Agave Nectar - Is it Helpful in a Low-Carb Diet?

Detail of Agave plant
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What is Agave Nectar?

Agave nectar, also called agave syrup, is a sweet syrup made from the filtered juice of a succulent plant native to Mexico. (Incidentally, it is made from a different agave species from that used as the basis for tequila.)

How is Agave Nectar Made?

Agave nectar is usually made from filtering the agave juice and then heating it to evaporate some of the water and concentrate the syrup.

  This also breaks down the complex sugars present in the syrup into simple ones. (Raw agave juice contains inulin, but the syrup which results from the processing contains very little inulin, which breaks down into sugars, primarily fructose.)  Another method for breaking down the juice into the syrup uses enzymes.

How Much Sugar (Carb) is in Agave Nectar?

The agave nectars I have seen in the stores near me have 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon, which is exactly the same as table sugar, corn syrup, molasses, or any of the other words on an ingredient label that essentially mean "sugar". Since they are almost completely carbohydrate, the calories are also equivalent.

Is Agave Nectar a Good Substitute for Sugar?

Agave nectar is touted as being better than other forms of sugar. The claim is that it raises blood sugar less than other sugars. Since most of the sugar in agave nectar is fructose (up to 90%), this is probably true, as fructose is less glycemic than glucose.

However, fructose has other problematic issues.

What is the Problem with Fructose?

Fructose was once thought to be great for diabetics because of its lesser impact on blood glucose. However, it is now recognized that too much fructose is a bad thing, causing an increase in triglycerides and promoting insulin resistance, among other things.

More detailed information about fructose

Does Agave have Other Health Benefits?

The dark unfiltered type of agave syrup has more minerals than the light form of the syrup, but either way, it isn't really a significant source of any mineral. You will occasionally see other health claims for the agave plant, although not as often for the syrup. As far as I can tell, there is little scientific substantiation for health benefits from consuming agave nectar.

The Bottom Line

Agave syrup is not an improvement over any other type of sugar in a low-carb diet.

Sources:

American Diabetes Association. "Nutrition Recommendations and Interventions for Diabetes–2006." Diabetes Care 29 (2006): 2140-2157. Bantle, John, et al. "Effects of dietary fructose on plasma lipids in healthy subjects." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 72.5 (2000):1128-1134. Elliott, Sharon, et al. "Fructose, weight gain, and the insulin resistance syndrome." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 76.5 (2002): pages.

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