Agave nectar has been touted as a safe, all natural alternative to other sweeteners like refined white sugar and honey. Agave nectar is harvested from a desert plant that is native to Mexico. Many have begun using it as a sugar substitute, especially diabetics, who have been led to believe that agave nectar is safe for them to use because it has a low glycemic index. However, all agave nectars are not created equal, and agave nectar may not, in fact, be safe for use by diabetics.
The Scoop on Agave Nectar
Agave nectar is made from the sap of the agave plant, a desert plant similar to aloe vera. The plant is native to Mexico and its sap is also used to make tequila.
Agave nectar has been marketed as an all natural sweetener, but in fact agave nectar is not all natural. Most agave nectars are harvested and processed using chemicals. Because much of the agave on the U.S. market comes from Mexico, it may have been grown or processed using chemicals and pesticides that are now banned by U.S. law. Some manufacturers of agave nectar may mix the pure nectar with high fructose corn syrup, so read labels carefully. If you do buy agave nectar, select USDA Organic agave nectar, as it's guaranteed to be unprocessed and free of chemical impurities.
Processed agave nectar is high in fructose, and has been marketed as safe for diabetics because fructose doesn't cause spikes in blood sugar levels. However, that's because fructose is processed in the liver. Consuming the high levels of fructose found in agave nectar may not cause blood sugar spikes and it may not contribute to diabetes, but it's dangerous for the liver and digestive tract. Furthermore, agave nectar that is chemically processed or mixed with high fructose corn syrup during the manufacturing process is high on the glycemic index and will cause spikes in blood sugar.
Agave syrup is not a low calorie sweetener. The truth is that agave nectar contains the same number of calories as traditional white refined sugar--about 16 calories per teaspoon.
Use Agave Nectar with Caution
Diabetics may be able to use raw, unprocessed agave nectar as a sweetener, but should speak to their doctors first to make sure the high levels of fructose won't have any negative affect on their livers. Raw, unprocessed agave nectar doesn't have a long shelf life, so use it promptly.
Those who wish to use agave nectar as a safe natural sweetener should select raw, unprocessed agave nectar that is free from impurities. Look for USDA Organic certified agave nectar, and read labels carefully. Never buy agave nectar that isn't grown, harvested and manufactured in the United States.
An Agave Nectar Alternative
Diabetics searching for a low calorie, safe, natural sweetener should consider using stevia, an herbal sweetener that has no calories at all. Stevia is available in powder and tablet form, and you can also buy the plants through a commercial nursery and grow them yourself at home.