Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Is Agave Nectar Good for Diabetics?

A friend of mine just moved back to the US and she gifted me all kinds of goodies from her pantry including a large bottle of agave nectar. I was pretty excited to have this low glycemic sweetener and then I remembered reading an article about how agave nectar is touted as this great natural sugar sub for diabetics, but it's actually a highly refined sugar and not so healthy. So I decided to read up about it again and share what I found.

Is agave nectar highly processed?

Yes it is. According to this website, juice is pressed from the core of the agave plant and is then filtered to create a syrup. This syrup is run through a fine filtration to remove any solids and is then heated which breaks down the carbohydrates into sugars. The result is a filtered juice that is then concentrated to a syrup-like liquid, which is the amber honey-like substance we see in stores. 
Sounds complicated right? The process of creating agave nectar is far more complex than say the process of making coconut sugar. Coconut sugar is made from the sap of the coconut palm tree. The sap is boiled until the water has evaporated and you are left with coconut sugar. The most healthful foods are the ones that are minimally processed and the closer you eat a food in it's natural state the better. As you process foods it loses its nutrients and essentially damages it, which is why the filtration, the heating and the concentrating of agave nectar is not great.
What kind of sugar is agave nectar?
On the molecular level there are three kinds of sugar: fructose, glucose and sucrose (combo of fructose + glucose). This is important to understand because our body processes each kind of sugar differently and this has an affect on our health. Agave nectar is anywhere between 55-90% fructose and the balance glucose. Fructose is the kind of sugar found in fruits and vegetables and it's agave's high fructose content that gives it a low glycemic load. The glycemic index ranges from 0-100 and agave's glycemic index is 30 compared to white sugar, which is 65. This is agave's main selling point that it's low GI and therefore it's good for diabetics and those wanting a healthy alternative to sugar.
So what does this mean and why should I care?
Glucose can be digested and absorbed into any cell in the body, but fructose can only be digested by the liver. Fructose in fruits and veggies is good because you also have fiber, vitamins and minerals in the mix. However concentrated fructose on its own (like agave) can be damaging to the liver and too much can contribute to increase abdominal fat (pot belly & muffin top), increased fat in your liver (fatty liver disease), fat in the blood stream (leads to heart disease), insulin resistance (prediabetes) and all kinds of crazy stuff that's too complicated to go into but really interesting

Agave nectar is really high in fructose, as much as 90% and as a reference high-fructose corn syrup (HCFS) is only 45-55% fructose. Remember the war against HCFS? The stuff is dangerous because of the amount of fructose, the damage it has on our insides, the fact that it's highly refined and it's in everything. Do you see the connection between HCFS and agave nectar? 
What do I think?
It ain't good. Agave nectar may technically be low GI, but it's not a healthful food nor a healthy sweetener. And I don't mean to be dramatic, a little agave every now and again is not going to kill you. But would you really want to put that stuff in your gob now, knowing what you know?   
Healthful reads for this post:
The truth about agave

Have you heard about the book Fat Chance? The author Dr. Robert Lustig is an expert on how sugar is linked to obesity and diabetes in children. Watch his presentation on the Sugar: The Bitter Truth.

I told you how agave nectar is made, here's how HFCS is made.

Agave syrup is basically high-fructose corn syrup masquerading as a health food.

Agave nectar, the danger food.
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