Monday, December 7, 2009

Agave Nectar: The Verdict......Is Still Out

(picture courtesy of blueagavenectar.com)

I've been avoiding researching and writing about agave nectar.

Why? Well, one reason is because it seems increasingly difficult to find solid, unbiased research.

Following is some information I've gathered about agave nectar with sources included. If you have verifiable information about this sweetener, please forward it to me. Perhaps this will be an on-going blog-community effort.

WHAT IT IS: Agave nectar (also called agave syrup) is a sweetener commercially produced in Mexico from several species of agave, including the Blue Agave (Agave tequilana), Salmiana Agave (Agave salmiana), Green Agave, Grey Agave, Thorny Agave, and Rainbow Agave.

Agave nectar consists primarily of fructose and glucose. One source gives 92% fructose and 8% glucose; another gives 56% fructose and 20% glucose. These differences presumably reflect variation from one vendor of agave nectar to another. Due to its fructose content and the fact that the glycemic index only measures glucose levels, agave nectar is notable in that its glycemic index and glycemic load are lower than many other natural sweeteners on the market. 1

HOW IT IS PRODUCED: To produce agave nectar, juice is expressed from the core of the agave, called the piña. The juice is filtered, then heated, to hydrolyze carbohydrates into sugars. The main carbohydrate is a complex form of fructose called inulin or fructosan. The filtered, hydrolyzed juice is concentrated to a syrup-like liquid a little thinner than honey and ranges in color from light to dark depending on the degree of processing. The syrup naturally contains quantities of iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium, which contribute to the resulting color. 2

GLYCEMIC INDEX/LOAD: The glycemic index categorizes agave nectar between 11-19, and the glycemic load between 1-2. 3

DR. WEIL ON AGAVE NECTAR: Agave nectar is a natural sweetener that ranks relatively low on the glycemic load scale. It is sold in health food stores and online and has been growing in popularity in recent years. Although it provides as many calories as sucrose (table sugar), it is sweeter, so you can use less of it - say one-quarter of a cup to substitute for one cup of sugar in recipes. I like the taste of agave nectar and have started using it in my kitchen, as well as trying products that contain it.

A 2006 review of the scientific literature on agave published in HerbClip™, on the Web site of the American Botanical Council, concluded that it is safe to use agave in the amounts usually found in foods and beverages, but the reviewers cautioned that pregnant women should avoid it because some species (more than 200 have been identified) contain anordin and dinordin, steroids with contraceptive effects that could lead to miscarriage. I think this is a very low risk. I am more concerned about the sustainability of agave as a food source, because demand may soon exceed supply. 4


MISCELLANEOUS INFORMATION:

Recipe with agave: PCRM.org is a wonderful organization committed to nutrition, education and responsible medicine. President of PCRM and medical doctor, Dr. Neal Barnard, published Program for Reversing Diabetes that includes a recipe containing agave nectar. 5

Metabolizing Fructose: It seems like a recurring health-related issue with agave is its high levels of fructose. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states: "Most of the metabolic effects of fructose are due to its rapid utilization by the liver and it by-passing the phosphofructokinase regulatory step in glycolysis, leading to far reaching consequences to carbohydrate and lipid metabolism." Click on the link to AJCN below for more information. 6

Diabetic-Related Information Regarding Agave: Glycemic Research Institute stated that clinical trials were stopped due to severe side effects in diabetics. 7

Wall Street Journal Information about Agave: Very vague information about agave, but includes the organization that issued the warning about agave. 8

Sources:

1, 2: Wikipedia
3: The Glycemic Index
4: Dr. Weil
5: PCRM
6: Am J Clin Nutr.
7: Glycemic Research Institute
8: WSJ

14 comments:

Katie said...

Great information! Clarifying question for you. Is the lighter or darker nectar more refined? I assume it's lighter...

Natalie said...

@katie: I think the lighter, the better. My darker agave smelled burnt. My lighter did not. The raw foods people here suggest only clear agave. That being said, I use it in moderation.

KitchenSink said...

My "source" mentioned that some reports say agave nectar is rumored to be a mix of high-fructose corn syrup and water (which is what it tastes like to me). I am waiting to hear back if she has some academic sources for this info.

ps I once saw Dr. Weil at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago. He is a very recognizable fellow, but at the time I couldn't figure out who he was exactly. (I was enjoying the WINE pairing : ) I stalked him through the restaurant like he was a rock star (which I suppose, he is in a way) only to remember he was a wellness doctor...8 courses + 8 wines = very well thank you.

My Year Without said...

Raw Foods expert, John Kohler, wrote this article (http://www.living-foods.com/articles/agave.html) about his opinion on agave. He has wonderful citations at the end of the article and points out some interesting variables concerning agave that I had not thought of myself. Thanks to a reader for passing this information along to me!

Mari Ann said...

Dr. Mercola indicates that the Agave Nectar craze is just a result of good marketing, and that it is
- no low caloric
- possibly not low glycemic
- depending upon where it comes from, it can be from 55-90% fructose

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/07/02/Agave-A-Triumph-of-Marketing-over-Truth.aspx?aid=cd673

In answer to Katie, the darker nectar is less refined (and it is not subjected to high heat) according to the label I read in the local store. However, after reading this, and Dr. Mercola's article, I feel it is best to avoid agave.

princess rose said...

how about coconut sugar, also sometimes called palm sugar? i bought a bag from whole foods last month and really like it =)

My Year Without said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
My Year Without said...

I deleted my first attempt at providing a link to more information about agave. Here is the correct information:

Someone else just sent me an email with a link to peer-reviewed information about agave. To check it out, copy and paste this: http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&pid=gmail&attid=0.1&thid=12580c3b5b7506d2&mt=application%2Fpdf&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmail.google.com%2Fmail%2F%3Fui%3D2%26ik%3D0b44bec27f%26view%3Datt%26th%3D12580c3b5b7506d2%26attid%3D0.1%26disp%3Dattd%26realattid%3Df_g33s4rm30%26zw&sig=AHIEtbTF2PgUfU88qWxjjv-Apdlb0kpjCg

Alisa said...

I was just thinking about agave today and did a "sugar" post, what a coincidence. Thanks for this information. I guess the verdict on agave has still been out in my head too, and since my husband and I aren't big on the taste, we opt for other sweeteners instead. But I would still love to read more of your findings!

sofia12 said...

I just bought my first bottle today and feeling really confused. Thought I found a healthy (or at least neutral) alternative to sugar but now hearing all kinds of things like it increases cholesterol and is just high fructose corn syrup and water? Not sure what to believe.. we really need some clarity.

will said...

I just read Dr. Mercola's opinion of Agave and came here to post it for you and your readers. I see that Mari-Ann beat me to it. So far, I trust his info and it seems other sources support it as well. Once my supply is gone, I will not be using Agave anymore.

Ricki said...

Your blog has inspired me to start one of my own! Fitandfeelingfabulousby40.blogspot.com
Thanks for the great info. I am just starting to be stunned with the amount of hidden sugars in our society! Just wanted to say thanks!

red-beard said...

Here is more info on Agave - If you like Agave you might not want to read it.


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

Synopsis: It is Fructose and is really really bad.
I have 2 bottles and will probably finish them, but not buy more.

My Year Without said...

Thanks, Red Beard! I'm going to have to write about this, again! Sheesh, I can't wait to put agave to rest....