Is Agave Healthy?

Is Agave Healthy Is Agave Healthy?

I often get asked: “Is Agave Healthy?” Agave has gained popularity in recent years as a “natural” sweetener and many people use it as an alternative to high fructose corn syrup or sugar. Agave syrup is derived from the Agave plant, which is also used to make Tequila.

Parts of the Agave plant have been used medicinally for years, and most people are most familiar with the fermented form: Tequila. Unfortunately, Agave doesn’t live up to its new found reputation as a healthy food! I don’t use agave and won’t consume it for several reasons:

Agave is High in Fructose

Agave originally gained popularity because it is lower in glucose than other sweeteners. While this is true, and it doesn’t raise blood sugar as much as some sweeteners, it is extremely high in fructose and in many cases, it contains a higher percentage of fructose than high fructose corn syrup. In fact, HFCS is (on average) 55% fructose while agave can be 70-97% fructose!

Fructose doesn’t affect blood sugar in the same was as glucose but it does contribute to insulin resistance and other health problems. This article explains:

“In addition, fructose poses a danger to your cardiovascular system and could increase your risk for metabolic syndrome and heart disease. Unlike glucose, fructose can only be broken down in the liver. As it gets metabolized, uric acid and free radicals form, which can trigger inflammation and damage cells. Plus, one of the most dangerous final products of fructose metabolism is triglycerides, which can contribute to the fatty arterial plaques responsible for cardiovascular disease. High triglycerides are particularly dangerous for women, whose risk for cardiovascular disease rises three times as much for every single unit increase in triglycerides compared to men.”

Chemicals in Agave

When you read terms like “Agave Nectar” or “Agave Syrup,” you may think of a natural product that is made by simply heating the sap of a plant for a period of time (similar to how maple syrup is made). Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.

Agave nectar/syrup is not made from the leaves or sap of the Agave plant, but from the starchy root/bulb. Agave root is very high in inulin (mainly fructose) which is converted in to a “syrup” through a chemical process. This process involved up to a dozen chemicals, including genetically modified enzymes.

According to Bianchi, agave “nectar” and HFCS “are indeed made the same way, using a highly chemical process dependent on genetically modified enzymes”. The manufacturing process also calls for caustic acids, clarifiers, filtration chemicals and so forth in the conversion of agave starches. The result is a high level of highly refined fructose in the remaining syrup, along with some remaining inulin. (source)

Agave is often also sprayed with harsh chemicals when it is growing and some shipments of Agave in to the US have been refused because they tested too high for pesticide levels.

Agave is also high in sapoins, which are controversial but not needed by the body and are best avoided. As this article explains:

“However, the truth is that the saponins found in many varieties of agave plants are toxic steroid derivatives, capable of disrupting red blood cells and producing diarrhea and vomiting, 39 to be avoided during pregnancy because they might cause or contribute to miscarriage by stimulating blood flow to the uterus.40 At the very least, agave products should carry a warning label indicating that the product may cause a miscarriage.”

Bottom Line

Agave is high in fructose and potentially high in chemicals and sapoins. While moderate fructose consumption in its natural state (fruit) can be part of a healthy lifestyle, concentrated fructose can be harmful to the liver and over extended periods of time can cause health problems. Agave syrup as we know it today was invented in the 1990s and there is no biological reason to consume it so it is best avoided.

Do you use Agave syrup? Ready to switch? Share below!

Reader Comments

  1. Jackie says

    Can you please do a post on other types of sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and stevia also? There’s a lot of conflicting information out there and I’d love your opinion on this!
    Love your blog :)

  2. Bre says

    Would there be a healthier alternative… for instance, what would personally use in a recipe that called for 2-3 teaspoons of agave? Thanks!

  3. Liz Lewis says

    Hey Katie! Thanks for posting this I have been doing lots of research into agave syrup because I was considering using it in place of sugar. Is there something you would recommend in place of it. I really don’t want to have to part with lemonade or half tea/half lemonade because both are favorite summertime drinks but… they are loaded with sugar. If I have to give them up I will but I really don’t want to. If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them!

    • Elizabeth says

      Personally, I use raw honey, 100%, organic honey. I find that of all the sweeteners out there, honey is the best because it (when raw) has enzymes and nutrients that make it a food. Granted, honey does have sugar, but I don’t eat it by the spoonful. Crunchy Betty has a honey buying guide that is wonderful for figuring out misleading labels, and Empowered Sustenance has interesting articles on honey and sweeteners. Check it out!

  4. Genevieve says

    Tried agave syrup, thinking it was a not-so-processed sweetener since it’s touted as a replacement for “processed sugars”. Thought it was gross, and upon closer inspection, realized it was very processed. Not wasting my money on that again. I will stick with my local honeys and maple syrup, thanks.
    (Trying rapadura this week for baking, as I’m not skilled enough to switch wet for dry, and my partner isn’t overly enthused with my non-processed quest – still uses white sugar, yuck! If anyone knows how to make an irish apple tart that tastes normal with maple syrup (not honey, he’s picky), I’d love a recipe!)

  5. Mariel says

    I have definitely been lured in by products boasting their usage of agave as a “natural” sweetener. I’ve been hearing the secret evils of agave from a few sources, and now you, Wellness Mama, and I’m so bummed that the search is still on for a decent sweetener! What do you recommend? Honey? I’ve heard a lot about Stevia, but have also heard conflicting views like with agave.

  6. Briana says

    This thoroughly depresses me…I thought I found an amazing substitute for sugar. I’ve been spending a ton of money getting organic even! So do you use like organic raw cane sugar or what is the best to use? Honey? I don’t understand how they can say it is organic when it is made with a very chemical process. When something says organic does that only mean it is grown without pesticides?

      • Robin says

        Any thoughts on Xyltiol? My 6 year old son has type 1 diabetes, and we have been using it a bit, as well as coconut sugar for baking.

      • M says

        actually, part of organic production is not using *synthetic* pesticides. There are naturally derived pesticides that can be used in organic production. They are however, still potentially dangerous if misused. However, there are still a lot of good points to purchasing organic products-though I would use caution if you are purchasing imported products from outside the US or Canada. Regulations are different. Just a side-bar comment for you.

        I like using brown sugar, since it doesn’t have all the other compounds removed. These compounds can aid the body in dealing with the sugar-similar to maple syrup and honey. Still from sugar beets or sugar cane, but not quite as refined. I also know a few people who really like molasses on their pancakes.

  7. Natalie says

    Shoot. We have 2 giant Costco size things of agave nectar, but after reading this post I want to switch to just raw honey. Is there any way you know of that I could put the remaining agave nectar to work externally? Seems like a waste to throw away. Thanks!

    • Carolyn DiLemme says

      Take it back and get your money back. Costco will give you your money back. Spread the word by telling them why your retuning. I would use organic honey

    • Judith says

      Costco guarantees satisfaction so you can request a refund even if you have used some of the Agave.

      • Macrina says

        I had the SAME thing — great deal on very ‘sizeable’ bottles… but the receipt is lost in no-man’s-land (IE: the bottomless pit that is our paper recycilng bin). Likely they won’t take back without a receipt.

        Any other suggestions on putting it to use? Catching ants? Re-routing slugs?art project adhesive?

  8. Dana says

    I am so glad you posted this. I have been telling my friends to stay away from in for a long time. When I see people using it in recipes, it makes me think that we are not like minded when it comes healthy choices. I was happy when Dr Oz recanted his support of the product. I use raw organic honey and I love it. Thanks Katie!

  9. Amber says

    This isn’t really relevant to the article itself, but I finally am at a place where I remember and have time to write something -

    A few weeks ago, your blog posts stopped being pushed in their entirety to Feedly. While I can understand not wanting to have the whole post come through, there is nothing but the title in the updates, which means I don’t even get a few sentences to determine if the post is something relevant to my needs. Instead of reading a few sentences, deciding if I’m interested, and potentially clicking through to read the comments, I usually just clear your posts so they’re out of the way. At this rate, it means that I’ll probably end up unsubscribing to your feed.

    I wasn’t sure if you were aware about this recent change, or if you did it on purpose. I just thought I’d throw out the feedback, and let you know my thoughts.

    Thanks

  10. Justine says

    Like many others I’ve been fooled in the past with the whole agave thing. Katie, what are your thoughts on stevia and xylitol as alternatives to sugar?
    Thanks x

  11. Ryanne Shafer says

    Hi Katie!

    I use Stevia, but read that some powdered brands have been bleached? How can you tell which brands haven’t been bleached, and is this a good sweetener?

  12. Emily says

    What about raw agave nectar? I have multiple sclerosis and raw agave nectar does not increase symptoms. White sugar, Brown sugar makes my symptoms worse. Anything processed.

  13. Tracy Spangler says

    Wow! I didn’t know any of this! I bought some Agave Syrup several months back, but never used it because I didn’t like the taste Thank you for sharing so many helpful details, that I had no idea about! I truly did think it was healthier, and much better than high fructose corn syrup. Out of curiosity, where does brown rice syrup fit in as far as a better sweetener to use? Is it better or is it processed like corn syrup as well? Thank you so much for this valuable information!

  14. Carol says

    Just a note to those subbing honey for agave or anything else: When you add honey to hot foods, or cook it, it looses all the good stuff in it. Just be sure that you aren’t heating it or adding it to hot foods like tea.

  15. Pam says

    It can certainly be very confusing, but I’m not convinced that all agave is necessarily bad and I do use it (Volcanic Nectar) periodically in small amounts, sometimes mixing with other sweeteners such as xylitol, honey, pure maple syrup. And sometimes by itself.

    I’m wondering if the fructose level of agave listed in the article should be adjusted to 50-97% instead of 70-97% It would if the information from Global Goods is correct.

    You can go to the website and read for yourself (yourselves) or use whatever other means of research you have available. I’ve inserted segments from their website concerning their manufacturing which gives a different view of the extraction process than what is presented above. Written on the labels of the bottles I have: lowest amount of natural fructose, lowest glycemic index tested with diabetics.

    If truth is provided on the website and if perhaps their agave is not so bad for health and does offer some nutritional or health benefits, then there is an added bonus of assisting those in less fortunate areas of the world by purchasing from them.

    http://www.globalgoods.com/manufacturingagavenectar.html

    The article is much longer but here are a few segments from their website:

    There are many kinds of agave throughout Mexico

    The agave base is then removed and taken to a facility to where it is heated to no more than 118 degrees F in a giant “pressure cooker” of sorts to get the juices flowing. The base or ball of the plant is then chopped up, filtered, sent through a centrifuge and poured into the bottles you get today. There are other less expensive ways to produce the agave in a faster way, but Volcanic Nectar prefers the more traditional methods for health reasons.

    It is derived from the carbohydrates present in the agave plant through a totally natural heating process with no chemicals involved.

    Fructose is a simple sugar found mainly in fruits and vegetables. Due to the predominance of fructose 50% in our agave nectar, our organic agave nectar is much sweeter than sucrose. Thus, a smaller amount yields the same sweetness but fewer calories than sucrose

    Inulin is used increasingly in foods, because it has excellent nutritional and functional characteristics…. It also increases calcium absorption and possibly magnesium absorption, while promoting probiotic bacteria.

  16. Ann Marie says

    Great post Katie! Would you please comment about organic raw agave that is not heated and highly refined and processed? In my research I have found sources that claim raw agave and refined is still a good safe sweetener alternative. Your thoughts?

  17. Kimberlee A. says

    anyone listen to the Food Revolution Summit?It just ended but I did get to catch a few of the interviews-very informative. They also said agave isn’t good but it’s marketed as good>>>>>sigh. They recommended cinnamon and vanilla.

  18. Sarah says

    Hi Katie, thank you for this information :-) Do you have any thoughts about coconut nectar? Sarah x

  19. Lauren says

    I use Rice Malt Syrup which is very low in fructose compared to Agave and Honey? What do you think of using Rice Malt Syrup as a sweetener?

  20. Ty says

    Hi Katie,
    Thanks so much for the info –I’m glad to hear the truth about Agave. I use oligosaccharide (isomalt, made from corn / rice) believing its benefits for intestinal health. Are you familiar with this one? I love your blog. Than you.

    • Louise says

      Isn’t isomalt the sugar used to make sugar sculptures and such? We were told not to eat it, as it could cause intestinal troubles.

  21. Chandra says

    Hi I am stunned by this article! I have been using Agave for 3 years. Within those years I has two miscarriages and one birth. I use it in everything and thought many of the articles written against it were hype due to an article from coconut bliss ice creams blog article on their source. Please let us know where you got your info on this product. I can’t have sugar, maple syrup or honey so if agaves out I guess I’ll have to experiment with fruit sugar. What do you know about fructose a white powder fruit sugar they sell from bobs mill? Thanks

  22. Jazzy says

    I’m going to send this article to my hubby’s email because he likes this in his herbal tea every now and than. I use raw honey.

  23. Joanne says

    My naturopath/dietician recommended RAW organic agave opposed to bottles labelled without the “RAW”. This means the agave is not heated at such high temperatures therefore has less fructose.

  24. Nan says

    Katie, It would be great if you could explain why honey, which has a lot of fructose is healthy. I know it has lots of enzymes if it is raw, but I would love some help with this sticking point (no pun intended!).

  25. Jennifer says

    I’ve heard and read from multiple sources that agave syrup is not healthy, but it seems to have created a bandwagon for itself. People are looking for sugar alternatives and companies are really pushing products that are no better.

    I love all things sweet and have done quite a bit of research to find healthy options. This is what I have decided on: raw local honey or organic maple syrup for just about everything; some times coconut palm sugar for coffee, tea, and some baking; whole cane sugar/rapadura/sucanat sometimes as alternatives for brown sugar in recipes; raw/turbinado sugar–sparingly–when I just have to have that crunch on top of a muffin; organic white sugar only every now and then ground to powder for something calling for powdered sugar. I mostly stick with the honey and maple syrup, but keep small amounts of the others on hand.

    I should work on my sweet tooth, but I’ve stayed pretty healthy for 41 years. I think eating plenty of other good food helps to balance things out and stabilize blood sugar levels. Also, adding organic cinnamon to coffee, oatmeal and baked goods helps me not miss sugar so much.

    Of course a diabetic must consider many more factors.

  26. Amy says

    When I tried using agave it made me feel hypoglycemic and just generally icky. That was enough for me to stay away.

  27. Michaela says

    I stopped using Agave about 18 months ago for this very reason. Luckily, I hadn’t used it much prior to then – I was just experimenting with alternative sweeteners. I don’t even consume honey anymore but according to the I Quit Sugar people, Rice Malt Syrup is ok. Anyone know more about that product?
    Thanks,
    M

Join the Conversation...

Your email address will not be published. Please read the comment policy.