When it comes to sugar substitutes, the choice is endless. One can come across natural sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, chemical-based sweeteners, and so on and so forth. However, little do we realize the extent to which these sweeteners are processed.
What is agave?
Agave nectar is one such sweetener that has gained much popularity in recent times for its beneficial as well as its harmful effects. This amber colored nectar is derived from the agave plant that mainly grows in Southern Mexico. The agave plant resembles a cactus and possesses physical properties similar to that of Aloe Vera. There are more than a hundred species of the agave plant; however, the agave nectar that is discussed in this article is derived from Blue Agaves.
Agave nectar is commonly known as “honey water” in Mexico. Just like honey, agave too is used as a natural sweetener, the taste however, being distinctly different from the former. Also, the agave syrup is lower in viscosity than honey. Nowadays, the agave syrup is being used extensively in the production of energy beverages, energy bars, and other packed food products. The sweetness of agave is almost twice that of sugar.
Is agave really healthy?
The agave sap contains compounds called fructans, which are found mostly found in foods such as wheat, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, and artichokes. Fructans are generally harmless but over intake of these may pose certain health ill-effects such as abdominal discomfort, bloating, and other gastrointestinal problems.
The agave syrup that we purchase off the shelves at supermarkets is the highly processed variety, which unfortunately does more harm than good. The processing of agave involves the breakdown of fructans into fructose via the action of enzymes and heat. This, as a result, destroys the nutritional benefits of the syrup. Also, the effects of prolonged consumption of agave nectar resemble those exhibited by high fructose corn syrup. Bottled agave syrups are excessively refined and unhealthy.
Is agave safe for diabetics?
Agave has a low glycemic index, which is why it was considered to be fit for consumption by diabetics for a rather long time. However, latest research indicates that agave contains high levels of fructose, which is equally if not more harmful to health than foods exhibiting high glycemic indexes. Naturally occurring fructose gets metabolized in the human body, however, the artificial fructose present in agave leads to adverse health effects. The artificial fructose doesn’t get metabolized by the body, instead it gets stored in the liver as fat. Thus, over a period of time it leads to obesity, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular anomalies, and in severe cases, even liver damage.
Raw Honey: A Safer Choice
Limiting the intake of agave syrup is the best health choice, say nutritionists. A better substitute for agave is raw honey which apart from being natural, is rich in antioxidants and possesses medicinal properties. Honey is a versatile sweetener that can be used in daily cooking, hot and cold beverages, sweet dishes, and other foods. Unlike agave, honey is considered to be safe for diabetics as well.
One must be careful about consuming foods containing agave. Moderate intake of agave is fine, but since it contains high levels of fructose, it should be balanced out with other essential nutrients.
Sanjana Roy is a content writer with Transparency Market Research, a market intelligence firm based in the U.S. While her job profile entails writing on various global industry segments, her area of interest is food and beverages. She is especially interested in exploring trend-setting ideas that will define the food industry of the future, with a focus on health issues, new consumption trends and patterns, and the “food culture” that prevails today.