Today I'm answering a question from Christian Frugal Mom. Thanks, Janeen, for posting it twice. I keep all questions to answer as soon as time allows, but asking twice really gets me hopping! The question is "about agave nectar and any info you might have on it. I'm wondering if it's actually good or just more manufacturer hype."
When looking at a food product, the first two questions I ask are:
- What raw ingredients did the manufacturers start with?
- What processing has been done to morph the raw ingredients into this product?
Looking at Agave Nectar:
1. Agave Nectar comes from the juice extracted from several different species of agave plants. It is most often a product of Mexico. It has a low glycemic index and contains several minerals such as Calcium, Potassium and Magnesium. It is four times sweeter than honey and has a milder flavor. Sounds pretty good so far...
2. Once the juice has been extracted, it is heated so that the sugars are hydrolyzed. Keeping things simple, this just means that the long chain fructosans are converted to shorter fructose units. The processing increases the sweetness of the agave juice. Once it is hydrolyzed, the agave juice is filtered and then concentrated to form the Agave Nectar we see at the market. Unfortunately, the result of this processing is a sweetener that is very high in fructose - even more concentrated than High Fructose Corn Syrup in some cases. The concentration is dramatically higher than the fructose levels in whole fruits and fruit juices. Although the sweetener is low-glycemic, its effects resemble the negative health implications of High Fructose Corn Syrup.
The high concentration of fructose found in Agave Nectar is unlike any concentration found in nature. I don't think our bodies are designed to handle such rushes of sugar very frequently. Glycemic Index aside, this highly processed sweetener has the potential to wreak havoc on our pancreas and on our metabolism. While I don't think an occasional serving of Agave Nectar would wreck a body, the prolonged usage of this product might give us trouble.
Note: there is some variation in the processing. Some raw nectars have had their fructosans shortened using molds or bees instead of heat. Since there is not a definitive protocol for processing each brand, if you do chose to use Agave Nectar in moderation, call the manufacturer. Most reputable companies will provide you with processing information.
That's my two cents. We like to follow the principles outlined in What the Bible Says About Healthy Living... which leave us using sweeteners in their natural, unadulterated state. Did you know that Agave Plants were originally used only for making tequila? Before hydrolyzation, the juice wasn't sweet enough to be called a sweetener... sort of like maple syrup straight from the tree.
Mexico, Oaxaca, Field of Agave Plants for Making Tequila
Photo Credit: Allposters.com