By: Emily Glasser, L.Ac., M.S.
MYTH: Agave is a health food and a safe alternative to sugar or other sweeteners.
FACT: Agave is a sweetener from a plant that can cause weight gain, blood sugar disorders and high blood pressure.
Oftentimes, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. We see this in nature: sunshine in small amounts lifts our mood, provides essential vitamin D and gets us motivated. But it can also burn our skin, cause heat stroke and increase our risk for cancer.
There are numerous things that are beneficial to us in limited quantities, but more of it isn’t necessarily better. Traditional Chinese Medicine has been teaching this concept, called “dynamic balance,” for over 4,000 year and now modern science has confirmed this important concept, especially in regards to nutritional science.
Agave is being touted as a rock star sugar alternative with multiple health benefits. Unfortunately, there is little truth to these claims. Research shows that agave may be one more major contributor to the epidemic of blood sugar disorders and obesity striking some 86 million Americans. (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011 Diabetes Fact Sheet, http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/)
Agave is roughly made up of 92% fructose, 8% glucose depending on how it is processed. Because of its chemical makeup, health advocates plug agave as having a low glycemic load. While this is true—agave is a low glycemic food—it is unfortunately very misleading.
The glycemic load refers to how a food will impact your blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels. The glycemic load does not measure fructose (fruit sugars), which are metabolized very differently than glucose. And multiple studies have found that fructose can be a major source of heart disease and diabetes.
Agave is a sweetener from a plant that has a higher fructose content than any commercial sweetener. It is roughly 70-97% higher in fructose than High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Fructose is directly absorbed into the liver from the intestines. It never hits the blood stream like glucose. And excess amounts have been found to cause the following laundry list of outcomes:
- Fatty liver disease
- High uric acid levels (as commonly seen in Gout),
- Weight gain
- Interference with essential fatty acid metabolism
- Kidney damage
- High triglycerides
- Decreased insulin sensitivity within the cells (as in Type 2 Diabetes)
- The inability of the body to regulate blood sugar properly
Johnosn RJ et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2007; 86: 899-906.
If you are an avid researcher and not yet convinced to rethink your fructose –and especially agave—consumption, check these studies out: