Agave Syrup. Miracle Sweetener or Metabolic Nightmare?

Blue agave

photo used under a creative commons license via flickr user jay8085

Recently, I’ve received a few inquiries about the healthiness of agave nectar. Agave nectar is marketed as being a low glycemic, natural, plant-based sweetener with numerous health benefits such as improved calcium absorption, improved immune system function, and increased energy. How healthy is agave nectar? Is it the miracle sweetener that we should all be using?

Most agave nectar that is sold in stores today is a highly processed, man-made, condensed fructose syrup. This type of agave nectar contains a varying amount of fructose ranging from 70-97%. In comparison, high fructose corn syrup contains about 55% fructose. Anytime we consume more than 25 grams of fructose per day, it begins to take a toll on metabolic function. When consumed in excess, there is often an increase in insulin resistance. The majority of fructose is metabolized by the liver and converted directly to fat; often unhealthy visceral fat. In “The 76 Dangers of Sugar”, Dr. Mercola reports that fructose also –

  • elevates uric acid, which decreases nitric oxide, raises angiotensin, and causes your smooth muscle cells to contract, thereby raising your blood pressure and potentially damaging your kidneys. Increased uric acid also leads to chronic, low-level inflammation, which has far-reaching consequences for your health. For example, chronically inflamed blood vessels lead to heart attacks and strokes; also, a good deal of evidence exists that some cancers are caused by chronic inflammation.
  • Fructose tricks your body into gaining weight by fooling your metabolism—it turns off your body’s appetite-control system. Fructose does not appropriately stimulate insulin, which in turn does not suppress ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”) and doesn’t stimulate leptin (the “satiety hormone”), which together result in your eating more and developing insulin resistance.
  • Fructose rapidly leads to weight gain and abdominal obesity (“beer belly”), decreased HDL, increased LDL, elevated triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure—i.e., classic metabolic syndrome.
  • Fructose metabolism is very similar to ethanol metabolism, which has a multitude of toxic effects, including NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). It’s alcohol without the buzz.

Coconut nectar is an excellent substitute for agave nectar. While processed agave nectar is nutrient void, coconut nectar contains 17 amino acids, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, vitamin C, and vitamin B. In addition, it has a very low glycemic load. There are several companies that make coconut nectar, the brand I use is by a company called Coconut Secret and can be purchased online, at some health food stores or at Whole Foods.

Sources: Shocking! This ‘Tequila’ Sweetener if Far Worse than High Fructose Corn Syrup

Agave a Triumph of Marketing over Truth

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