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April 25, 2010

The Skinny on Agave Syrup

Here we go.

Once again, we hear about a miracle product, we all go out and buy it, and the critics start weighing in.

"Agave nectar (sometimes called agave syrup) is most often produced from the Blue Agaves that thrive in the volcanic soils of Southern Mexico. Agaves are large, spikey plants that resemble cactus or yuccas in both form and habitat, but they are actually succulents similar to the familiar Aloe Vera.

To make the agave nectar, sap is extracted from the pina, filtered, and heated at a low temperature, which breaks down the carbohydrates into sugars. Lighter and darker varieties of agave nectar are made from the same plants. Because of the low temperatures used in processing many varieties (under 118°F) raw foods enthusiasts generally regard agave nectar as a raw food.

Agave makes a good substitute for sugar for a variety of reasons. Agave nectar is a real sugar, as opposed to an artificial or non-nutritive sweetener. It has properties similar to many sugars with one important exception: its glycemic index is significantly lower. This makes it a healthier alternative to many processed AND natural sweeteners, including:

* white granulated sugar
* brown sugar
* demerara or turbinado sugar
* maple sugar crystals
* dehydrated cane juice
* date sugar

Agave nectar's low glycemic index makes it suitable for some individuals on low-carb or slow-carb diets (the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet) and for a variety of weight loss/management programs. Granulated sugar has an average glycemic index in the high 60's, while agave generally scores under 30. Foods with a glycemic index lower than 55 are considered low glycemic foods. Foods lower on the scale are less likely to trigger the body's mechanisms for fat storage. While it's not a "free" food for indiscriminate consumption, many individuals on a diet or weight maintenance plan find that agave is a healthier substitute for sugar, and that moderate use of agave nectar can help them enjoy foods that otherwise might be off limits."

All this sounds great, right? Not so fast...check this out.


"Agave syrup is a manmade sweetener which has been through a complicated chemical refining process of enzymatic digestion that converts the starch and fiber into the unbound, manmade chemical fructose. While high fructose agave syrup won’t spike your blood glucose levels, the fructose in it may cause mineral depletion, liver inflammation, hardening of the arteries, insulin resistance leading to diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

If you want something sweet, eat a piece of fruit, not a candy bar labeled as a “health food.” If you want to create something sweet, use sweeteners that are known to be safer. For uncooked dishes, unheated raw honey or dates work well. For cooked dishes or sweet drinks, a good organic maple syrup, or even freshly juiced apple juice or orange juice can provide delicious and relatively safe sweetness; dehydrated cane sugar juice or maple sugar may be used in moderation in cookies and desserts that contain nutritious ingredients and good fats such as butter, egg yolks and nuts."

My take? While the spin is most definitely designed to get us to buy agave, the critics have hedged their arguments using "studies" and not revealing their methods or means of a control group, so their critique, at this point, is opinion and not fact any more than the spin is fact. ANY sweetener, man-manipulated or not, should be used in moderation. As a lower-glycemic alternative, I will continue to use agave nectar in addition to other natural sweeteners in concert with each other to achieve certain results. And lets face it-it's not the first time something has been marketed as "healthy" when it may not be as good for us as it seems. I do feel it is a better choice than corn syrup, as rejecting corn syrup could influence the way our government subsidizes food production and farming practices. Maybe they'll start encouraging us to grow actual food again! So I guess the moral of the story is take it all with a grain of salt, do your research, make up your own mind, and carry on. :)

Happy Eating!

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