We tend to think that any sweetener is healthier than white sugar, especially when we read phrases like “low glycemic index”, “100% pure”, “ideal for diabetics”, or even “organic” on the label. This is what happens with agave syrup.
In this sense, the fact that this agave syrup is ecological does not mean that it is healthy. But that is another question that we will deal with another time.
In the particular case of agave syrup, many nutritionists have warned that although it is sold as a healthier sweetener, the reality is quite different. Why? Today we’re going to find out a little more about this trendy sweetener.
What is agave syrup?
Agave syrup is a sweetener obtained from a type of Agave, which consists of a species of cactus known as Maguey. It is therefore a natural sweetener obtained from a plant (such as white sugar from sugar cane).
The Agave is a plant that comes from Mexico, very similar to the Aloe. It is known that, for thousands of years, the natives of central Mexico cut down the plant in order to extract the sap – or mead – which was then consumed as a sweetening drink with refreshing qualities.
In fact, when they boiled the sap obtained from this plant for several hours they obtained agave honey, also known as maguey honey.
How do you get agave syrup?
In the old days, in the time of the Mexican natives, the plant was allowed to grow for 7 to 10 years, and then cut, remove its sap, and obtain the popular agave syrup. However, for every 20 liters of this sap, they produced less than two liters of this syrup. This is why it is now made through a refining process. And this is where we find part of the problem.
Today, the process of making/wining agave syrup is quite different: through a refining process, the different fructose molecules are extracted from the inulin found in the agave bulb.
While it is true that the fluid initially contains fructans (compounds healthy for the metabolism and insulin), using different chemicals and enzymes, traditional agave syrup is converted into a kind of syrup rich in fructose, so that the original liquid has ended up losing all its nutritional value.
In other words, as with refined sugar, the production process destroys each and every one of the healthy properties of the Agave plant.
What’s the problem with agave syrup? Why isn’t it as healthy as you probably think?
It has been sold to us for years that agave syrup is an alternative to white sugar because it is apparently and supposedly much healthier and has a low glycemic index.
But this is absolutely false: agave syrup is not healthy, especially because after its manufacturing process, all the properties of the plant are destroyed, and only a concentrated syrup tremendously rich in fructose is obtained.
Is high fructose corn syrup, for example, said to be healthy? Well, you’ll probably be surprised to learn that the manufacturing process is quite similar to the way agave syrup is obtained and made.
It has a low glycemic index, yes, and?
Most packages of agave syrups found in supermarkets and herbalists, state on their labels that it is a sweetener “with a low glycemic index”, or that it is useful “for diabetics”.
What does this mean? It basically means that it’s a food product that doesn’t produce blood sugar spikes. This is because agave syrup is mostly fructose, which does not go directly into the bloodstream, so it does not raise insulin or blood sugar levels quickly, especially in a short period of time.
Indeed, agave syrup has a tremendously low glycemic index, and since we tend to think that this sweetener is “healthier”, we tend to consume excessive amounts of it. The result is that a high amount of fructose can cause problems in our metabolic health.
For example, our liver tends to overload, starting to transform through the formation of VLDL particles, fructose into fat. As a result, that excess fat can be deposited in the liver, causing what is known as fatty liver. This is a disease that tends not to cause symptoms, which evolves silently and can reach more serious stages, such as inflammation and enlargement of this organ, cirrhosis, and liver cancer.
As we can see, although it is true that fructose does not produce blood sugar peaks, when consumed in large quantities it can contribute to the development of insulin resistance, which in the long term can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.