The great agave nectar debate…
Before I get verbally attacked when I post my reviews on certain products containing agave nectar, I would just like to put out my rationale on the matter of agave and also why I am reviewing products containing agave. I want to inform those of you new to Paleo on the matter as it is an absolute minefield and very confusing to gain a grasp on!
Firstly agave is Paleo Friendly but not Paleo Certified. What is the difference between the two?
Well. Paleo Friendly products are essentially products that have labeled as being Paleo buuut within a grey area – like say blackstrap molasses, xylitol or dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has been processed, it contains sugar but it still sort of sits within the realms of the Paleo diet. These products can be called ‘Certified Paleo Friendly’ Confusing huh?! It is up to you to make the decision to include these products within your diet or not.
Paleo Certified products fit perfectly within the bounds of a Paleo diet and are not within any grey area. They contain no legumes, grains, dairy, preservatives, or additives.
So agave nectar comes from the agave plant, it’s not a legume, grain, it’s not dairy it’s not a lot of things but it is indeed a plant. The processing is what makes it Paleo Friendly rather than Paleo Certified.
If I am going to consume agave then it’s likely going to be organic so that is why I am focussing on organic agave within this article.
Now that we have got that out of the way let’s go onto the processing of organic agave nectar.
Organic Agave nectar is made by extracting the milky white juice from the ‘pinas’ (a sort of juicy core) of the Agave plant, filtering it (removing any pulp from the extraction process) and then heating it (typically at a low heat) until it turns into a concentrated ‘syrup’. It doesn’t have any enzymes added to it artificially however during the heating process an enzymatic change occurs and the inulin contained within the agave is broken down into approximately 80% fructose and 20% glucose (worst case scenario). So the good news is that it has minimal processing. Don’t forget that bees also go through an enzymatic process when making honey.
But what about the fructose? Doesn’t that lead to obesity?
No, fructose is not the direct cause of obesity, people are. Through and through. If you consume excess amounts of sugar your body will eventually process and store it as fat. All sweeteners should be used minimally and never as part of your everyday regular diet.
Do not forget that when people are consuming fructose and it is leading to obesity it is generally being consumed in the form of high fructose corn syrup soda/fizzy pop drinks and sweets. The calorific intake is way in excess of what you would consume in an agave sweetened product and also most people won’t have a can of pop and not eat anything else either. I’m sure you can all figure out what an excess in calories can cause. A glass of fruit juice over a glass of say – coke is always going to be better for you.
But back to the fructose. So the positives about fructose are that fructose is very low on the Glycemic Index (somewhere in the late 20s) so it won’t spike your blood sugar like glucose or high fructose corn syrup would and as it is 1.5 times sweeter than regular sugar a lot less needs to be used to reach the desired sweetness. It is also classed as containing some probiotics. It is also a good option for a Vegan sweetener.
The Agave plant does contain saponins and phytochemicals that are great immune boosters but I cannot vouch for how much of these components are kept intact through the processing of the agave.
The negatives about fructose is that it is metabolized by the liver into triglycerides and so stored as fat and in the long term high fructose consumption can lead to inulin resistance and essentially cause diabetes. If you have liver or renal problems then I would avoid agave nectar like the plague. Like any sugar it is high in carbohydrates that will not fuel your body efficiently either.
Now agave is typically somewhere between 50-80% fructose (depending upon how it is processed) and a tablespoon of agave will typically yield 12g fructose per tablespoon. High fructose corn syrup is somewhere between 50-90% fructose depending upon the manufacturer and will yield around 8g-13g fructose per tablespoon. So they’re around the same. But remember before? when I said that agave is 1.5 times sweeter than normal sugar? Well you’re typically going to use less than high fructose corn syrup – a whole 330ml can of coke (in the UK) contains roughly 35g of fructose. A 50g bar of Conscious raw chocolate contains anywhere from 6g to 10g. I think I rest my case in saying that the fructose consumption is going to be fairly low. I myself cannot eat a 50g bar of any chocolate and usually have a square a day if I have a bar in the house. It’s also a good point to note that a whole mango contains 27.5g of fructose – and I dread to think what a whole dried one contains. Now I will agree that a mango contains more antioxidants, vitamins and minerals without a doubt and I would rather eat me some mango than some pure agave nectar.
Can I consume agave if I am pregnant?
I thought I would add this question in here as there has been research to indicate high levels of saponins leading to miscarriage. Consult your doctor or midwife before consumption. Personally I wouldn’t take the risk.
So would I consume agave nectar and allow my children to? being that I am Paleo and all?
No I certainly wouldn’t buy a bottle of agave nectar and use it in my cooking, I prefer raw honey, maple syrup and cocont sugar because they bring flavour to my cooking, agave is relatively flavourless.
Would I consume agave nectar in a product? Yes I would. Would I consume it regularly? No. I don’t believe in consuming any kind of sugar on a regular basis (which can prove to be a hard task being a food blogger) as it is not healthy to do so. Agave I would certainly consume less regularly than the others but this is because my body does not react well to it in large quantities as I suffer from an autoimmune disease that effects my renal function. If I am out and about with my kids and they want some chocolate and there is a little agave in it, yes I am willing to turn a blind eye. If Santa brings us some agave filled treats will I throw them away? No? In my eyes a treat is a treat – it’s something that you consume less regularly than most other items.
What I am trying to say is that ultimately it is your choice what you want to consume responsibly and I am trying to inform you of what products are available on the market at the moment that you can make a choice from. That is the purpose of a review. When I have finished getting my ‘Paleo Product Guide’ section finished I will be rating products as being green, amber and red. Red being something that you should consume rarely and this would fall into that category.
DISCLAIMER: All information within this article has been gathered from multiple sources and all opinions voiced are solely my own. Please always do your own research too 🙂
What is your take on agave and high fructose intake? Will you have the odd sneaky treat? Please feel free to comment below and if there any mistakes within my writing please feel free to voice those too!