If it comes from a plant, it must be good for you. Well, yes and no. Plant-based foods have many health benefits that have been backed by tons of scientific studies. They are not always good for you because food processing alters their nutritional quality. Such is the case with the popular sweetener agave, found as an additive in many processed foods.
Found mainly in parts of Mexico, the core of the agave plant contains ‘aguamiel’ (Spanish for ‘honey water’). This is the same liquid used to make tequila. A distinguishing feature of agave is that it contains a higher content of fructose (fruit sugar) compared to other sweeteners. Store bought agave syrups can range anywhere from 55-90% fructose. The infamous sweetener high-fructose corn syrup has about 55% fructose.
Fructose is a sugar that may be misunderstood by many consumers. On the up side, fructose has a lower glycemic index (GI) than other sugars. It does not have a substantial effect on blood sugar levels. Most of it bypasses the bloodstream and gets metabolized in the liver.
The downside to fructose is it can decrease the production of leptin (a hunger stopping hormone) and increase the production of ghrelin (a hunger hormone). It is also known to increase triglyceride levels and corrupts the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. This can be problematic if fructose is consumed in large doses. Smaller amounts of fructose are acceptable.
Agave has roughly 60 calories per tablespoon. Sucrose (table sugar) has about 40 calories per tablespoon. Additionally, the agave syrup products sold in stores are processed without adding artificial flavors. This is why it can be labeled as ‘natural’ under FDA regulations. Agave is sweeter than regular sugar, so less of it can be used to sweeten foods.
Agave syrup is a popular sweetener in some alcoholic drinks, such as margaritas, because it dissolves easily. A fun and popular place to eat and drink in Las Vegas is Kahunaville. Inside the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino, Kahunaville is famous for its party bar that serves margaritas and other drinks. Ask a server for a drink with some agave added if you have not tried it before.
Any sweetener can be detrimental to one’s health if consumed in excess. Processed agave sweeteners are not much healthier than table sugar, honey, or high-fructose corn syrup. A good rule of thumb is to limit daily intake of all processed sweeteners, including agave, to about 5% of total calories.
The good things in life can be enjoyed in moderation.
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