While visiting the United States from Argentina this month, I have become quite interested in the debate over sweeteners and more specifically agave nectar. When I left the U.S. four years ago, agave nectar was the newest craze. Many, including myself, were excited about its low glycemic index and potential as a healthy (or healthier) sweetener than other natural sugars on the market. Companies started mass-producing this alternative sweetener and promoting it as an ideal sugar substitute for the health conscious and especially those with diabetes.
However, over the past year there have been many reports coming out indicating that agave nectar is no better than high fructose corn syrup and that its high fructose content (90%) may make it even worse then other sweeteners. As most of us know, too much consumption of any sugar, including agave nectar can contribute to diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, etc. However, it’s been reported that processed fructose, the main argument against agave nectar, is metabolized like alcohol and causes damage to the liver in addition to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, increased LCD levels, elevated blood sugar and many other health problems. I think it’s important to also understand that natural fructose found in fruits for example is metabolized differently and does have important nutritional value. (Source: Dr. Mercola, www.mercola.com)
After researching this topic and reading what health professionals have to say on the issue, I am left with the understanding that the majority, not all, of agave nectar is processed at high temperatures utilizing toxic chemicals, completely depleting its natural nutrients and enzymes. However, agave nectar that is raw (meaning it is processed over four times longer at temperatures that don’t exceed 118 degrees), organic, free of additives and pesticides, and lower in fructose levels that are bonded as opposed to free floating is an exception to the negative press coming out on agave nectar. Unfortunately, it seems to be extremely difficult to find agave nectar that meets these standards and may be even impossible as it has been discovered recently that some brands marketed as “raw” are actually cooked at temperatures above 118 degrees.
If you do choose to consume agave nectar, it’s important to know where it’s coming from, how it’s being processed and that the company you’re buying from can be trusted. Also remember that like most other sugars, no matter where your agave nectar comes from, over-consumption can be hazardous to your health. Dr. Mercola recommends keeping fructose consumption to no more than 15 grams per day.
Despite the discovery that agave nectar might not be the ideal sweetener we once thought it was, I was happy to learn of another new sweetener on the market that may be our best option yet. It’s called Coconut Nectar or Coconut Palm Sugar and is made from coconut sap. This sweetener has a lower glycemic index than agave nectar and less than 10% fructose. Raw varieties, although unconfirmed, have become available and are produced without chemicals, pesticides or herbicides and contain less than 2% fructose. Coconut palm sugar is said to be rich in amino acids, vitamins and minerals and maintain a neutral pH.
Although I will be watching for more research on this new sweetener, the information we have thus far seems very positive and it’s definitely worth a try. Two other great sweetener options being recommended are organic xylitol (a white powder made from birch bark and extracted from a variety of fruits and vegetables) and stevia (a herb that is significantly sweeter then sugar with no negative side effects).
Published On: October 07, 2010