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Agave: Health Food, Health Fad or Health Fraud? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Novick, M.S., R.D.   
Friday, 07 August 2009 13:23

Agave: Health Food, Health Fad or Health Fraud?

Agave has become the sweetener of choice for many health enthusiasts. It is appearing on store shelves everywhere, in many new products and being promoted in magazines and cooking shows. One of the main benefits we hear is that it is lower in the gylcemic index. Is Agave really a health food and something you should be including in your diet?

No, but to understand why, let us take a closer look at the issue.

To begin with, we have to understand some points about fructose which is the main form of sugar in Agave. Fructose is metabolized differently than other sugars. Instead of going into the blood stream (where it could raise blood sugar), most of it goes directly to the liver. This is why Fructose has a lower Glycemic index as the GI is based on a foods influence on blood sugar.

While many promote this as a positive, as the consumption of fructose tends not to raise blood sugar, fructose, or any concentrated caloric sweeteners high in fructose, can cause elevated levels of triglycerides and increase someones risk for heart disease. It may also somewhat increase the risk of metabolic syndrome/insulin resistance. And these effects are most likely in those who are insulin resistant, and/or overweight and/or obese. It also may not effect the satiety mechanism as well as pure sucrose.

For the record, these are all the reasons we are being told to avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) as it has a higher level of fructose than regular table sugar or regular corn syrup.

Here is the real irony in all of this.

On the one hand, consumers, especially the health conscious, are avoiding High Fructose Corn Syrup like the plague because the level of fructose in it is higher (55%) than in regular table sugar/sucrose (50%). They consider the higher level of fructose a problem. The fact that is has a lower GI than table sugar is ignored.

On the other hand, Agave syrup has become a popular sweetener because it is said to have a lower GI. They consider this to be a health benefit. The fact that it has the highest level of fructose than any other sweetener is ignored.

So, are higher levels of fructose in a concentrated caloric sweetener good or bad?

As you know from reading my writings, the Glycemic index (and the glycemic load) are very poor indicators of how healthy a food is and I recommend avoiding choosing foods by it.

However, as Agave is being promoted because of its low Glycemic index, lets look at the Glycemic index issue.

GI (GL)Of Sugars/Sweeteners
Fructose 13 (2)
Sucrose 65 (7)
Glucose 100 (10)
Honey 61 (depending on variety as ratio can be 35-74 for GI and 6-18 for the GL)
Agave Syrup 13 (2) (depending on variety)

High Fructose Corn Syrup would be similar to a honey that has a similar fructose/glucose ratio as the composition and ratio would be the same. So, lets say a GI of 45 (and a GL of 9) as a honey with the same ratio of fructose/glucose tested at 45 (and 9). HFCS has a lower GI (GL) that table sugar because of the higher level of fructose. So, the higher the percentage of fructose the lower the GI with pure fructose being the lowest.

So, are higher levels of fructose in a concentrated caloric sweetener good or bad?

Because of the concern about the elevated levels of fructose in High Fructose Corn Syrup, stores like Whole Foods will not carry any product that has HFCS in it. Yet on the other hand, they have a full line of Agave Syrup products on their shelf and carry many products sweetened with Agave syrup. But realize that Agave syrup has a fructose content of about 70-90% which is way higher (worse) than HFCS.

Therefore, if you think fructose is bad, then Agave must be much worse then HFCS.

If you think Agave syrup is good, than HFCS is not that bad and is at least better than table sugar.

So again, are higher levels of fructose in a concentrated caloric sweetener good or bad?

We just can't argue it both ways.

The bottom line, no matter which one you choose to use, quantity is the real issue.
Therefore, limit your consumption of all refined and/or concentrated sweeteners and if heart disease, elevated triglycerides, insulin resistance, diabetes and/or weight are concerns of yours, avoid the ones higher in fructose especially Agave..

In Health
Jeff

 

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