Agave nectar has become increasingly popular as a more natural and healthy alternative to white sugar. It has become more mainstream and can be found in commercial grocery stores and even on restaurant menus as an ingredient in cocktails, desserts, and main dishes. Agave’s versatility as a sweetener is an added bonus, as it can be used to sweeten tea, oatmeal, or as a substitute in baked goods. Agave’s popularity is largely due to a very successful marketing campaign which often touts it as a “natural” sweetener that is also safe for diabetics. All this sounds too good to be true. So is it?
The first thing to keep in mind is that agave nectar, like any other sweetener, is not a health food. It is still a refined carbohydrate and will effect your blood sugar. Although often labeled as “raw” and “natural,” agave syrup is still processed (often under 118 degrees, thus the raw label). It comes from the agave plant, which is the main ingredient of tequila. When the agave nectar is removed from the plant, it is processed, filtered, and heated in order to break down the carbohydrates into sugars. The result of this chemical process is known as hydrolyzed high fructose inulin syrup, and depending on the manufacturer it ranges from 55-90 percent fructose! Thus, agave nectar is a poor, and sometimes even worse, alternative if your goal is to avoid high fructose corn syrup (HCFS).
This high fructose level also makes it a poor choice if you are a diabetic. Very few studies have been conducted verifying the claim that it is a low glycemic food and safe for diabetics. There have been no clinical human studies done on its safety for diabetics.
Since your blood sugar will likely rise just as if you were consuming sugar or HCFS, the key is using agave nectar in moderation. Even better, seek out naturally sweet foods that truly come from nature, such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash or berries. And for those instances when a sweetener is needed, consider using stevia, raw honey, coconut sugar or sucanat, and always in moderation.