When you break down the fibres of agave, it releases a material that’s high in fructose and has a taste similar to sugar. Agave syrup is popular as a sweetener among people who are health minded.
Because of the way it’s marketed, with a picture of the agave plant on the front of the bottle, people believe it’s healthier than table sugar when, in fact it’s higher in total sugar and contains more calories than table sugar. According to Medical News Today, table sugar contains 16 calories per teaspoon while agave syrup contains 21 calories for each teaspoon. However, you may need less if you use agave syrup since it tastes a bit sweeter relative to sugar.
Agave Syrup vs. High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Despite clever marketing as a low-calorie, low-glycemic sweetener, agave syrup has the same problems as high fructose corn syrup, a highly processed sweetener and also some of the same downsides as table sugar. Namely, it can have a harmful effect on your health, despite the perception that it’s a “better for you” sweetener. The problems arise from its fructose content.
If you analyze agave syrup, you’ll find it contains more fructose than table sugar. Processed table sugar is around 50% glucose and 50% fructose. But agave syrup has more fructose than high-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener that has negative effects on metabolic health. In fact, high-fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose, while agave syrup is as high as 90% fructose. So much for agave syrup being a healthier sweetener alternative!
Why Agave Syrup Is Not a Healthier Substitute for Sugar
Health care professionals and nutritionists advise people to cut back on or eliminate products that contain high-fructose corn syrup from their diet, including juices, sweetened yogurt, some candy, soda, and junk foods from their diet. But if you replace them with agave syrup, you’re defeating the purpose.
What’s so bad about fructose? Although fructose doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar like glucose in table sugar, it has other health drawbacks. Fructose is metabolized differently by the liver. When you consume fructose in large quantities, your liver converts it directly into fat. This leads to elevated triglycerides a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Plus, diets high in fructose increase the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a growing health threat that, in some cases, can progress to permanent liver damage. Research also shows fructose contributes to insulin resistance, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
Fructose is also in many healthy foods, such as some fruits. However, in fruit, fructose is combined with fibre and antioxidants that reduce some harmful effects of the fructose on the liver and other organs. Getting fructose by eating whole fruit doesn’t have the same negative health implications as getting fructose from high-fructose syrup and agave syrup. In the latter case, fructose is in a concentrated form and isn’t balanced by the natural fibre and antioxidants in fruit. However, there are fruits that are lower in fructose, such as berries.
Read Labels Carefully
It’s not enough just to avoid buying bottles of agave syrup. Many of the foods you find in health food stores and natural food markets contain agave syrup. These include protein bars, healthy popsicles, smoothies, fruit beverages, and more. So, read labels carefully to see what type of sweetener a product contains before purchasing. Even better, avoid packaged products entirely and stick with whole, unprocessed snacks and beverages. When it comes to your health, they’re almost always a better option.
Chung, et. al. Fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or indexes of liver health: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Sep; 100(3): 833-849. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.086314.
MedicalNewsToday. “Is agave syrup the best sweetener for diabetes?”
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