Is Agave Healthy?
The health-forward food community has its darlings: kale, quinoa, coconut oil. All of these foods have had their turn in the healthy foodie spotlight--and in most cases, rightfully so. For years, agave nectar (also called agave or agave syrup) was promoted as the healthy eater's alternative to regular table sugar and artificial sweeteners. As it turns out, the pro-agave chorus was wrong.
Agave syrup is a highly-processed sugar alternative. It's about 1.5 times sweeter than sugar, and it is made from the same plant as tequila. For years, some medical professionals, nutritionists, and dietitians, proclaimed agave as a savior among sugar substitutes, especially for diabetics. People who were fixated on food's glycemic index rankings pointed to the sweetener's low-GI number as proof of its healthfulness. It is, after all, lower in glucose than regular sugar. However, it is higher in fructose than any other sweetener, including high-fructose corn syrup, the nutrition world's whipping post.
There's also the issue of production. Agave is, as mentioned, highly processed. In fact, it's more processed than almost any other sugar.
If we were all just buying sap from the agave plant, then we'd have a different story. Instead, agave goes through an enzymatic process that converts starches to fructose. It has a similar profile to high fructose corn syrup but is actually much sweeter than table sugar. If you plan to cook with it, use less. It also has more calories per tablespoon than sugar (60 calories versus 49 calories in sugar), but because it has a more concentrated level of sweetness you often don't have to use as much.
Bottom line: Agave is a sweetener, and like all sweeteners, it should be consumed in moderation. If you're looking for a clean sugar option, we suggest raw honey or 100% maple syrup.
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