If your go-to option for a sweetener is agave nectar- listen up. Because it ranks relatively low on both the glycemic index and glycemic load scales and because of its reputation as a “natural” sweetener, agave seems to be everywhere in products claiming to be good for health – from teas to nutrition bars and energy drinks.
All sugar – from table sugar to high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to honey – contains some mixture of fructose and glucose. Table sugar is roughly 50/50, HFCS is 55/45. Agave nectar, often considered a “natural sweetener” is actually 82 % fructose. Y E S – the truth is agave has a higher fructose content than any other common sweetener, even more than high fructose corn syrup.
In the agave plant, most of the sweetness comes from a particular kind of fructose called inulin, which actually has some health benefits – it’s considered a fiber. But there’s not much inulin left in the actual syrup. In the manufacturing process, enzymes are added to the inulin to break it down into digestible sugar (fructose), resulting in a syrup that has a fructose content that is, at best, 57 percent (and can be as high as 90 percent according to some evaluations).
Fructose – the sugar found naturally in fruit – is fine when you get it from whole foods; it comes with a host of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. But when it’s commercially extracted from fruit, concentrated and made into a sweetener, it exacts a considerable metabolic price. Americans consume way too much fructose- an average of something like 55+ grams per day. Studies suggest that fructose is a major culprit in the rising incidence of type 2 diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. It may also increase risks of heart disease. Check out my previous blog: “Fruit Truths: the things to know”.
It’s important to be mindful when it comes to all dietary sugar in take. My suggestion is always to think about choosing low sugar content fruits (EX: kiwi fruit, blueberries, raspberries, grapefruit and honeydew melon) – bonus benes for the boost in super rich antioxidants.
Focus on moderation – not deprivation? A small amount of agave nectar – or whatever your sweetener of choice might be – isn’t going have a negative impact. Just don’t buy into the idea that one is any better for you or more “natural” than plain sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
If you’re tired of mixed messages and want to feel better every day, I can help. Learn about my approach to diet and nutrition and schedule online at kyoungnutrition.com. Consider it a gift to yourself to make this your year to look and feel better.
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