Agave: Miracle Sweetener Or A Sweet Little Lie?

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Ah, sweeteners. They seem to be the trendiest topic in nutrition out there, and every week seems to bring a new "miracle" sweetener that claims to taste great, be all natural, and be less fattening than more traditional sweeteners. One of the more recent sweeteners enjoying its 15 minutes of fame? Agave, a plant-based sweetener with a texture and color similar to honey. To get the lowdown on whether agave nectar is really worth shelling out for (or if you're just fine using your bear-shaped honey tube), we reached out to Alyse Levine MS, RD, founder of Nutrition Bite, to give us the sweet highs and the bitter lows of this trendy ingredient.
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First of all, it's important to know what agave is and where it actually comes from. "Agave nectar comes from the agave plant, but it is in no way a 'natural' sugar," she says. "The process used to make it is similar to the process used to make high-fructose corn syrup from corn starch." Wow. That would be the sound of our hippie-dippy nutritional bubble bursting. "Technically, agave nectar is a refined sugar. It actually contains even more fructose [the type of sugar found mostly in fruit and honey] than high-fructose corn syrup."
But, wait a second, what about all of this jabber that agave is lower on the glycemic index than other sweeteners? "Yes, agave nectar has a low glycemic index compared to other sweeteners," Levine says. "This is because it is made of mostly fructose, which has a low glycemic index, but that does not necessarily mean that it is healthy for you."
But, just in case you think that a swap back to Splenda is safe, Levine warns, "If you're choosing between agave and artificial sweeteners, I would definitely say that agave is the lesser of two evils." However, if you're wondering whether it's worth it to shell out to add agave to your pantry, the answer is no. "You're better off using honey or maple syrup — but you still have to watch the portions of these sweeteners," says Levine. The bottom line is if you want to get fancy and impress your guests with your agave-glazed salmon, be our guest. But, know that as a diet-friendly sweetener option, agave nectar is kind of a bust.
Madhava Agave Nectar Sweetener, $5.96, available at Walmart; Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Raw Blue Agave, $10.40, available at iHerb.
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