How Healthy Are Agave Sweeteners?

In recent years, many people seeking to eat healthier have searched for new types of sweeteners to use in baking or just to sweeten tea or coffee. Agave sweeteners have become the sweetener of choice for many people, but some health experts question the claims that agave sweeteners are actually better than other choices. Under particular scrutiny is the makeup of agave as far as its ratio of sucrose to fructose.

What Is Agave Syrup?

Agave syrup is derived from the agave plant. Several different types of agave are used to produce agave syrup, including the blue agave, which is the same plant from which tequila is derived. The nectar from the plant is processed to create a liquid sweetener similar to honey, but not as thick. Processing usually involves a heating process that concentrates the syrup, and is similar to the process used to create maple syrup. The color and flavor of the final product depends on how the nectar is processed, as well as how much processing it is subjected to. Raw agave is darker and has a stronger flavor, while more processed syrup has a more neutral flavor and a lighter color.

Agave syrup is considerably sweeter than regular table sugar, meaning that a smaller amount is necessary in cooking or for sweetening drinks. In addition, agave has a lower glycemic index than most processed sugars. Some nutritionists recommend agave as a sweetener for diabetics or others who need to use a sweetener that will metabolize more slowly than processed white sugar.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Agave Syrup

The lower glycemic index–27 as compared to 83 for honey–is the main nutritional benefit cited in relation to agave sweeteners. However, some nutritionists have questioned the value of agave as an everyday sweetener due to its high fructose content. Fructose must be processed through the liver, and some doctors believe overuse of fructose can lead to liver problems. This has particularly come into the public eye with discussion of high fructose corn syrup, commonly used in the US to sweeten everything from bread to soda.

The percentage of fructose to glucose in agave sweeteners is quite high, estimated to be from fifty to ninety percent. The exact ratio depends on the specific source and level of processing of the sweetener, and so can vary greatly. Those concerned about excessive fructose consumption often find this to be bothersome.

On the other hand, those who use agave syrup as a sweetener tend to use smaller quantities of sweetener to begin with, as they are focused on overall health and balance in their diets. Because of this, they are likely to use less agave sweetener as well as less of other kinds of sweeteners, which could negate the possible detrimental effects of the higher percentage of fructose.

Those considering using agave sweetener as an across-the-board replacement for table sugar should consult with a doctor or nutritionist, especially if other conditions such as diabetes must be taken into consideration. As with any sweetener, agave can be a healthful addition to the diet if used in moderation.


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