A Cautionary Word on Agave Nectar

I discovered Agave Nectar very early on in my research on low gi / whole foods way of eating. As far as I can tell, agave is as close to the perfect sweetener as you can get. I have tried other sweeteners: brown rice syrup, honey, date sugar, maple syrup, stevia, aspartame, but they all have some drawback. Some taste great, but were refined. Some have a bitter aftertaste. And other, while natural, cause my blood sugar to soar. Then came agave. Hallelujah!

Agave is low on the glycemic index scale (around 27), tastes good and you can use it in almost anything. Baking with agave can be a challenge because it does not give a good crumb to baked goods as does refined sugar (for instance, if you make chocolate chip cookies with agave, you get soft and chewy instead of crispy) and you must remember to reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe. But, if you can get past these obstacles, it is wonderful stuff.

The reason that agave is the perfect sweetening choice for me (and anyone with diabetes or other sugar related issues) is that is has a high fructose to glucose ratio. Fructose is digested slowly by the body as compared to other sugars and it therefore does not cause the immediate sugar surge into the bloodstream. This is what I want to avoid at all costs. However, just because the glycemic response is low to agave nectar does not make it a health food. Here's why.

Most carbs that we eat are glucose. When we eat that glucose, it enteres the bloodstream and the body releases insulin to regulate it. Fructose is not processed in the bloodstream, hence the reason for the slow glycemic response to eating it. Sounds great huh? Well, yes and no. Fructose gets processed in the liver. If too much fructose enters the liver, the liver struggles to process it and what it can't process it converts to fat. That fat then gets sent off into the bloodstream as the dreaded triglycerides. Oh no.

The upshot of this is that while low on the glycemic index, agave nectar is not a "free" food. As with any sweetener, we should be judicious in how we use/eat it. I wouldn't recommend eating a whole pan of brownie receipe that I shared last night (although you might want to) because your liver will surely have a hard time processing it.

Knowing all that I do about agave nectar, it is still my sweetener of choice. I use about 1/2 t in my coffee every morning, use in in place of honey in savory recipes, and I substitute it for sugar routinely in baking. However, I don't bake a lot. I try to avoid sweets altogether. But, as in all things, I strive for balance (I am SUCH a libra) so using agave in the occassional pan of brownies is the way to go for me. Now that you know when I know about agave, I will let you all draw your own conclusions.


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