Agave: A Natural Alternative to Processed Sugar?

September 6, 2013

Agave In Planter

Smart dieters scan food labels for high-fructose corn syrup and ban white sugar from the table in favor of healthier choices. Wholesome-sounding organic agave nectar should be the perfect sweetener, right? It’s vegan, it has a low glycemic index, and it’s even gluten-free!

However, all of those buzzwords hide a highly processed product that is, in most respects, no healthier than the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup.

When you hear the words “agave nectar” you probably imagine a natural sweetener made from the sap the agave plant exudes when its spiky crown is cut. This sap is the substance that is used in making mescal, a Mexican liquor that the New York Times has called “tequila’s rougher country cousin.”

The sap is sometimes boiled down to make a down-home country sweetener that Mexicans call “miel de agave.” However, the agave nectar you see in health food stores is not the same stuff.

Commercial agave syrup is made from starches that are extracted from the bulb-like roots of the agave plant.

These starches are converted to simple sugars in a method that is very much like the process that turns the starch in corn into high-fructose corn syrup.

During this process, a lot of agave’s natural nutritional perks are lost. The starch that is used to make syrup and nectar is made up mostly of inulin, a fiber that can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

But after processing, very little of the inulin is left.

What remains is fructose, a very simple sugar. Fructose is found in nature, in fruits. However, when it is in fruit, it is also found with fiber that slows digestion, plus a host of vitamins and minerals.

Fructose that has been extracted for use in foods like agave nectar and high-fructose corn syrup is reduced to quickly absorbed, nutritionally void calories.

So what’s a health-conscious dieter to do? In the end, remember that any form of sugar should be consumed in moderation.

And in the end, you are probably just as well off saving your cash and reaching for simple table sugar before shelling out the money for agave syrup.

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