Agave nectar climbs the popularity charts with health conscious consumers as a “natural,” kosher, and vegan sugar substitute. However, it’s important to remember that the Food and Drug Administration and US Department of Agriculture have yet to formally define the term “natural.” Agave nectar is from Mexican blue agave plants, and in its natural state is a thin liquid. By the time you buy it, the base of the agave plant has been cooked in a pressure cooker to get the inner liquid moving, then chopped up and filtered into a ‘syrup-like’ liquid before it’s bottled. It goes through processing similar to other sugars.
While one teaspoon of agave has 21 calories—about the same calories as other sweeteners, like honey (21 calories) and table sugar (15 calories)—its advantage is a lower glycemic index (GI). The lower the GI, the slower the body absorbs the carbohydrates in the sugar, which results in fewer spikes in blood sugar levels.
Sugars have varying antioxidant activity, which may be useful in reducing oxidative damage that leads to chronic diseases. Among sugars tested, blackstrap molasses has the highest antioxidant activity; brown sugar, maple syrup and honey show moderate activity, and agave nectar come in at the bottom, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
The bottom line is that agave nectar is no healthier than sugar, honey or HFCS, and all added sugars should be limited in the diet.
|Agave nectar||15 low|
|Brown rice syrup||25 low|
|Maple syrup||54 high|
|Blackstrap molasses||55 high|
|Table sugar||65 high|
|High fructose corn syrup||68 high|
Article published in Environmental Nutrition, Aug 2014.