Agave Nectar

I have wanted to write a post on the use of Agave as a sweetener for awhile now and I think I have finally a found way to articulate my advice other than just “Don’t do it”. While this will be wordier and less to the point than the former hopefully it will help differentiate between a few common food terms and what is really important to us humans on the sugar front.

First I want to tackle the marketing behind the Agave Nectar or Syrup. The number one “selling point” for Agave Nectar is its low Glycaemic Index (GI) and resulting low Glycaemic Load (GL). GI is a comparative tool that “helps” people figure out how much a given food contributes to a rise in blood sugar. The Index is based on a comparison between glucose and said food, glucose being 100 and the food in question falling between there and 0. White bread has also been used as the 100 factor but it is considered less reliable. GL is a number generated by this formula; GI minus Available Carbohydrate (total carb minus fiber) divided by 100 or GI – (carb – fiber) / 100 = GL. If you are still reading I’m impressed with your willingness to suffer. Low GI and GL foods are supported by most MDs who treat diabetes and heart disease and were popularized by the Atkins and South Beach Diets. All in all the theory is good, eat foods that don’t spike your blood sugar, the problem is that it is way more complicated than that. The GI doesn’t account for everything that happens between the mouth and arteries, meaning that the GI only measures the amount of sugar that reaches the blood. For instance milk has a relatively low GI (40-45) and GL (4) but it elicits an incredible insulin response due to some specific proteins and that insulin response is just as important as blood glucose when it comes to health. So while Agave Nectar has a low GI and GL it would appear a little due diligence should be done where overall health effects are concerned. First everyone knows High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is bad right? Mostly because it is “high” in fructose right? Well the HFCS that we are all trying so hard to avoid is composed of about 55% fructose and 45% glucose while Agave Nectar is made of 55-92% fructose depending on its quality. Let me repeat that, the highest quality Agave Nectar is just as high in fructose as High-Fructose Corn Syrup! This is a quote from All About Agave an aptly named site dedicated to educating people about the health benefits of Agave.

“One of the most health-promoting properties of agave nectar is its favorable glycemic profile. Its sweetness comes primarily from a complex form of fructose called inulin. Fructose is the sugar that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables. The carbohydrate in agave nectar has a low glycemic index, which provides sweetness without the unpleasant “sugar rush” and unhealthful blood sugar spike caused by many other sugars.”

What they are saying here is pretty much spot on its just that they missing the part about why “sweetness without the unpleasant sugar rush” might be a bad idea. So what is the deal with fructose? Here is the down and dirty; it is a monosaccharide sugar mostly found in fruit, natural right? In its natural form it is combined with glucose, another monosaccharide, in a 1:1ish ratio to form the disaccharide sucrose. In nature sucrose is ingested and the gut starts to digest the stuff breaking the sucrose down into fructose and glucose in the upper large intestine. From there the fructose is diverted directly to the liver which happens to be the only tissue in body that can use “fruit sugar”. When it hits the liver it is preferentially metabolized into to liver glycogen which is our body’s first out resource in the event we end up with low blood sugar. The liver thinks converting its glycogen is more important than anything else it is doing, like releasing insulin to move the glucose out of the blood stream and into the cells, so it stops in its tracks until it’s done. Once the liver’s glycogen is topped off it continues to process the fructose but since it is the only organ that can use it converts it into triglyceride and releases it into the blood stream for storage (reference cool diagram below).


I think at this point we can all agree that elevated triglycerides are a bad thing.

“Thus, emerging evidence from recent epidemiological and biochemical studies clearly suggests that the high dietary intake of fructose has rapidly become an important causative factor in the development of the metabolic syndrome. There is an urgent need for increased public awareness of the risks associated with high fructose consumption and greater efforts should be made to curb the supplementation of packaged foods with high fructose additives.”

So to recap; Agave Nectar has just as much if not more fructose as HFCS, its all but proven to be a causative factor in metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL, high VLDL, diabetes, heart disease, obesity), It slows muscular glycogen repletion by directing the liver’s attention elsewhere, and most of it is actually about as natural as cocaine.

A lot has been done to vilify HFCS and with good reason, Agave is really on the same track in my opinion. Again and again it comes down to the fact that eating super-concentrated versions of things that occur in nature is not natural and we will pay the price in the end. Mark’s Dailey Apple has a great post on sugar if you haven’t had enough.

So what to do? In order of effectiveness

1 Don’t use any sweetener

2 Use just a little bit of raw honey

3 Use just a little bit of Grade A maple syrup

4 Use just a little bit of sugar

5 Develop Syndrome X and a host of side effects from your meds.

20 Responses to Agave Nectar

  1. Becka says:

    Nicely stated Adam! And I’m enjoying your webite – Fran in full gear was impressive as Hell. A bit nutty, but impressive just the same =) Hope you’re well!

  2. Justin says:

    I have a question regarding two supplements a friend told me about. Have you heard of a product called “PaleoGreens” or “PaleoReds”? They appear to be a vegetable and fruit supplement. I’ve been trying to add more greens into my diet and wanted to know if this would be a safe and healthy way. They would be used with the greens I’m already eating not in place off. I can’t find much info on these products and wanted to see if you knew anything about them.


    • Adam says:

      Sorry for the late reply, I had not actually heard of either of these products so I had to do a little research. Your assessment is spot on, they are a concentrated vegetable and fruit concoction aimed at increasing available antioxidants and phytonutrients. The Paleogreens also contain a small about of digestive enzymes that are totally legit. As with all things food related concentration of nutrients isn’t always a good thing, eat the apple don’t drink the juice kind of thing, but if you are not getting many fruits and veggies products like this can work out well. Dr. Eades of Protein Power fame has done a fair bit of blogging on the subject of antioxidants and Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) and his general take is that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Meaning that the oxidation is a natural process in the body and it is important to maintain a balance. He recommends getting your ORAC fix from dark, thick skinned fruits like blueberries, when in season, and dense veggies like brussel sprouts. All that being said the combined cost of both the reds and the greens would be around $110.00 per month which would buy a lot of yams and brussel sprouts. So being that you are on a free feed if not force feed mass gain plan right now I would spend your money on more high quality food and a purpose built digestive enzyme like the Super Enzyme from Now Foods. When it comes time to cut weight the greens might be a good addition just because you will be eating a lot less and the nutrient density of most veggies you buy sucks.

    • Adam says:

      Justin – I have recently started supplementing with a greens pill called Greens+ Superfood. I eat a ton of greens, root veggies, and a bit of fruit so I have never suspected a shortage of micronutrients in my diet but I have to say I feel pretty damn good on this stuff.

  3. Justin says:

    Thanks Adam for the response. I was also very skeptical on those products and knew you had a lot of knowledge when it comes to that kind of stuff. I’ve been working out hard and eating everything in sight so we’ll see what happens..

  4. […] those categories are set based on glycaemic load or index see my post about Agave for more info on […]

  5. Khanh Bui says:

    I got diabetes for 3 years, I used to take Stevia for everything: lemonade, coffee, food ,… I really don’t know which one is good among sugar substitute, Stevia, Agave Nectar,… Can you tell me which one is the most appropriate for diabetic like me. Greatly appreciated.

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