Ever since I discovered for myself how unhealthy sugar is, I’ve been promoting the benefits of following a low sugar diet. I have even written my own sugar-busting diet – the 20 No-Sugar Days Challenge, which you can read about in this article.
Sugar, you see, is highly addictive, contains no vitamins, minerals, or fiber, can trigger inflammation and other health problems, and can make you fat and hungry all the time. Unfortunately, sugar is added to almost all processed foods so unless you know how to recognize it, it’s all too easy to eat way too much.
Because many people (me included) love the taste of sugar, it can be hard to give up which is why I’m so often asked about safer, healthier, sugar alternatives. There are lots of artificial and natural sweeteners that are used in place of sugar, and some are better than others. The one I have been asked about the most lately is agave.
What is Agave ?
Agave, sometimes called agave nectar or agave syrup, is a sweetener extracted from the agave plant which is a sort of cactus commonly found in Mexico and South America. It is made up of around 47% fructose and 16% glucose and has a sweeter taste than sugar which means you may need to use less of it.
South Americans and Mexicans have been using agave syrup for thousands of years and consider it to be medicinal and healthy. They process it very minimally and, in many ways, it’s a lot like natural maple syrup which is also quite healthy and contains useful nutrients.
However, most commercially produced agave products are heavily processed which means that many of the beneficial nutrients such as vitamins and enzymes are destroyed which makes it nothing like the “real” natural agave syrup.
Agave, because it contains a lot of fructose, has a low glycemic index which means it does not cause a big spike in blood glucose levels. For this reason, it is often recommended to people with diabetes who have difficulty controlling their blood glucose levels.
In numerous studies I have read, agave syrup fed to animals caused more weight gain than plain sugar
However, in numerous studies I have read, agave syrup fed to animals caused more weight gain than plain sugar which, needless to say, it not a good thing! Why does this happen? Despite being sold as a healthy alternative to sugar, agave contains MORE calories! Despite being “natural,” fructose is still a form of sugar, and too much of any sugar is not good for you.
Agave syrup is basically the same as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which most people know is very unhealthy and something that you need to avoid as much as possible. HFCS are commonly found in very unhealthy foods such as soda and candy. In fact, any food high in HFCS should never appear on your grocery list.
It’s incredibly sweet and very addictive, and many people find it hard to resist. If you drink a soda made with HFCS, you will probably have no trouble drinking 20 ounces and then wanting more.
Agave syrup is often sold as a healthy alternative to HFCS but, in reality, it’s not any better for you and some people, because of the “health halo effect” will use more agave than HFCS because they believe it’s better for them. “Real” agave syrup that has been minimally processed is a pretty good alternative to sugar, but that’s not what’s on sale at most health food stores.
Alternatives to Agave
I think you now know that agave is no better than sugar and other less healthy sweeteners, so what can you use instead?
If you want a healthier, natural sweetener that is low (or even free) in calories too, Stevia is a decent choice. Stevia is made from a green, leafy plant from South America. Stevia and available in liquid or granular form.It has been shown to be both healthy and safe. This is a all natural stevia that you can find at amazon.com.
Another sugar alternative is raw honey which is high in nutrients, releases slowly into your blood, so your blood glucose levels will remain more stable, is loaded with beneficial nutrients, and tastes good too. I love raw honey on natural Greek yogurt for breakfast – yum!
If I need a sweet fix, fruit is always a good, healthy option and if you want a concentrated hit of sweetness, you can’t go too far wrong with dried fruit. Apricots, sultanas, raisins, and dates are amongst my favorites. It’s like eating candy but with added vitamins, minerals, and fiber!
Remember, though, except for Stevia, even natural and healthy sweeteners like dates and raw honey contain sugar and calories and consuming too much can lead to weight gain.
Agave is not a healthy alternative to sugar – despite being produced from plants and having a lower glycemic index than sugar. Food manufacturers promote agave as healthy but, really, it’s not. Don’t fall for what amounts to nothing more than marketing hype (or lies as I like to call them) and give agave and agave-containing products a miss!