Agave has taken the health food world by storm over the past few years. Touted as a healthy, natural, low glycemic sweetener that is helpful for those with blood sugar issues, in truth, agave nectar is nothing more than another highly processed sweetener with no redeeming nutrient value whatsoever.
The list of problems with agave is long. Here is a brief compilation:
- Contrary to popular belief, agave is not made from the dried sap of the agave plant but rather the starchy root bulb. (A natural agave syrup made from the sap is indeed made in Mexico, but it is very expensive and availability limited).
- Conversion of the starchy agave root bulb into “nectar” requires a highly chemical process using genetically modified enzymes. This process is very similar to the production of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
- Amber colored agave nectar is made by burning the fructose (above 140F) as it is being refined. There is no gourmet quality to it and it certainly does not contain more minerals that the clear, light agave syrup.
- Agave nectar is not raw even if labeled as such. Perhaps the reason is that the heat required to produce agave is below pasteurization temperature (161F) which then allows a misleading, untruthful “raw” label via a USDA loophole. Similar deceit is used by Organic Valley in the labeling of some of its cheeses which are labeled raw but, in fact, are not raw at all.
- As consumers are becoming more aware of the problems with agave, manufacturers are starting to use the pseudonym “chicory syrup” on labels of the amber colored agave nectar to further mislead and deceive.
- Saponins are present in the agave and yucca plants in large amounts. This toxic steroid derivative disrupts red blood cells and should be avoided during pregnancy as it can induce miscarriage by stimulating uterine blood flow. Beware of industry propaganda which suggests saponins increase hydration and cellular uptake of water. Saponins have no beneficial effect when consumed and any suggestion to the contrary is simply a marketing ploy.
- Agave labels do not conform to FDA requirements and the FDA has so far made no attempt to enforce violations. Hence the consumer is led to believe that store bought agave is an unprocessed and traditional Mexican sweetener which couldn’t be further from the truth.
- The fructose in agave is not L-fructose which is the primary fructose molecule in fruit or honey. Rather, it is D-fructose which is a reverse isomer with reverse polarity to the small amounts of natural D-fructose found in fruits. Alarmingly, this means that the D-fructose in agave is not recognized by the human body as are natural forms of fructose that are used for energy utilization. Instead, the unnatural form of D-fructose in agave primarily raises triglyceride levels and increases adipose (fat) tissue.
The bottom line? Agave syrup is a man made sweetener with no beneficial or redeeming qualities whatsoever. Period.
Low Glycemic, Natural Alternative to Highly Processed Agave
Coconut sugar, also referred to as palm sugar, is a truly natural, low glycemic alternative to agave. Made from the sap of the coconut palm, coconut sugar is a source of minerals, vitamin C, B vitamins, and some amino acids.
The glycemic index of 2 TBL of agave is about 30 whereas that of coconut sugar is slightly higher at 35. The good news is that coconut sugar is not super high in fructose like agave and as such, will not primarily contribute to fat tissue storage and high blood triclycerides.
It seems that coconut sugar is truly a wonder sugar: it does not overly stress the pancreas nor the liver such as what would happen with cane sugars and agave, respectively.
Of course, moderation is key as with the use of all natural sweeteners. No more than 3 TBL per day (or 5% of total calories) of even a natural sweetener is a good rule of thumb.
The brand of coconut sugar I buy uses low temperature processing that simply involves evaporation of the sap from the coconut blossoms into crystals. Evaporation temperature is about 100F for an hour or two. As a result of this low temperature, enzymes remain intact.
Other brands of coconut sugar boil the nectar down to crystalize it, so check labels carefully or contact the manufacturer first if you desire raw coconut sugar.
Coconut sugar is mildly sweet and has no coconut flavor. It can be a healthy addition to any of your traditional dessert recipes!
*This post is shared at Real Food Wednesday, low carb edition!