Friday, August 7, 2009

A Look at Agave Nectar

This article, from Radish Magazine, takes a critical look at a natural sweetener that has recently gained popularity - agave nectar.

For those who are not familiar with agave nectar, it is a syrupy sweetener produced from the juices of a succulent plant resembling a cactus. Numerous species of agave plants are native to Mexico and the Southwestern U.S.--one of which is used to make tequila. A mature agave plant may be up to 8 feet tall with leaves spreading out to a diameter of 12 feet!

The agave nectar is sold in many health food stores (in light, amber, dark and raw varieties) for general sweetening purposes and also incorporated as a sweetening agent in many so-called organic, raw and/or diabetic-friendly health foods. It is portrayed as an unrefined and healthful sweetener, but the truth is a much more complex story.

The chemical and genetically-modified enzymatic processes used to manufacture the juices into agave nectar end up giving it a profile of 70 percent or more as fructose, compared to only 55 percent fructose found in HFCS. (Raw honey contains only about 38 percent fructose.) Concentrated levels of fructose in the diet may lead to mineral depletion, inflammation of the liver, hardening of the arteries, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

While it is true that high levels of dietary fructose will not necessarily cause spikes in blood glucose, agave nectar certainly still falls short of being a healthful alternative. It is for this reason that noted low-carb advocate, Dr. Michael Eades, M.D., has said of agave nectar: "Avoid it like death."

A less-than-ideal sugar profile may be offset somewhat by the presence of abundant minerals, which agave nectar reportedly has, including iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. However, it is more correct to say that the juices of the agave plant contain an abundance of such minerals (as well as valuable amino acids) rather than the resultant agave nectar. While "miel de agave" retains these factors, modern processing removes many of them in order to make the taste of the agave nectar lighter and more palatable.

Other Sugar posts:
Evaporated Cane Juice: Part I
Evaporated Cane Juice: Part II
Caramel Apples
Sugar and the Environment
Alternative Sugar Names

1 comment:

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