Agave. The very name is exciting, redolent of Mexican deserts and secret herbs.
It comes from the same plant used to sweeten Tequila. It’s on the shelves of your local health food shop in more and more products. Why? And it is a good natural substitute for sugar, maple syrup or honey?
Perhaps if you were trying to save money you’d be interested in its relative sweetness. It’s 50% sweeter than sugar.. but at its prices per pound, it’s a serious sweetness to the dollar loser. It’s also far more expensive than equally natural cane sugar.
So.. exactly WHY would you choose gave over sugar? One correspondent of mine accused me of being ‘unnatural’, claiming that “The Aztecs prized the agave as a gift from the gods and used the liquid from its core to flavor foods and drinks.”
One might well respond by asking where the Aztecs are today but that would be a cheap shot.
What amuses me is that somehow my correspondent believes that because Aztecs had the same sugar addiction as us and salved it using Agave, then Agave must be somehow better.
So is it a suitable alternative to sugar if you have say, diabetes, or are overly acidic, or have one or more of the hundreds of acid-related health conditions?
Most agave sweeteners come from the blue agave plant. You don’t get its raw nectar. Much like high-fructose corn syrup, it’s highly processed before you can add it to your tea, top your pancakes with it, or get it in an energy drink, bar, or other product. Yes, as my correspondent said, to make the agave nectar, sap is extracted from the pina, filtered, and heated at a low temperature, which breaks down the carbohydrates into a natural sugar blue agave plant. So now it’s a ‘natural’ sugar, so he suggests that because it’s ‘natural’ it’s better for you. Sorry, friend, just because something is ‘natural’ does not automatically send it to the ‘healthy’ box.
By following the New Alkaline Diet I have personally changed my diet substantially away from the concept of gathering calories from carbs and sugars – particularly sugars, given their proven addictive nature. So the fact that agave has about 60 calories per tablespoon, compared to 40 calories for the same amount of table sugar is of no great concern to me because I try to keep away from all sweeteners.
As a result, I enjoy my food more than I ever have in my life, I have overcome my sugar-hit mood swings, and I am eating far less because I am not experiencing my past sudden snackaholicism.
So if you have diabetes, is it a good ‘natural’ substitute? It’ something the agave vendors claim, but I think having read what I’ve written so far, the answer is self-evident. We are sold on it with claims that it’s high in fructose and low on the glycemic index, making it a better option than refined sugar. But I can find no research to back that up.
The American Diabetes Association seems to have made its mind up. It has listed agave as a sweetener to limit, along with regular table sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, and all other sugars.
Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis, agrees. She says your body doesn’t know where the fructose or glucose comes from, be it fruit, agave, or high-fructose corn syrup; so if you eat too much of it, that’s a problem. I would go even further. There is more evidence coming in almost daily that even artificial sweeteners, once substituted for sucrose and fructose, have exactly the same effect on our body. The drug effect remains.
The simple fact we all shy away from is this: Less Is More With All Added Sweeteners
Agave may be ‘natural’ but it offers no miraculous health benefits, Applegate says. It simply adds sweetness.