Agave nectar is a sweetener made from the Agave Tequiliana plant in Mexico. Because the syrup is thought to have a lower glycemic index than sugar, many use it as a sweetener to prevent or control diabetes or as a sugar alternative to reduce calories. Pregnancy is a time of a woman’s life where she is often concerned about the quality of her diet, and may wish to use agave nectar in place of sugar, thinking it may be a healthier alternative – but is it safe?
What Is Agave?
Agave nectar is produced by expressing the juice from the core of the agave plant, called the pina. The juice is filtered and heated, producing primarily a fructose sugar. Agave nectar looks a lot like honey, but it is sweeter and less viscous. Its color can range from light to dark, depending upon the degree of processing.
Agave and Gestational Diabetes
One of the most common pregnancy complications is pregnancy-induced diabetes, or gestational diabetes. Women who have this condition are advised to limit refined carbohydrates, particularly sugar. Agave nectar is promoted as “organic” and “natural,” which could lead women to believe that it is safe. The processes used to make agave nectar, in fact, are very similar to the processes used to make high fructose corn syrup, which should be avoided as a sweetener for women with gestational diabetes.
Agave and Cholesterol
The refined fructose in agave nectar may also contribute to high cholesterol levels. Fructose is not converted into blood sugar, but into triglycerides that circulate in the blood stream. Elevated triglyceride levels can lead to a hardening of the arteries and to increasing levels of body fat. Both of these conditions should be avoided in women who are particularly at risk for developing the pregnancy complication preeclampsia, a serious medical condition characterized by high blood pressure and proteinuria.
Elevated cholesterol levels may also be dangerous for the infant, leading to large birth weight babies, and possible long-term complications such as childhood obesity.
Agave Contains Saponins
Saponins are a natural chemical found in desert plants that contain a steroid nucleus. These herbal components should be avoided in pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester, because they can cause uterine contractions that can lead to miscarriage. They may also cause a weakening of the uterine lining, according to Tyler’s Honest Herbal.
Agave May Promote Menstruation and Birth Defects
Some herbs such as agave and aloe vera are classified as emmenagogues, which stimulate blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus, and are menstrual promoters, particularly in high doses. Those in early pregnancy, or those who are at high risk for miscarriage, should not consume agave nectar.
Herbal preparations are not regulated under the Food and Drug Administration, and some therefore are not well studied in pregnancy. Agave is considered a potential teratogen, which means that it may disturb the development of the fetus and cause birth defects.