I was at a conference recently and one of the attendees approached me and asked what I thought about Agave syrup as a sweetener. I told her that I like it and recommend it to my patients based upon some

By Dr. Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO

I was at a conference recently and one of the attendees approached me and asked what I thought about Agave syrup as a sweetener. I told her that I like it and recommend it to my patients based upon some research that I have read about its low glycemic index and the fact that it is a natural sweetener. This person told me that I should re-look at the information on Agave and that perhaps it wasn’t as good as I thought.  

I did just that, and lo and behold, my esteem for Agave syrup has lost much of its luster. I have learned that Agave syrup, aka agave nectar, is not an unprocessed natural food. Agave is made from the starch of yucca, or agave plant. The agave starch is filtered and heated at a low temperature, which breaks down the carbohydrates into sugars, or the agave starch is enzymatically converted into syrup.  And here is where it gets interesting. The processing of the agave converts the starch into fructose, usually above 70% fructose. The form of fructose in agave is called inulin, which has a low glycemic index (15 -30)[i].  However, the fructose in agave nectar is at levels greater than that found in high fructose corn syrup. And, we all know the hazards of high concentrated fructose – lipogenesis, decreased insulin sensitivity and increased visceral and abdominal adiposity. Of note, fructose found naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables does not create these ill effects, as it is present with other mitigating compounds – fiber, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, etc.  

Back to agave syrup. Another angle on agave syrup is highlighted in a recent study on its antioxidant capacity[ii]. Using the ferric-reducing ability of plasma (FRAP) assay to estimate total antioxidant capacity, agave syrup was found to have minimal antioxidant activity along with refined sugar and corn syrup.  Of note, dark and blackstrap molasses had the highest FRAP value with raw cane sugar being next highest. Maple syrup, brown sugar, and honey showed intermediate antioxidant capacity via FRAP values.

Bottom Line: 

Minimally processed (low heat extracted) agave syrup may be appropriate for some individuals due to its low glycemic index, however its high concentration of fructose along with its low antioxidant value, make it less desirable overall as a sweetener. Stevia, honey, coconut palm sugar, and cane sugar (sucanat) may be preferable sweeteners.


[ii] Phillips KM, Carlsen MH, Blomhoff R. Total antioxidant content of alternatives to refined sugar.

J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Jan;109(1):64-71.

 

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