The Agave Scam

Gretchen Becker Health Guide
  • "But you can sweeten dishes with almond cream and agave nectar - most people will never taste the difference!" says diabetic chef Franklin Becker in an article on diabetic cooking in Time magazine.


    Becker (no relation) explained how he'd controlled his type 2 diabetes in part by switching from sugar to "natural sweeteners."


    Huh? Table sugar is natural. And the fact that something is natural doesn't make it benign. After all, strychnine and cyanide are both natural.


    In past decades, many food manufacturers have switched from table sugar, which is sucrose, to high-fructose-corn syrup (HFCS). Sucrose consists of half glucose and half fructose. HFCS consists of about 45% glucose and 55% fructose. Not a big difference.

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    Yet many people are blaming the fructose in "high-fructose" corn syrup for the obesity epidemic. (The high is in relation to normal corn syrup, which is 100%  glucose.) So a lot of consumers are switching to alternatives, like agave syrup, which is advertised as "all natural" and "low glycemic."


    So what's in agave syrup? Fructose! It's about 90% fructose, much more than you find in HFCS. But health food stores throughout the country are featuring it as a healthy alternative to table sugar.


    I wrote to the manager of my local Coop saying it was fine if they wanted to sell the stuff, but I thought they should put up a note explaining it's mostly fructose. Naturally they did nothing of the kind. It might interfere with sales.


    Agave syrup, like the fructose crystals you can find in the sugar section of most grocery stores is, in fact, low glycemic. It won't raise your blood glucose levels much. However, it will probably increase your triglyceride levels. It can also increase insulin resistance. And fructose adds on to proteins even faster than glucose does; one estimate is about seven times as fast.


    When proteins have sugars attached in this way, they aren't as good at doing their job as they should be. Enzymes don't work as well. Membranes don't work as well. Receptors that take cholesterol out of your blood don't work as well.


    If you like agave syrup and you want to use small amounts, you can. But you should realize what you're eating. Honey and maple syrup are other natural sweeteners that contain a lot of fructose, and like agave, they're probably OK for nondiabetics if they don't go overboard.


    If we have diabetes, we know our metabolism is already somewhat out of kilter. Anything we can do to minimize the damage is a good thing.


    I wouldn't touch agave syrup myself.



Published On: November 22, 2011