Our study took us to a great number of sites and we would like to share some thoughts and findings from some of them with you here. Because we found so much of interest, even though we’ve only given you a small fraction of it here, it is still long. For that reason, I will give you my bottom line here on top– DON’T EAT IT! We’ve had some questions about raw vs cooked foods and also questions about Yacon Syrup, so at the end I will share some interesting facts I’ve discovered.
Agave nectar is a liquid sweetener made from the agave plant, the same plant that gives us tequila. In the 1990s, agave nectar was heralded as a low-glycemic alternative to sugar, but in fact the process in which they create agave syrup is exactly the same one by which high fructose corn syrup is produced. Agave nectar consists primarily of fructose (around 90%) and glucose. Agave nectar’s glycemic index and glycemic load are comparable to fructose, which in turn has a much lower glycemic index and glycemic load than table sugar (sucrose). However, consumption of large amounts of fructose puts stress on your liver.
“The process by which agave glucose and inulin are converted into “nectar” is similar to the process by which corn starch is converted into HFCS. The agave starch is subject to an enzymatic and chemical process that converts the starch into a fructose-rich syrup—anywhere from 70 percent fructose and higher according to the agave nectar chemical profiles posted on agave nectar websites.
Compare that to the typical fructose content of high fructose corn syrup (55%)!
The harmful effects of sugar are among the few things that most health experts agree on. Everyone knows that sugar is unhealthy and most health conscious people try to avoid it. Not surprisingly, all sorts of other sweeteners have become popular, both natural and artificial.
One of those is called Agave nectar, a sweetener that is found in various “health foods.”
It is claimed to be natural, and marketed as a diabetic-friendly sweetener that doesn’t spike blood sugar levels.
However, if you ignore the marketing claims and take a look at what Agave nectar really contains, you will learn that it is actually even worse than plain sugar.
Let me explain why… What is Agave?
The Agave plant grows natively in the southern U.S. and South America. It is most commonly associated with Mexico.
Although most Westerners only recently started hearing of Agave, it has been used in Mexico for hundreds (if not thousands) of years.
Back in the day, the Mexicans used it for various purposes and believed it to have medicinal properties.
This is what the Agave plant looks like:
The Mexicans also used to boil the sap (sugary circulating plant fluid) to produce a sweetener known as miel de agave (1).
But the most common use of the Agave plant is fermenting the sugars in it to produce the alcoholic beverage called tequila.
In fact, tequila is the most common commercial use of Agave today and one of Mexico’s best known export products.
Like many plants in their natural state, Agave probably does have some health benefits.
However, as is so often the case, when the product is processed and refined it tends to lose some (or all) of these beneficial health effects. This appears to be the case with the refined Agave sweetener that people are consuming today.
Bottom Line: Agave is a plant that grows in large amounts in Mexico. It has a long history of use as a medicinal plant, sweetener, and can also be fermented to make tequila.
How is Agave Nectar Made?
The sweetener commonly sold as Agave nectar would be more accurately labelled as Agave syrup.
The truth is… it has very little in common with the traditional sweetener made by the Mexicans.
The starting process is the same. They take the plant, then cut and press it to extract the sugary circulating fluid.
This process destroys all of the health promoting properties of the Agave plant, and instead produces the concentrated syrup available on store shelves that is falsely claimed to be healthy.
The manufacturing process is similar to how other unhealthy sweeteners are made, such as High Fructose Corn Syrup. It should be noted here that it is mostly the high heat used in processing that kills the otherwise beneficial properties of the raw plant.
So… the sweetener sold as Agave nectar is NOT truly “nectar” – it is a refined, processed sweetener made from Agave nectar.
Bottom Line: The Agave sweetener sold today is made by treating the sugars with heat and enzymes, which destroys all the beneficial health effects of the Agave plant. The end product is a highly refined, unhealthy syrup.
Agave Nectar Does Not Spike Blood Sugar Much
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of how quickly the sugar in a food enters your bloodstream.
Unlike glucose, fructose does not go directly into the bloodstream and therefore doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels in the short-term.
This is why high fructose sweeteners are often marketed as “healthy” or “diabetic friendly.”
Agave nectar has a very low GI, primarily because almost all of the sugar in it is fructose. It has very little glucose, at least when compared to regular sugar.
A recent study in mice compared the metabolic effects of Agave nectar and sucrose (plain sugar) after 34 days. The mice getting agave nectar gained less weight and had lower blood sugar and insulin levels (8).
This is actually what we would expect in a short-term study, as the glucose in plain sugar elevates both blood sugar and insulin levels, whereas fructose does not.
That being said… the glycemic index is just one of many things to consider when looking at the health effects of sweeteners.
The harmful effects of Agave (and sugar in general) actually have very little to do with the glycemic index but everything to do with the large amounts of fructose… and Agave nectar is very high in fructose.
Bottom Line: Agave nectar is low in glucose and therefore doesn’t spike blood sugar levels much. This gives the sweetener a low glycemic index.
Agave Nectar is Dangerously High in Fructose
Sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contain two simple sugars… about half glucose and half fructose.
Although both glucose and fructose look very similar, they have completely different effects in the body.
Glucose is an incredibly important molecule. It is found in many healthy foods (like carrots and potatoes) and our bodies even produce it to make sure that we always have enough.
In fact, every living cell on the planet has glucose in it… because this molecule is absolutely vital to life.
Whereas every cell in the human body can metabolize glucose, the liver is the only organ that can metabolize fructose in significant amounts (9).
The liver gets overloaded and starts turning the fructose into fat, which gets shipped out as VLDL particles and raises blood triglycerides. Many researchers even believe that some of the fat can lodge in the liver and cause fatty liver disease (11, 12, 13).
Although fructose doesn’t raise blood sugar levels in the short-term, it can contribute to insulin resistance when consumed in large amounts.
Eating large amounts of fructose can also have various other harmful effects… such as increasing small, dense LDL particles and oxidized LDL (very bad), cause belly fat accumulation, to name a few (17).
Here’s where it gets really interesting… Agave nectar is about 85% fructose, which is much higher than plain sugar (18).
This “Healthy” Sweetener is Even Worse Than Regular Sugar
If you must add some extra sweetness to your diet, agave nectar is absolutely not the way to do it.
Agave nectar may just be the unhealthiest sweetener in the world. It makes regular sugar look healthy in comparison… and that is saying something.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Agave nectar (more accurately called agave syrup) is a sweetener commercially produced from several species of agave, including Agave tequilana (blue agave) and Agave salmiana. Agave syrup is sweeter than honey and tends to be less viscous. Most agave syrup comes from Mexico and South Africa.
Agave syrup has been marketed as a “healthful” sweetener, but this fact has been the subject of criticism due to its very high fructose content (which is even more than high fructose corn syrup in its fructose content by weight) and its potential to lead to insulin resistance and significantly increased triglyceride levels (a risk factor for heart disease).
To produce agave syrup from the Agave americana and A. tequilana plants, the leaves are cut off the plant after it has aged seven to fourteen years. The juice is then extracted from the core of the agave, called the piña. The juice is filtered, then heated to break the complex components (the polysaccharides) into simple sugars. The main polysaccharide is called inulin or fructosan and is mostly fructose. This filtered juice is then concentrated to a syrupy liquid, slightly thinner than honey. Its color varies from light- to dark-amber, depending on the degree of processing.
Agave salmiana is processed differently from Agave tequiliana. As the plant develops, it starts to grow a stalk called a quiote. The stalk is cut off before it fully grows, creating a hole in the center of the plant that fills with a liquid called aguamiel. The liquid is collected daily. The liquid is then heated, breaking down its complex components into fructose and glucose and preventing it from fermenting into pulque.
An alternative method used to process the agave juice without heat is described in a United States patent for a process that uses enzymes derived from the mold Aspergillus niger to convert the inulin-rich extract into fructose. Aspergillus niger, a fungus commonly used in industrial fermentations, is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Agave nectar consists primarily of fructose and glucose. One source gives 47% fructose and 16% glucose; another gives 56% fructose and 20% glucose. These differences probably reflect variation from one vendor of agave nectar to another.
Agave syrup is 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than sugar and is often substituted for sugar or honey in recipes. In cooking, it is commonly used as a vegan alternative to honey for those who choose to exclude animal products from their diets. Agave syrup dissolves quickly and so it can be used as a sweetener for cold beverages such as iced tea. It is added to some breakfast cereals as a binding agent.
Agave syrups are sold in light, amber, dark, and raw varieties. Light agave syrup has a mild, almost neutral flavor, and is therefore sometimes used in delicate-tasting dishes and beverages. Amber agave syrup has a medium-intensity caramel flavor and is therefore used in dishes and drinks with stronger flavors. Dark agave syrup has stronger caramel notes and imparts a distinct flavor to dishes, such as some desserts, poultry, meat, and seafood dishes. Both amber and dark agave syrups are sometimes used “straight out of the bottle” as a topping for pancakes, waffles, and French toast. The dark version is unfiltered and therefore contains a higher concentration of the agave plant’s minerals. Raw agave syrup also has a mild, neutral taste.[dubious ] It is produced at temperatures below 118 °F (48 °C) to protect the natural enzymes, so this variety could be considered an appropriate sweetener for raw foodists.
The impact of agave syrup on blood sugar (as measured by its glycemic index and glycemic load) is comparable to fructose, which has a much lower glycemic index and glycemic load than table sugar (sucrose).
However, consumption of large amounts of fructose can be deleterious and can trigger fructose malabsorption, metabolic syndrome, hypertriglyceridemia, decreased glucose tolerance, hyperinsulinemia, and accelerated uric acid formation.
The Truth about Agave Syrup:
Not as Healthy as You May Think
A relatively recent trend in raw food preparation is the use of agave syrup (also called agave nectar) as sweetener is called for in raw recipes. I am often asked about my views on this sweetener.
When I first switched to a raw food diet in 1995, agave syrup was unknown and was NOT USED IN RAW FOODS! I first learned about agave syrup back in 1999 or 2000 at a trade show for the health food industry, which I attend regularly to keep up with the latest in the health and nutrition field. I asked several questions, got some samples, and inquired on how the company processed the agave syrup. At that time, I learned that it was processed at roughly 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit11, so I certainly didn’t consider it a raw food by any means. Just like agave, some people consider maple syrup a raw food, but all maple syrup is heat-treated and is therefore not raw at all.
Unfortunately, there are no “raw labeling laws.” Anyone, anywhere, at any time can put “RAW” on their label and to them it can be supposedly raw since it is made from a “raw” material or simply not roasted. Just because it says “RAW” doesn’t necessarily mean that it was processed at a temperature under 118 degrees and still has all its enzymes, nutrients, and “life force” intact. For example, when you notice the difference between raw carob powder and roasted carob powder in the store, it is my understanding that the “raw” carob powder has been heated to about 250 degrees, whereas the “roasted” carob powder has been heated to about 450 degrees. The additional heat applied to the “roasted” carob powder causes the carob to “caramelize,” thus making it darker in appearance and different in taste as compared to the “raw” carob powder. Some stores sell “truly raw” carob powder, it has a more chalkier texture than supposedly “raw” carob powder. Jaffe Bros in Valley Center, California is a source of the “truly raw” carob powder. There are several raw food snack bars that say “RAW” but have ingredients such as cooked cocoa powder (that can’t be raw) and cashew nuts (most of which are not truly raw).
So agave needs to be hydrolyzed so that the complex fructosans are “broken down” into fructose units or it won’t be sweet!! Great- now I’m eating hydrolyzed raw agave syrup!
Let’s suppose for arguments sake, and to give agave the benefit of the doubt, that even with “new” technology, companies are somehow able to process agave syrup below 118 degrees so it could be considered actually “raw”. We still need to ask the question, is it good for us? Some foods, even if they truthfully are raw, may not actually be HEALTHY. Based on what I have learned about agave syrup, I believe it to be one of these foods.
My answer to the question, “Is agave nectar good for us?” would be “NO” based on my research. Here is a sample of my findings:
- Agave Syrup is not a “whole” food. It is a fractionated and processed food. Manufacturers take the liquid portion of the agave plant and “boil” it down, thus concentrating the sugar to make it sweet. This is similar to how maple “sap” that comes directly from a tree is heated and concentrated to make maple “syrup.” Agave Syrup is missing many of the nutrients that the original plant had to begin with.
- Agave Syrup was originally used to make tequila. When Agave Syrup ferments, it literally turns into tequila. The enzymatic activity therefore MUST be stopped so that the syrup will not turn into tequila in your cupboard. Raw or not, if there is no enzymatic activity, it is certainly not a “live” food. As Raw Foodists, we want the enzymes intact.
- According to my research, there are three major producers of agave syrup. Some of these companies also have other divisions that make Tequila. For the most part, agave syrup is produced in the Guadalajara region in Mexico. There are those within the industry who I have spoken to at various trade shows who say that some of the agave syrup is “watered down” with corn syrup in Mexico before it is exported to the USA. Why is this done? Most likely because Agave Syrup is expensive, and corn syrup is cheap.
- Agave Syrup is advertised as “low glycemic” and marketed towards diabetics. It is true, that agave itself is low glycemic. We have to consider why agave syrup is “low glycemic.” It is due to the unusually high concentration of fructose (90%) compared to the small amount of glucose (10%). Nowhere in nature does this ratio of fructose to glucose occur naturally. One of the next closest foods that contain almost this concentration of glucose to fructose is high fructose corn syrup used in making soda(HFCS 55), which only contains 55% fructose. Even though fructose is low on the glycemic index, there are numerous problems associated with the consumption of fructose in such high concentrations as found in concentrated sweeteners:
- Fructose appears to interfere with copper metabolism. This causes collagen and elastin being unable to form. Collagen and elastin are connective tissue which essentially hold the body together.1 A deficiency in copper can also lead to bone fragility, anemia, defects of the arteries and bone, infertility, high cholesterol levels, heart attacks and ironically enough an inability to control blood sugar levels.2
- Research suggests that fructose actually promotes disease more readily than glucose. This is because glucose is metabolized by every cell in the body, and fructose must be metabolized by the liver. 3 Tests on animals show that the livers of animals fed large amounts of fructose develop fatty deposits and cirrhosis of the liver. This is similar to the livers of alcoholics.
- “Pure” isolated fructose contains no enzymes, vitamins or minerals and may rob the body of these nutrients in order to assimilate itself for physiological use.4
- Fructose may contribute to diabetic conditions. It reduces the sensitivity of insulin receptors. Insulin receptors are the way glucose enters a cell to be metabolized. As a result, the body needs to make more insulin to handle the same amount of glucose.5
- Consumption of fructose has been shown to cause a significant increase in uric acid. An increase in uric acid can be an indicator of heart disease.6
- Fructose consumption has been shown to increase blood lactic acid, especially for people with conditions such as diabetes. Extreme elevations may cause metabolic acidosis.7
- Consumption of fructose leads to mineral losses, especially excretions of iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc compared to subjects fed sucrose.8
- Fructose may cause accelerated aging through oxidative damage. Scientists found that rats given fructose had more cross-linking changes in the collagen of their skin than other groups fed glucose. These changes are thought to be markers for aging.9
- Fructose can make you fat! It is metabolized by the liver and converts to fat more easily than any other sugar. Fructose also raises serum triglycerides (blood fats) significantly.10
- Agave Syrup and other concentrated sweeteners are addictive, so you end up trading a cooked addiction (eating candy bars or cookies) for a “raw” addiction which is not much better. Eating concentrated sweeteners makes it harder to enjoy the sweet foods we should be eating – whole fresh fruit since they don’t seem as sweet by comparison.
- Long-time raw foodist and Medical Doctor, Dr. Gabriel Cousens, M.D. says that agave nectar raises blood sugar just like any other sugar. Dr. Cousens wrote a book, “There Is a Cure for Diabetes”.
Whole fruits generally contain a much smaller amount of fructose compared to sucrose and glucose. In addition, fruits contain vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and other nutrients. Our bodies are designed to digest a complete “package” of nutrition that appears in whole, fresh, ripe fruits. Could nature be wrong? For example, it’s always better to eat fruits whole or blend them rather than juice them. When you juice fruits you remove the fiber which helps to slow down the absorption of the sugars. Concentrated sweeteners also contain no fiber and have much greater concentrations of simple sugars than are found in fresh fruit or even juices.
Now that you have a better understanding about Agave Syrup, hopefully the companies selling “raw” agave won’t dupe you. They are out to make a buck, which in this case is unfortunately at the expense of your health. If you are making a “raw” recipe and it does require a concentrated sweetener, I have some recommendations for some better options to use instead of agave: (Listed in order of preference.)
- Use ripe fresh fruits. Ripe fruits contain nutrients, fiber and water, a complete package, as nature intended. I find that ripe and organic fruits are usually sweetest.
- Use fresh whole stevia leaves. Stevia is an herb that actually tastes sweet but contains no sugar. This herb can be very hard to find fresh, so I personally grow my own. If fresh leaves are not available, get the whole dried leaves or the whole leaf powder. Avoid the white stevia powder and the stevia liquid drops as they have been highly processed.
- Use dried fruits. If you need a “syrup” consistency, just soak the dried fruits in some water and blend them up with the same soak water. Dates, figs, and prunes are some of the sweetest dried fruits that tend to work well in recipes. Try wet Barhi dates blended with a little water for an amazing maple syrup substitute. Please note: Since there are no raw labeling standards, some dried fruit may be dried at higher than 118 degrees, and thus, not really raw. If you want to ensure you are eating really raw dried fruit, it is best to dehydrate it yourself.
- Raw Honey is a concentrated sweetener, and although not recommended, in my opinion it is better than agave syrup because it is a whole food and occurs naturally in nature. Of course, honey is not vegan and that may be a concern for some. I recommend purchasing local honey from a beekeeper.
Other “concentrated sweeteners” that are often seen in raw food recipes include:
1) Maple Syrup which is not raw and heat processed. If it is not organic, it may also contain formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals.
2) Sucanat or evaporated cane juice is pure dried sugar cane juice. Unfortunately this is processed at a temperature above 118 degrees and therefore can’t be considered raw.
3) Yacon Syrup is a syrup from the root of the yacon plant in South America. It is once again, a concentrated sweetener processed at a temperature of up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
The moral of this article: Eat whole fresh fruits and vegetables, they are always best. Always question processed and concentrated foods that are not found in nature, even if “raw”.
I have decided that I will avoid foods containing agave in any form, just as I avoid HFCS. Now I want talk a bit about Yacon Syrup, but first let’s answer a few questions about raw vs cooked foods. Raw foods are still raw if not heated beyond 106 degrees, although some believe they are only considered cooked if the temp. goes beyond 118 degrees.
goodfood is an interesting website and I like their article ‘Raw vs cooked’.
About Food has a great page about Raw Food Diets and Dehydrator “Cooking” which says in part…
“The basic idea is that cooking destroys not only many of the vitamins in food but also enzymes that may be important to our health.
Food that reaches 118F is no longer considered raw because apparently it is at temperatures above that that the food’s nutrition is diminished.
Because of this, dehydrating temperatures for food that still qualify as raw once dried are typically between 105F/41C and 115F/46C. That is significantly lower than the 135F/57C to 150F/66C usually recommended for drying fruits and vegetables. What this means is that if you want to dry foods but still keep their raw status, you’ll need to allow for up to 1/3 longer drying time than the usual dehydration recipe will specify.”
I am not a Raw Foodist. I believe that God intended us to have both raw and cooked foods. I do however, strive to have a happy balance and eat whole natural foods as much as possible, and cooking until just done, not until all nutrients are boiled out and destroyed.
Yacon Syrup is a liquid sweetener made from the yacon plant and has caught our attention!
When we saw this article, we just had to share! Yummy Yacon Root
What is yacon syrup?
Yacón syrup is a sweetening agent extracted from the tuberous roots of the yacón plant indigenous to the Andes mountains. It was used by the Incas. In Peru, people eat yacon because of its nutritional properties—few calories and low sugar…
What Did We Discover?
A good Yacon Syrup extract must contain Yacon Root with at least 41.39% Fructooligosaccharides (FOS). It must be 100% pure with no fillers, binders or any other artificial ingredients. We think it would possibly make a good topping for pancakes and an excellent ‘sugar substitute’ for many foods. THEREFORE– we will now order some and see if it passes our taste test! It’s later- we did and love it!!
100% Pure Yacon Syrup, All Natural Sugar Substitute, Metabolism Booster (8 oz.)
- Made of 100% Pure Yacon Syrup (76% FOS)
- High in Prebiotics and Probiotics
- Use as a Natural Sweetener in Foods You Eat Every Day Without the Extra Calories!
- Aids in Weight Loss by Suppressing Your Appetite and Boosting Metabolism
- Proven to Help Lower Cholesterol and Blood Sugar Levels, Increase Bone Density, Improve Immune System Function and Increase Energy Levels
Most Helpful Customer Reviews (we’ll give you 4)
*You MUST decant it!! (We discovered there is a better way to make sure you get to use all of it– see below this persons report.)
I love Yacon Syrup. Its flavor profile makes it amazing in recipes where one might otherwise use molasses–so anything with chocolate, coconut, cinnamon, spice, etc. I’ve heard that heat robs it of a lot of its health benefits, so I use it in low temp recipes only, like paleo chocolate bars or shakes. I have tried a couple of brands now and I found this particular brand satisfactory and a reasonable price.
When you read reviews of Yacon Syrup you’ll often find people complaining about the syrup solidifying in the bottom. In my experience, that happens regardless of which brand of Yacon Syrup you buy. At least 1/4 of the bottle’s contents will always solidify at the bottom. Using hot water to get this last bit out is impossible, as it solidifies to the consistency of caramel, which simply won’t come out through the narrow neck of the bottle no matter what you do.
Now, whenever I buy Yacon Syrup, regardless of the brand, I always decant it into a wide-mouth glass jar. Then, to get my full money’s worth, I carefully cut off the top of the plastic bottle and use a knife or spatula to dig out the thick solids at the bottom and stir it into the jar with the rest. The thick stuff is perfectly good … it’s just too thick to come out the narrow neck of the bottle. And even though it will still solidify at the bottom of the glass jar over time, it’s a whole lot easier to get it out with a spatula (and there’ll be less of it, because it’s easier to stir the syrup as you use it.)
Jeannie here– We’ve been using ours instead of honey and pancake syrup, then I began putting it into the special vinegar drink I have every day. Soooo- when the first bottle was gone, instead of tossing it, I decided to fill it with my vinegar to see what might happen- I did want to make sure the bottle was rinsed out good and I hadn’t wasted any. WOW!! The vinegar began to turn brown from the bit of syrup left in the bottle and I no longer needed to add stevia to my drink in order to tolerate the vinegar taste that I have never cared for- OK, vinegar lovers you may laugh at me, but hear this– we had a nice salad for dinner one night and knowing that some people actually like to put vinegar and oil on their salads- (I’ve never understood that- just eat mine without dressing or have an avocado on it)- I decided to pour a little vinegar from the yacon bottle on my salad as an experiment. Wow, wow, super-wow!! I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love!! From now on I will put this yacon vinegar on my salads!! So delicious- sooo good for me- and it will be good to the last drop without the hassle and work this woman went to!
*Great alternative to artificial sweeteners and it has so many benefits A+++.
I mainly began researching sugar alternatives when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. It was very important to look for natural sweeteners that the body could digest slower. I used it daily in my coffee to replace sugar. I started out with a tiny teaspoon because I didn’t want to over sweeten my coffee. I was surprised that it was mild compared to my expectations. It sort of resembles molasses in color but is not as thick. Because its a liquid I wasn’t sure how strong it was going to be. It wasn’t overpowering at all. It sweetened my coffee and I didn’t notice any weird taste or aftertaste it was just sweeter. I really like that it has prebiotics and probiotics. I was brainstorming on all the things I could make with this syrup. Put it on oatmeal, pancakes, dips and salad dressings. Replace honey on cornbread or honey in mustard honey dressing. I am also wondering if I can use this in or on homemade ice cream. I recommend this as an alternative to sugar and artificial sugar.
Tastes more like a mixture of chocolate syrup and molasses. A good substitute for maple syrup. Works well on whole wheat waffles or as a snack on rice cakes.
*I can definitely feel the difference after taking this….
I can definitely feel the difference after taking this. Before, I would try and limit myself to what my diet should be, but ultimately would give in to the hunger and pick a snack out of the pantry. Taking this, I no longer feel this snacking urge, and has really helped me to lose weight.
- Made of 100% Pure Yacon Syrup (76% FOS)