As I am writing this, I am sitting in Santa Fe’s local slightly pretentious yoga/eco cuisine spot enjoying an overpriced piece of raw vegan chocolate ganache. It would be easy to assume that this orgasmically yummy treat is “good” for me. It’s organic, raw, vegan, gluten-free, and to top it off tastes amazing. But it’s just as healthy as most overly sweet treats, it just doesn’t upset my tummy because it lacks dairy and gluten. The reason this ganache isn’t healthy is because it is loaded with agave nectar.
Agave nectar is the new “healthy” sweetener. You’ll find it in tons of products lining the aisles of your natural food store. It’s promoted as being raw, a vegan alternative to honey, and low glycemic index. Foods with a higher glycemic index (GI) tend to trigger a greater surge in blood sugar and insulin-the hormone that helps the sugar get into your cells-just after eating. High-GI foods also tend to make you hungry again sooner because they’re digested quickly.) According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, agave’s GI value is about five times lower than table sugar’s. Agave packs 20 calories per teaspoon, five more than granulated sugar, but, like honey, it’s sweeter than sugar, so you need less to achieve the same level of sweetness. And with all this being said…agave nectar is no healthier for you than the evil high-fructose corn syrup.
Agave nectar has a low-glycemic index for one reason only: it’s largely made of fructose, which although it has a low-glycemic index, is now known to be a very damaging form of sugar when used as a sweetener. It has the highest fructose content of all the commercial sweeteners. It is 90% fructose, which is twice as high as high-fructose corn syrup.
Fructose, the sugar found naturally in fruit, is perfectly fine when you get it from whole foods like apples (about 7% fructose)—it comes with a host of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. But when it’s commercially extracted from fruit, concentrated and made into a sweetener, it becomes dangerous.Research shows that it’s the fructose part of sweeteners that’s the most dangerous. Fructose causes insulin resistance and significantly raises triglycerides (a risk factor for heart disease). It also increases fat around the middle which in turn puts you at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease and Metabolic Syndrome (a kind of pre-diabetes) .And fructose has been linked to non-alcoholic fatty-liver disease. Rats given high fructose diets develop a number of undesirable metabolic abnormalities including elevated triglycerides, weight gain and extra abdominal fat.
The other thing that I have yet to understand is how agave nectar is “raw”. It is highly processed. Anyone that has ever seen agave plants knows that there is nothing sweet about them. To make the agave nectar, sap is extracted from the pina, filtered, and heated at a low temperature, which breaks down the carbohydrates into sugars. I guess my idea of “raw” is different from those labeling these products.
So if you are using agave nectar as a replacement for sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc maybe it’s time to reconsider. A little here and there is definitely not going to hurt you, but don’t think that you are eating anything healthier than a sweet treat loaded with sugar.