One of the hottest sweeteners on the market today is agave (also known as agave nectar). Clever marketing touts that it has minimal impact on blood sugar (which is true), but does not give the full picture on this super harmful product. IT DRIVES ME NUTS. So many believe agave to be the perfect low-glycemic replacement for sugar in a healthful diet.
I am not one of those people. I have been pretty vocal in my crusade against agave. I believe it is the enemy of good health because it has such a high concentration of fructose (way more than the commonly demonized high fructose corn syrup) and the artificial chemical processes used to manufacture it.
What Is Fructose?
Fructose is a simple sugar that occurs naturally in very small amounts in fruit and some vegetables. It is also the main sweetener in honey, agave syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup. Because of its structure, fructose adds sweetness with a much smaller impact on blood sugar than other simple sugars such as sucrose.
A Little Goes a Long Way
While fructose gives fruit its sweetness, however, it exists in fruits in very small amounts: a little goes a long way. When you eat whole foods like fruit, the fiber keeps you from overeating. However in processed liquid products such as agave nectar (and in high-fructose corn syrup), you have an extremely high concentration of fructose.
Historically, humans didn’t have add sweeteners to foods. Our ancestors ate fruit in season- and depending where they lived, they ate it abundantly. They did not over-consume fructose. The human body can process these tiny amounts of fructose quite well. Unfortunately, fructose in HFCS and agave comes in extremely high amounts. HFCS is approximately 55 percent fructose. Agave nectar is even higher in fructose than high fructose corn syrup – anywhere from 65- 90+ percent. (Tell me again why agave is seen as a “healthy” sweetener option??). Unfortunately, the human body is unable to process fructose at such high levels, and more and more studies are showing just how harmful large concentrations of fructose in the human diet can be.
- A 2012 UCLA study showed that a diet containing steadily high levels of fructose actually slowed brain function, hampering memory and learning.
- A 2010 Princeton University study demonstrated that fructose caused significant weight gain, increased levels of abdominal fat, and high triglycerides.
- A 2012 Duke University study showed that high fructose diets increased the risk of ATP depletion. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is a co-enzyme necessary for cellular metabolism, and when it is depleted it may trigger liver injury including scarring,. Inflammation, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that, along with ATP deletion, high fructose consumption can cause metabolic syndrome because it generates uric acid, can cause dysfunction of the endothelium (the inner lining of blood vessels), can lead to the formation of fats (lipogenesis), and can cause oxidative stress and damage. They further report that fructose consumption may interfere with hormones that communicate satiety.
Some people have even more difficulty with fructose than the problems listed above. Some people are born lacking the necessary enzymes to break down fructose. This congenital condition, known as hereditary fructose intolerance, occurs when someone is born without the enzyme aldolase B. People with this condition causes the build-up of dangerous substances in the liver and throughout the body.
Symptoms of fructose intolerance occur early – typically in babies who consume foods or formula containing fructose. The disorder persists throughout life, and people with fructose intolerance need to avoid fructose-containing foods including processed foods, fruit, honey, table sugar, agave nectar, sodas, and sports drinks. Consuming foods containing fructose can sustain damage to the liver and kidneys if they don’t eliminate the sugar from their diet.
Another segment of the population may have a less serious condition known as fructose malabsorption. These people will have difficulty digesting foods that contain fructose, leading to gas, bloating, pain, and diarrhea.
If you don’t have fructose malabsorption or intolerance, chances are you can eat a little bit of fruit and your body will tolerate it just fine. In fact, fruit has many wonderful beauty properties including enzymes and vitamins. If you don’t have fructose intolerance or malabsorption, I recommend eating a little fruit on an empty stomach so it doesn’t get stuck behind a heavier food and begin to ferment in your body. I also suggest adding fruit to your glowing green smoothies to give it a hint of sweetness and lots more vitamins. Fruits are the most cleansing foods on the planet. But if you have fructose intolerance or fructose malabsorption issues, I recommend avoiding sweet fruit altogether, as well as honey, fruit juice and some of the sweeter vegetables such as beets and corn
I believe everyone should avoid foods containing artificially inflated levels of fructose. This includes all processed foods and beverages containing cane/table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, agave, soft drinks, fruit juice, and energy drinks.
Other high-fructose foods include:
- Beet sugar
- Corn sugar
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Brown rice syrup
- Brown sugar
- Cane sugar
- Date sugar
- Fruit juice
- Fruit sweetener
- Grape syrup
- Maple Syrup
What Can You Eat?
As always, I recommend eating whole, natural, plant-based foods including dark leafy greens, whole grains, and raw nuts and seeds. All of these foods are safe, healthy foods to eat and contain little to no fructose. If you do need sweet, I recommend a little stevia or a sugar alcohol such as xylitol (consume moderately otherwise it can give you the runs).
Closing words: Avoid agave! Spread the word! Please share this! Hopefully one day it will get pulled out of raw food products and recipes and so-called “health” products once and for all.