If you have done any research at all about white sugar, you probably already know how detrimental it can be to your health. The problem is that many people stop the research there and believe that other alternatives, like agave nectar, are much healthier. While in theory, agave nectar is technically a better alternative, the problem is that its high content of fructose can do enormous amounts of damage on your metabolism.
Is Agave Nectar Good For You?
There are many argumentative opinions circling in the world of nutrition but one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that sugar is absolutely terrible. The detrimental effects of extra sugar in your diet are quickly becoming more accepted as more and more people are becoming obese due to their high-sugar diets.
As this truth has become more apparent, the need for alternate sweeteners has become inflated as more health-conscious people start looking for sugar alternatives. Many companies have picked up on this need and started flooding the market with natural and artificial sugar substitutes.
The problem is that most of these companies will do anything to get their products sold and as long as there is at least one tiny grain of truth behind what they are saying, it will be used to mislead and trick people into buying their products. Unfortunately, this is the case with agave nectar. Technically, it is healthier than white sugar, but it is also heavily processed and when this is done all nutritional value is completely eradicated from the agave.
The taste offered by agave syrup is pretty similar to honey but a bit blander and more neutral. The biggest problem with agave nectar is that it’s pretty much pure fructose and processing this stuff is an enormous task for your liver.
Where Does Agave Nectar Come From?
The nectar from thick leaves of agave has been used in Mexico and Southeast America for many years. It has been used to flavor different types of foods and different drinks, as well. The blue agave plant is the source of this widely used syrup.
Agave has been used primarily for the production of tequila. In fact, Mexico is the biggest exporter of tequila in the world with 124.84 million liters of tequila being exported to the United States alone in 2011. The total amount of tequila exported in 2011 to all countries from Mexico was 261.1 million liters. The process is pretty complicated, but essentially, it’s just boiling down and then fermenting the nectar into an alcohol.
The process used to convert natural nectar inside agave leaves into the end product on the shelf completely strips it of all of the beneficial compounds that are found in the original liquid in the leaves. Once the leaves have been growing for about 8 years, they are harvested and brought to a facility for extraction of the liquid. They are chopped up and pressed to get the sweet liquid out of them. Then the liquid is boiled to get it to the right consistency, filtered to get all the unnecessary ingredients out, and eventually bottled.
The fructans which are present in the natural form of agave nectar have been shown to improve insulin response and even affect our metabolism in a positive way. The addition of heat and other enzymes converts the beneficial liquid into something very similar to fructose corn syrup. There is no nutritional value found in the resulting product.
There are some products of agave nectar out there which the companies label as raw. However, all this means is that the heat used during processing was kept under 118 degrees, which preserves some of the enzymes found in the natural nectar. While technically this is a healthier version of the nectar, they are still ultimately nothing even remotely close to the raw and natural nectar found in agave. Their consistency is closer to syrup than anything else.
Why Are High Fructose Sweeteners Bad?
The GI, or glycemic index, of agave nectar is much lower than that of pure sugar. The GI rating is essentially a measurement of how much sugar a specific type of food can release into the blood once it’s consumed. The GI rating of agave nectar is roughly around 13, while white sugar is around 68, a drastic difference.
This much lower GI rating is the reason that so many companies market agave nectar as the healthier alternative to sugar. Foods which contain high GI ratings have been proven to affect our health negatively on many different levels. High GI rated foods are strongly linked with obesity.
Trials were done on mice to compare the difference between the effects of agave nectar and sugar. Throughout a single month, mice who consumed pure sugar gained more weight and showed much higher blood sugars and insulin levels than the mice that were fed agave nectar instead.
High weight gain is correlated with increased insulin and blood sugar levels. Thus, this study’s results regarding weight gain aren’t surprising.
The problem is that both sugar and agave nectar shouldn’t be compared in identical ways since the fructose in agave nectar affects our bodies in a different way than the glucose and sucrose found in regular sugar. Glucose is found in many healthy foods and is used as fuel in all living cells. It can be metabolized by literally any cell in our body. Unlike glucose, fructose can only be metabolized by our liver. Once this fructose is processed by our liver it is converted into fat and moved out as low-density lipoproteins, which raise blood triglycerides.
Unfortunately, these very low-density lipoproteins, or VLDL, are related to the development of plaque which is often found as deposits on the walls of our arteries. This plaque can add up over time and result in artery blockage. In addition, that same fructose can also increase LDL elements, referred to as bad cholesterol, and add to the accumulation of fat around the mid-section. All of this equates to very bad news for your heart.
But the bad news doesn’t stop there. Recent research also shows that high levels of fructose can also lead to deposits of fat in the liver, which eventually can turn into fatty liver disease. When alcohol isn’t in question, fatty liver disease can be undetected up to the point where it is seriously affecting the function of the liver.
Agave nectar is made up of about 85% fructose. Consumption of high fructose over a long period of time can lead to high blood sugar and increased insulin levels. Both of these can result in the development of Type 2 Diabetes and even cause metabolic syndrome.
Many people have a tendency to confuse the amount of fructose that comes from fruits and other whole foods with the amount of fructose in agave nectar. The fructose in processed agave nectar is super-concentrated. When you consume an apple or a pear, you get a load of fiber which is able to slow down your assimilation of fructose.
At the same time, this fiber also keeps you feeling full longer, which means that you will have an extremely hard time eating enough fruit to actively impact your blood sugar levels even remotely close to the way the highly concentrated heavy fructose like agave nectar can.
Dealing With Your Sweet Tooth
It’s not a mystery; sugar is terribly bad for your body. Cutting back on sugar or completely cutting it out of your diet will do wonders for your health. You should also try to stay away from artificial sweeteners in the process. Many of these sweeteners have neurotoxins in them and can easily compromise your health.
Alternative sweeteners should also be looked at with a keen eye since most of the available sugar substitutes aren’t much healthier than sugar itself. Some are even worse for you than sugar. Agave nectar is possibly in that category because of the severe damage it can do to your liver.
If you find it absolutely impossible to kick the habit, try sweeteners like stevia or erythritol. Both of these have been deemed to be safe even when consumed on daily basis. Just remember that too much of anything can be a bad thing.
Overall, it’s probably best for you to completely stay away from sugar. This can be a very complicated task since it’s found in pretty much any processed food. It is shocking finding out all of the types of foods that have massive amounts of sugar in them.
You would be amazed at how many products that you consume on a daily or weekly basis actually contain a large amount of sugar, especially those that aren’t particularly sweet.
Perhaps these companies utilize it for its addictive properties to force you into subconsciously using their products without even knowing why. We may never know why there is so much sugar out there, but one thing is clear: the best move is to avoid as much of it as possible.