Agave nectar is a sweetener made from agave plants, which grow in deserts. Agave sweetener has syrupy texture and people use it in place of honey, corn syrup or sugar. People who like agave often consider it more natural and healthy than other sweeteners. However, some experts disagree about the pros and cons of agave nectar.
People can use agave nectar in drinks, baked goods, pancakes, waffles, fruit, and many other foods in which people normally use sugar, honey or corn syrup. It has the pro of working well in many dishes, but also has the con that recipes written to use with sugar require some adjustments to make them with agave nectar. Since agave nectar is a very sweet liquid, the University of Missouri Extension warns that people who substitute agave for sugar in recipes must reduce the amount of liquid in recipes by 1/4 and also use 1/4 less agave than the required amount of sugar.
Glycemic Index Benefits
Agave nectar has a lower glycemic index than sugar, meaning that it causes less of a spike in blood sugar than regular sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Since it affects blood sugar less than many other sweeteners, it may be healthier for diabetics than regular sugary sweeteners.
Negative Effects of Fructose
Although agave causes less of a spike in glycemic index, some doctors warn that agave contains even more fructose in a given volume than sugar and other sweeteners. Depending on how manufacturers process agave, it can contain the same amount of fructose as high fructose corn syrup. Therefore, as a corn syrup substitute, it does not necessarily decrease the amount of fructose people consume or the amount of calories they consume. Too much fructose consumption can also cause insulin resistance, an unhealthy lengthened elevation in insulin levels after sugar consumption.
Smaller Required Amounts
Since most agave contains more fructose in a given volume than corn syrup, honey or regular sugar, it seems more economical than sugar or honey. An 8 ounce jar of agave may last longer than an 8 ounce jar of honey, since people can use less agave nectar at a time. However, agave does not necessarily save shoppers money because it may cost more than regular sugar or honey.
Little Nutritional Value
Agave nectar adds fructose to the human diet without much nutritional value. The sweetener provides calories but does not provide healthy dietary components like fiber, protein or significant amounts of vitamins and minerals. However, regular sugar and corn syrup also contain few nutrients.
Although the consumption of fructose in general may hinder weight loss, a teaspoon of agave provides more sweetness and the same amount of calories as a teaspoon of regular sugar. Therefore, agave consumers can use a smaller volume of agave to get the same amount of sweetness as sugar with fewer calories. Agave might still provide dieters with unwanted extra calories, but at least it provides the same amount of sweetness with slightly fewer calories than sugar.
Agave nectar's plant-based origins mean that vegans who do not consume honey can consume agave.
Some people have the incorrect idea that agave is healthier than regular sugar because it is more natural. However, agave nectar is technically also a processed food because producers must hydrolyze and heat the agave plant to produce agave nectar. This processing does not necessarily make agave unhealthy; it simply means agave is less "natural" than some consumers believe. Regular sugar and corn syrup both also come from processed plants, but they do not have the same reputation as "natural" agave.
- University of Missouri Extension; Agave Nectar Better Than Sugar?; Glenda Kinder; June 2010
- Ohio State University Extension: Chow Line: Treat Agave Nectar as an Added Sugar
- Huffington Post; This Sweetener Is Far Worse Than High Fructose Corn Syrup; Dr. Joseph Mercola; April 2010
- Whole Living Magazine; Agave Nectar: The Backlash. Should We Panic?; Gena Hamshaw; July 2010
- University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; Agave and Yucca: Tough Plants for Tough Times; Gary W. Knox; February 2010