can be so frustrating to try to make the right food choices. We know what we shouldn’t eat. But knowing how to replace those foods can be tricky.

People with blood sugar concerns know to avoid normal sugar. They also know that safety concerns have been raised about aspartame. Many people want to reach for something natural when looking for a sweetener. Natural things are always viewed as being better. While we agree that that is generally a good guideline, not all natural things are healthy. Our go-to reminder is that arsenic is natural.   

Agave nectar has become a hot new sweetener. Its name includes a plant and the substance that bees and hummingbirds eat. It sounds healthy from the word go! It is made from the plant’s sap. But, chemically, it’s worse than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Calling it nectar is only marketing; it has nothing to do with the plant’s flowers.

Agave nectar can contain between 55 to 90 percent fructose — that’s higher than the amount of fructose in high fructose corn syrup,” said Kylie Ivanir, a registered dietitian.  

Most agave nectar sold in stores is around 80 to 90 percent fructose. Ms. Ivanir explained why fructose is bad for everyone, not just people with blood sugar concerns. “The problem with taking in a lot of fructose is that your body must convert it to glucose in the liver, but if you have too much, it gets stored as fat. Specifically, belly fat. Excess fructose is also pretty bad for your gut. Your gut bacteria don’t like large doses of fructose. For those with a sensitive gut, this can cause bloating, diarrhea and discomfort. It leads to increased LDL (your bad cholesterol) and decreases insulin sensitivity.”

While some fruit can be high in fructose, the fiber it is attached to in its natural form stops it from harming your health or spiking your blood sugar. As an added sweetener, it’s pretty much worse-for-you HFCS.  

It’s significantly sweeter than sugar, so you don’t need to use as much. But normal sugar breaks down into 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. Studies have shown that fructose harms your liver more. Still, the small amount a person uses to sweeten coffee might have no impact — studies haven’t been done on the amount needed to have an impact.

Agave nectar does have a much lower GI than most natural sweeteners. Table sugar has a GI of 63, honey has a GI of 58 and maple syrup has a GI of 54. Agave syrups can range between 10 and 27. That means it will impact your blood sugar less than most other natural sweeteners.

Fructose has a less immediate impact on blood sugar than glucose. That explains why agave nectar has a lower GI. However, it has been linked to metabolic disease, gastrointestinal disease, insulin resistance and other problems. It’s still sugar.

It is true that fructose has less of an impact on immediate blood sugar, because the body can’t use it right away,” Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist, said. “[But] it [can be] incredibly taxing on the liver. And [it can] lead to increased fat storage, which we know to be unhealthy.”

For people with blood sugar concerns, zero-calorie sweeteners still appear to be best. Ones like stevia are plant-based and will not spike blood sugar levels. The bottom line is sugar is sugar. While agave nectar has a lower GI, it has other drawbacks and isn’t a perfect alternative to sugar. Instead, we recommend sticking to fruit as a natural sweet treat whenever possible!

Related Posts

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Please check your email to confirm your subscription.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form
By clicking the "Subscribe" button you agree to our newsletter policy