How Agave Nectar Broke My Heart: Why This “Natural Sweetener” Really Isn’t That Good For You

Wednesday Aug 1, 2012 - By - - Comments (84)

Published Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

by Alex Ortner
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Whether you’re a raw vegan, vegan, vegetarian, or simply a conscious, careful eater, you’ve had to give up certain guilty pleasures, be they salty, greasy, meaty or sweet. Of course, there are always substitutes that help you get your fix, but in some cases, they’re just as bad or even worse than what you’re trying to avoid.

Need an example? Sadly, you don’t need to look any further than agave syrup.

A best-selling item in health food stores and groceries for almost two decades now, organic raw agave syrup or nectar has been touted as a natural, processing-free, miracle sweetener, perfect for raw vegans, vegetarians, and even diabetics thanks to its low glycemic index. It truly is everywhere, from the raw cakes and lemonades at your favorite vegan restaurant to all sorts of “healthy” goodies at your grocery of choice.

Here’s the shocking and downright disappointing truth, however: organic raw agave syrup isn’t what it’s said to be, and it’s actually not that good for you! Surprised? Convinced that agave is a healthy sweetener? Let’s debunk this persistent, aggravating myth.

Agave Syrup is Not Raw

Never mind what you see on the label; despite being labeled as “raw”, agave syrup is most certainly not. You can blame this on lax regulation and enforcement of raw food labeling by the FDA. The truth is, agave syrup is manufactured by processing the pineapple-like bulb of the agave plant with heat, enzymes and various chemicals until a sweet concentrate is produced. It’s far from raw, and not at all natural.

Furthermore, it’s not a traditional sweetener that has been used in Mexico for generations as is commonly believed. Although the agave cactus has historically been used to make tequila, agave “nectar” is a laboratory creation that was developed merely two decades ago in the 1990s.

Agave Syrup is Actually Quite Similar to High Fructose Corn Syrup

The syrup created by this process, which is bottled and sold to you as a healthy sweetener is delivery mechanism for extreme amounts of fructose. If you’re not familiar with fructose, it’s a simple sugar which is found in nearly anything sweet that comes in a box, can, bottle or bag at your supermarket, and it plays a huge role in the ballooning rate of obesity in this country.

Although fructose is found in fruits in vegetables, it’s often a very small amount, and it comes “packaged” with a whole host vitamins, fiber and minerals – good stuff that your body needs.The problem lies with refined sugars, be they simple table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. These extremely fructose-dense sugars are shoveled into the prepared and processed foods we eat every day and create all kinds of long-term health problems. Here’s why you should limit your fructose intake:

·      Fructose is digested in your liver and is converted into visceral fat, the kind of fat that your body stores around your internal organs. Excess amounts of visceral fat have been linked to everything from cardiovascular disease to Type II diabetes.
·      An excessive amount of fructose has been linked to imbalances in gut microflora, which can seriously harm your digestion and contribute to everything from unhealthy skin to mental diseases.
·      It can wreck your appetite… literally. High fructose consumption can make your body resistant to leptin, a hormone that tells your body when you’re full. As such, a common result of diet high in fructose is a larger appetite that can lead to weight gain.
·      An increase in fructose also means an increase in uric acid, which can result in high blood pressure.

These are just a few unhealthy side effects of fructose; the truth is, a diet high in fructose has been linked to everything from cancer growth, memory loss and inflammation, which can lead to all kinds of minor and chronic diseases.

Here’s where it gets truly scary: High fructose corn syrup has become one of the chief villains in the Standard American Diet (S.A.D. for short) in recent years thanks to its high fructose content of about 55%. Because it’s in so many of the store-bought foods around us, it means we’re all exposed to a lot more fructose than our parents ever were.

Are you ready for the shocker?

Agave syrup has a fructose content hovering somewhere around 70%, if not higher! That’s almost 20% more fructose than high fructose corn syrup.

What that means is that this “healthy”, “natural” sweetener is more likely to make you fat and sick, not only because of its high fructose content, but also because you’re likely to use quite a bit of it because think it’s safe.

Furthermore, although agave syrup classifies as a low glycemic sweetener, that’s entirely because of its high fructose content. The glycemic index measures how quickly a food will increase our blood sugar, and this information is crucial to those with diabetes. Because fructose is processed by the liver and doesn’t enter the bloodstream, fructose-rich agave syrup doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar. Although that may be a good thing, the high fructose content of agave syrup can impact your health in so many other negative ways.

It’s a shame that this kind of fraudulent labeling has misled so many people who are making a concerted effort to live a healthier life and help others do the same. It’s time for this to change.

What You Can Do

For starters, stop buying agave syrup or agave nectar, which are really the same thing. It doesn’t matter if the bottle is labeled raw, organic, or both. It’s not good for you.

Instead, consider whole leaf stevia, or sweetening your foods with dates or freshly squeezed fruit juice. The truth is, if you eat more whole organic vegetables and fruits, your cravings for sweets will steadily decrease. Fruits will become the sweet, natural, juicy treats they’re meant to be. It’s a strong motivator for not needing added sweeteners at all.

Next, spread the word! If you go to a friend’s house or vegan or vegetarian restaurant where agave nectar is being used, let them know this ugly truth about their sweetener of choice. It might be a bit uncomfortable, but you don’t have to be obnoxious about it. Let your genuine concern help you find the right moment and the right words to share this info. In the long run, it’ll result in happier, healthier families and customers.

I imagine you’re a bit surprised, and that’s understandable. The most important thing is that you don’t allow yourself to be misled by this fraudulent product anymore. Life is sweet enough without it!

To your health,

Alex Ortner

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Do you currently use agave?  If so, did this article change your perspective on agave?  Leave your comments below.

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84 Comments on this post

  1. Frank says:

    If you did your homework and this is correct, I will stop using raw agave. I’m not surprised because everything on the market that is processed is not fit to eat. Keep doing the research. Thanks, Frank

  2. Terri says:

    Dang! I knew it was too good to be true! I am not raw yet, but was using agave in small amounts to help get me there. Thanks for the info. It’s just sad that the people who are marketing this stuff and other things truly believe we are all that stupid and gullible. Don’t they know that someone will find out the TRUTH??

  3. Jeni says:

    I had nearly run out of agave nectar and was going to buy some more – well, that’s one thing I can cross off my shopping list!

  4. Rhoda says:

    I will never buy it again. I had been giving it to my grandchildren in place of maple syrup. Thank you for this informative article. – Rhoda M

  5. Mary says:

    Thanks for the information. Always good to know the truth even
    when you wish it weren’t so.

  6. Barry Davies says:

    I agree with Alex about all procesed sugars. I grow my own greens and stevia for sweetening in Ezygrow Planters to make my Green smoothies.No chemicals or artificial fertilisers.

  7. krista says:

    I use agave in my tea everyday! , I knew that it was not the greatest sweetner but I had no idea it was that bad! I will immediately stop using it! Thank you for the info

  8. Anne says:

    Ah, crap! Just when you think you’ve finally found a good sweetener. How about xylitol, the kind from birch trees, not GMO corn?

  9. Kathy says:

    I never used it, I had a gut feeling something was wrong with it.

  10. fran says:

    I have heard this before and stopped using Agave. However I have recently begun purchasing Sohgave which says on the label Raw Blue Agave Nectar 118 degrees. Since they have the temperature on the label, I figured it was actually raw. I will check further into it.

  11. Jenny says:

    The following information from Loving Earth, Australia
    Loving Earth update
    Recently there has been controversy regarding the use and promotion of agave syrup as a health food. Agave Nectar – The high fructose health fraud an article written by Rami Nagel and Beware of the Agave Nectar Health Food Hype by Dr Mercola are the sources of the confusion. Both authors have presented some valid information regarding conventionally grown and processed Blue Webber Agave. However, the information presented is not an accurate representation of Loving Earth’s Agave products.

    Our agave is a Wild Maguey (Salmiana Variety). It is wildcrafted, certified organic and organically processed at low temperature. Loving Earth works closely with the Indigenous Association of Ixmiquilpan. We have met our growers in person and seen their operation. Our growers do not produce tequila they run a small-scale operation producing only agave syrup. Our agave is raw – it is vacuum evaporated at 40º, and a certified organic, vegan enzyme is used to break down the sugars. It contains 70-75% fructose unlike the Blue Webber variety, which can have fructose levels as high as 90%. Visit http://www.raw-chocolate.net/indigenous-growers.php?country=mexico and click on the photos next to the Wild Maguey text to view the operation for yourself. Photo number seven shows the vacuum evaporator.

    Doctor Mercola states that ‘agave nectar as a final product is mostly chemically refined fructose’. The sugars in our agave nectar come from the breakdown of the inulin molecule through the introduction of the certified organic vegan enzyme. It is in no way chemically refined, there are no chemicals involved in any part of the production or packaging process. Our growers do not use chemicals, ionic resins, sulphuric/hydrochloric acid, dicalite or clarimex in the manufacturing of our agave syrup. Australian Certified Organic have audited the harvesting and processing of our agave syrup. They have verified that our agave syrup is pure and that no chemicals or genetically modified organisms are used. They have also verified that it is harvested sustainably. It is refined only as much as the excess moisture is removed from the juice of the plant to prevent fermentation.

    Another erroneous statement was that all dark agave syrup is burnt. The light and clear varieties of Agave have undergone filtration, which is why they are lighter in colour. Our Dark Agave Syrup is richer in minerals, which results in its darker colour. Unlike high fructose corn syrup that stores its energy as starch, agave syrup stores its energy as inulin, also known as fructans or levulose. Inulin is typically found in roots or rhizomes. There is no starch in agave syrup. Inulin bypasses digestion in the stomach and small intestine and is digested in the large intestine. Inulin actually feeds the probiotic bacteria in our digestive system.

    Agave syrup is a concentrated fruit juice. Like all sweeteners, Loving Earth believes that agave syrup should be consumed in moderation. We believe that agave syrup is a healthier sweetener alternative compared to cane sugar. When used respectfully agave syrup does have health promoting properties. Overconsumption and inappropriately using any food leads to health issues and imbalances of our bodies. Agave syrup should be used in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

  12. Not THAT good for you? My research (from Mercola etc.)indicates that it’s worse than high fructose corn syrup! Dr. Mercola has been saying this for years but sadly, the raw fooders seem to be the last to know…

  13. Kelly says:

    I bought it because it was apparently raw, natural and LOW on glycemic index, so I guess thats that. Thankyou for the alert.

  14. jackie says:

    praise the LORD, hallelujah, AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!! dr. mercola and others have been saying this all along, and i wish the raw food community would catch on to how unhealthy agave is. i don’t buy any of those organic raw “health” bars because they all have agave in them. some of the “healthy” organic ice creams (coconut ice cream) look amazing, except for the agave nectar. i refuse to buy those. hopefully more people will come to this realization just like you did. thank you!!

  15. Karen says:

    I can’t get use to the after taste of stevia. It’s just like those artificial sweeteners. So I have been using agave for a few years now. Recently, I started using crystalized xylitol. But after reading this article on agave, I’m going to research xylitol too.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    I purchased Agava as a substitute for syrup on my blueberry pancakes and felt good about having it! I think I am as crushed as you are because I love pancakes!

  17. John says:

    Aside from your valid points, there might also be bad vibes if the ‘Cartel’ owns the manufacturing facilities where the ‘nectar’ is made……

  18. Linda Epton says:

    I have been using agave now for about 4 years believing it to be the good stuff. No wonde I can’t shift the “belly fat” I feel disappointed and cheated. pity I don’t like the aftertaste of Stevia

  19. Aurora says:

    Wow, an eye opener article. I’ve been using agave for many years and after reading your article, will never buy Agave again! Thank you.

  20. Nate says:

    I absolutely love the information. I am ready to rid my kitchen and diet of it today. I like that alternatives were listed at the end. Also I would like to see references to the source of information. One of the commonly experienced frustrations in the pursuit of true health is conflicting information and “fads”. Just two years ago agave was great and suggested by alternative experts. Solid connection with intuition followed up by accurate, supported information gives me the platform to minimize the puppet effect, to live and spread full, genuine health.

  21. Kathleen says:

    I feel duped! Next will be a Goji Berry scandal (lol) I think we need to consume foods in their natural state, period! In my generation there were few really fat people, but that’s because we ate meals at regular times and a snack was not a bag or box of something. A was an apple! We eat way too much and do less and wonder why were not feeling all that great. What do we really know anyway?
    :) Kathleen

  22. Where did you get this information from? I have been a lover of agave for many years now. I use a little to sweeten my teas and smoothies. Dr. Oz is always saying that it is good for you. Perhaps you need to be on his show and share what you just wrote with him. What about honey? Is it better than agave?

  23. Jack says:

    Once I looked at how thick agave was I knew something was wrong. If you took the pulp of a maple tree and tried to get more syrup out of it you would get all kinds of other things in it and would have to use chemicals to nutralize or remove them.

    It just never made sense to me.

    Thanks for the article and bringing the issue to light.

  24. Suzi Cooper says:

    I am a certified holistic nutritional consultant who has successfully used raw agave syrup as a sugar/honey/maple syrup replacement while on a low-carb Primal-template diet. I spent 2 years as a vegetarian, with two 3-4 month periods as a raw vegan. Over that 2 years, I gained about 50 pounds. I discovered Metabolic Typing and ancestral diets, so decided to give up vegetarianism and go Primal.I am of Celtic descent and am a metabolic Protein Type who is extremely carb-sensitive. I also have a raging sweet tooth, so I knew I was going to need some tasty dessert options if I were going to stick to my diet. My goal was to lose 80 pounds. I use the Truvia brand stevia-based sweetener in my tea and coffee and some desserts, but I make a raw fudge and nut-flour muffins, etc., with raw agave syrup. In the past year, I’ve lost 75 pounds. The agave syrup I use is raw, organic and a deep, dark color. I do not experience any blood sugar peaks/crashes when I use it, as I do when I use dates or cane sugar. I think it is wrong to vilify ALL agave syrup. While the light-colored syrup is highly processed and can be problematic for people, the dark, “raw” syrup can be beneficial for those who need a sugar-replacement that won’t spike their insulin levels, if used in moderation.
    Suzi Cooper
    Nutritional Consultant

  25. Tom says:

    Thank you for posting this important information. It is good to have one more voice warning against the dangers of this so called food.

    I have been advising family and friends against agave for several years. My wife is diabetic and she avoids the stuff like the plague.

    For more detailed and referenced information on the dangers of agave, check out Dr. Mercola’s article in the Huffington Post two years ago:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/agave-this-sweetener-is-f_b_537936.html

  26. Lucy Roberts says:

    To Jenny from Loving Earth, Australia

    I really appreciate the thorough explanation of how Loving Hearts Agave is produced. Very informative.

  27. Bernadette says:

    I knew about agave because Kevin Gianni discussed it over a year ago, so I wasn’t surprised, but the other day, I was shopping in my local health food store and found something called Raw Coconut Nectar by Coconut Secret. They claim, on the bottle, that it is low glycemic, more nutritious than agave and made from the sap of the coconut tree. Do you know anything about this product?

  28. radu says:

    This is good to know about the agave syrup, but does anybody know anything about maple syrup? As far as i know it’s a healthy sweetener, loaded with minerals even it they use heat to boil the maple sap to the required consistency.
    So, how good is maple syrup for you?

  29. Megan, NZ says:

    I use Loving Earth’s agave nectar. It really is raw as per their comment above. They are truly good people who are ethical in their business practice and product development. I think it is a shame to paint all agave nectar/syrup with the same brush when there is at least one out there which is exactly what it says on the label!

  30. kat says:

    The problem is, every single raw food ‘sweet treat’ calls for agave as a subsitute to honey.
    But..i cant have agave, honey or stevia, they all make me fill ill! dates are ok..you can make a sort of agave syrup thing from dates..but its not the same.
    i used banana,dates and coconut milk to sweeten.
    thankyou for putting this out there for all to know, now maybe do a ‘truth on braggs amino acids’ because it made me SO SICK!!

  31. Kay says:

    Thanks for this, Alex. It confirmed my suspicions. Reading the above comments, I would not be alone in welcoming a resume on “alternative” sweeteners. I guess common sense tells us use any sweetener in strict moderation.

  32. petra says:

    ineresting article. so, if I were to se dates or fruit juice what would be the replacement amount for agave in a recipe?

  33. I’ve heard that perhaps the worst part of the “Organic Raw Agave” is that it’s “stretched” with corn syrup, which is really bad for us and probably has GMO’s.

  34. Andre says:

    Hello. Interesting article. Would you mind putting up references to where you’ve gotten your information from? Are there any controled scientiific trials on Nectar Agave? I would really like to know before I take your article at face value thank you.