Agave nectar! A sweetener that’s good for you! Let’s make cake!
The insatiable American sweet tooth may have celebrated too early. As Seattle’s Nutrition Educator Goldie Caughlan, points out in her balanced article Bitter & Sweet: Agave Syrup, there is no perfect sweetener. Close to 19% of the American diet comes from some form of sugar. That’s too much of a sweet thing no matter what health expert you’re interrogating. Does it matter whether it is agave, honey or plain old white sugar? It does to me. I choose my sweeteners based on ethical behavior and kitchen-ability.
True, a sweetener was once upon a time made from the juice of the agave cactus. The traditional sweetener from the agave sap/juice (miel de agave) was made by simply boiling it for several hours. The new improved nectar marketed to us in the 90’s is mostly chemically refined fructose, anywhere from 70% and higher. For comparison, the high-fructose corn syrup used in sodas is 55% refined fructose. The sugars in the nectar are converted to fructose using an enzymatic process similar to how corn syrup is converted into HFCS. Are we saps for believing it was somehow “natural”?
Low Glycemic Index
One of agave’s marketing points is its low glycemic index, meaning it won’t raise blood sugar levels as high or as fast as some other sugars. Sounds good huh? But as Joy Bauer points out in her article How Sweet it Is (msnbc news) “the reason agave has such a low glycemic index is that it is extremely high in fructose — a simple sugar that ranks low on the glycemic index, but can trigger symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome such as gas, bloating and abdominal pain. Fructose has also been shown to increase the risk of heart disease by increasing triglycerides and — due to its negative effect on several appetite-regulating hormones — weight gain and obesity.” Agave nectar is advertised as a “diabetic friendly,” raw, and “100% natural sweetener.” Misleading?
I have to go back to the whole foods concept and ask the whole foods questions – what has been done to the food since it was harvested? The seed to table journey is long; making several stops in the laboratory for some enzymatic conversions. Are all of the original edible ingredients present? Truth is there are not many sweeteners where much of the food matter hasn’t been tossed. Maple syrup and honey are possible exceptions; agave is not. How long has this food been known to nourish humans? Here the operative word is “nourish”. Agave nectar may disqualify right there. I tend to distrust new and approved foods that don’t have a several decade track record. Bottom line (my flexible line in the sand) – I don’t know how I could make commercially-sold agave nectar in my kitchen. Agave has no kitchen-ability.
Tell me what you think.