Written by Calvin Sun
With the increasing popularity of the Paleo Diet, many people are turning to agave nectar as a sweetener in many of their favorite recipes. It’s understandable to see why people would think of using agave nectar as it doesn’t add any other flavors like many sweeteners and it tastes sweeter than sugar. Unfortunately, it’s not Paleo and it’s definitely not good for you. So imagine my surprise when I was walking through the aisles of my local Costco only to be confronted by a gigantic pallet of agave nectar. The labeling advertised it as a “low glycemic organic sweetener” and it must have worked because it was selling like there’s no tomorrow. Today, we’ll discuss some of the reasons why you should reconsider indulging in this sweet poison.
It’s a Refined Sugar
Don’t be fooled by words like “organic” and “natural” on the labeling. Substituting your usual sugar with agave nectar is far from making a healthier choice. A few weeks ago George noted that despite it’s appealing name, agave nectar is a highly processed and refined product. The fact that it’s manufacturing process is patented should probably be a big clue that it’s not as “natural” as they would like you to think. Let’s keep in mind the premise of the Paleo Diet, consumption of refined carbohydrates was an impossibility for Paleolithic humans.
Agave Nectar Makes You Fat
High-fructose corn syrup is the primary sweetener that you find in most sodas, “sports” drinks, and many other foods, and it contains about 55% fructose and 45% glucose. Agave nectar, on the other hand, contains about 90-97% fructose and 3-10% glucose. I guess marketers decided that agave nectar sounded better than “really freakin’ high fructose syrup.” Fructose is an isomer of glucose, meaning that both have the same chemical formula but different molecular arrangements. Because of their different molecular arrangements, fructose is not digested in the same fashion as glucose. This is problematic because fructose tends to promote a process known as lipogenesis (lipo- meaning “fat” and -genesis meaning “creation of”), in other words fructose consumption results in your body manufacturing fatty acids from carbohydrates. Far from ideal when looking good in a swimsuit is your goal.
Agave Nectar Might Kill You
According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, fructose consumption has been directly linked to obesity. Instead of being digested in the small intestine, fructose passes unchanged into the portal vein where it is directed to the liver to be processed. Once in the liver, fructose is broken down into components that readily form triglycerides. Subjects that were fed a diet that contained 17% fructose experienced a massive 32% increase in plasma triglycerides. High triglycerides are associated with metabolic syndrome which is indicative of increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
In conclusion, you should strive to eliminate all processed and refined carbohydrates from your diet. Agave nectar, table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and even artificial sweeteners should be avoided (read my posts on Splenda here and here). You have to make an effort to read labels as refined sugar is in everything from sweet foods like sodas and ice cream to savory foods like deli meats and sauces. Of course, this is not to say that there aren’t any good uses for the agave plant. Fermented agave, for example, is a favored drink amongst many CrossFitters, but that’s a discussion for another day.