Agave kills!

Agave plant

A while back I wrote about agave syrup and it’s use as an alternative to processed sugar. After writing the post I came across a fair amount of opinion opposed to the use of commercially derived agave syrup. There is some debate as to whether the claims for it being a wonder food are just hype.

For example, the food renegade dislikes agave, and suggests it has an unhealthy nutritional profile. On the other hand, there are plenty others out there who disagree with the renegade’s argument.

I’ll try to present an abridged version of her rather rambling attack.  Firstly, she suggests that the method of producing commercial agave syrup, involves chemicals and is different to that used by Mexicans when they produce miel de agave. Fortunately, all the agave syrup I’ve seen in the UK (it maybe different in the US) is organically produced and so cannot involve chemicals in the production process. This is pointed out in the comments where the renegade waves this aside by saying that the process is not traditional and so should be avoided!

The post then goes on to consider the low-GI aspect of agave. This oxymoronic aspect is explained by agave syrup consisting of 95% fructose, much high than corn syrup (55%) which is used to sweeten ‘soda’ and other sweet foods, certainly in the US it seems. Fructose is stored as fat rather than being converted to glucose before being used by the body, similar to alcohol. Therefore it does not affect blood sugar at all.

Fructose is good when naturally occurring in fruit but bad, says the renegade, when it is produced through a refining process. A report in the Huffington Post says the following

Fructose — the sugar found naturally in fruit — is perfectly fine when you get it from whole foods like apples (about 7 percent fructose) — it comes with a host of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. But when it’s commercially extracted from fruit, concentrated and made into a sweetener, it exacts a considerable metabolic price – Dr Jonny Bowden,  Huffington Post

Caloric intake
recommended Caloric intake

The renegade supports the ‘metabolic price’ view by quoting some research that shows that a high intake of both fructose and glucose increase fat, more visceral fat in the case of fructose, and detrimentally alters the metabolic profile of the fructose intakers. All very scary but I do have a problem with the study. Participants consumed 25% of their caloric intake from the fructose or glucose drink while on the nine week study. Apparently, that’s average in the US! Seems like a huge amount to me.

This is really where the argument against agave begins to falter. Why on earth would you consume that amount of the stuff! Studies like this are commonly used to ‘diss’ fructose, the Fructose information centre says that these studies

are based on poorly conceived experimentation of little relevance to the human diet, which tests unphysiologically high levels of fructose as the sole carbohydrate, often in animals that are poor models for human metabolism. The consequences of such exaggerated diets are predictably extreme

Even Dr. Bowden says that agave is okay now and again. I think the take home message is that any sweetener you use should be consumed sparingly. Omit sweetener from your tea/coffee and use it in recipes that are laden with ‘good stuff’ to lessen the amount you need and provide nutritional value.

Previously, I mentioned that I add it to porridge, along with other ‘good stuff’ but that’s only if it is required. For example, dates and dried fruit or banana’s are often sufficient to sweeten porridge without the need for agave. I personally think if you are looking to use agave you are sufficiently health minded to not consume anything close to 25% of your caloric intake from any kind of sugar at all.

  Fructose Glucose Total Sugar Cals per 100g Glycemic Index
Table Sugar 50% 50% 97% 500 58-65
Honey 38 to 42% 35 to 40% 80 to 84% 304 46-83
Date Paste 32% 34% 70 to 80% 270 103
Corn Syrup 55 to 90% 45 to 10% 100% 370 62
Agave Syrup 47% 17% 64% 308 30

Furthermore, as agave is sweeter than glucose and sugar you need to consume relatively less than other sweeteners. One report shows that agave is actually lower than sugar and corn syrup in total sugar, calories and GI index (see table above)!

Overall I’d say that there’s no need to believe the hype, while there is also no need to overdo ANY sweetener.

Got something to say? Go on, you know you want to!