The Health Risk of Agave: Buyer Beware

The “sugar” seems to have gotten my whole family and has been taking them out for a few decades now. I have been cautious since I even heard the word diabetes mentioned in my family. I went from White Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup to Cane Sugar, turbinado, sucanat etc. to Maple Sugar, Date Sugar, and Maple Syrup to….Agave. Damn, it was in the Food List so IT COULD NOT BE WRONG and I would not dare question THAT LIST. Plus it was cheaper than Grade B Maple Syrup anyday. Once I was for a lack of a better word “recruited” into the Vegan Mafia run by the Godfather Minister Enqi, I started taking a moor scientific look at things.


agaVE labelSo I looked  at the label of this staple ingredient in my kitchen. And it confirmed everything I had been taught and was thinking.  It reads like a charm, “organic, raw, natural sweetener, extracted from the heart of the agave plant, produced at a low temperature…is a low glycemic index sweetener.”  I really thought the agave was made like Maple Syrup by boiling the sap for hours and if raw for less because I had read about it here.


But that was not enough. Agave is FDA approved. Please! To make matters worst every time. I turn on the tele all I hear is Agave Agave Agave. What? The world is finally in alignment on something…Agave?  NOT.


As it turns out there are different ways to produce  Agave. One is processed  by extracting the sap the other is by processing the starch. The Agave  WE are purchasing in our super caskets at majorly high prices and thinking we are redeeming ourselves at Whole Fools and Traitor Joes  uses the latter process which also involves the use of chemicals and GMO enzymes. This is not healthy at all because the conversion process is likened to that of the conversion process of corn syrup and in fact the agave we have been consuming has more fructose than High Fructose Corn Syrup. This is hard on our Liver which has to convert it into triglycerides (3 glycerides) which gets stored as white adipose tissue (fat) and is NOT used for energy. Finally, and this is the most horrific to me, the beloved Raw Agave  is is processed without heat!!! Instead of heat they use an enzyme derived from MOLD (Aspergillus Niger).  Crazy!

According to :THE HEALTH RISKS FROM CORN AND AGAVE SWEETENERS by Sally Fallon Morell & Ramiel Nagel state in the section:  The Big Dirty Secret About Agave: “In spite of manufacturers’ claims, agave “nectar” is not made from the sap of the agave or yucca plant but from the starch of its giant pineapple-shaped root bulb. The principal constituents of the agave root are starch, similar to the starch in corn or rice, and a complex carbohydrate called inulin, which is made up of chains of fructose molecules. Technically, this highly indigestible fibre, inulin, which does not taste sweet, comprises about half the carbohydrate content of agave.  The process by which agave glucose and inulin are converted into “nectar” is similar to the process by which corn starch is converted into HFCS.


The agave starch is subjected to an enzymatic and chemical process that converts the starch into a fructose-rich syrup—anywhere from 70 per cent fructose and higher, according to the agave nectar chemical profiles posted on agave nectar websites. 36 (One agave manufacturer claims that his product is made with “natural” enzymes.) That’s right; the refined fructose in agave nectar is much more concentrated than the fructose in HFCS.  For comparison, the high-fructose corn syrup used in sodas is 55 per cent refined fructose.  (A natural agave product does exist in Mexico:  a molasses-type syrup from concentrated plant nectar, but its availability is limited and it is expensive to produce.) According to Bianchi, agave “nectar” and HFCS “…are indeed made the same way, using a highly chemical process with genetically modified enzymes.  They are also using caustic acids, clarifiers, filtration chemicals and so forth in the conversion of agave starches.”  The result is a high level of highly refined fructose in the remaining syrup, along with some remaining inulin. 


In a confidential letter dated 15 May 2000, Dr Martin Stutsman of the FDA explained the FDA’s food labelling codes relating to HFCS and agave nectar: corn syrup treated with enzymes to enhance the fructose levels should be labelled as “high fructose corn syrup”, and agave sweetener requires the label “hydrolyzed inulin syrup”. 37 Even though, like corn, agave is a starch and fibre food processed with enzymes, it does not have to be labelled as “high fructose agave syrup”, which would make it clearer for consumers. “Agave nectar” is a misnomer; at the very least, it should be labelled “agave syrup”. Agave syrup comes in two colours: clear or light, and amber. What is this difference? Russ Bianchi explains: “Due to poor quality control in the agave processing plants in Mexico, sometimes the fructose gets burned after being heated above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, thus creating a darker, or amber color.” However, the labels create the impression of an artisan product—like light or amber beer. As consumers are learning about problems with agave syrup, the label “chicory syrup” is beginning to appear as a non-conforming word for the product. Consumers beware!”


buyer beware

Also in the Section : Just Say No to Agave: it is stated, “Since the FDA makes no effort to enforce food-labelling laws, consumers cannot be certain that what they are eating is what the label says it is.  New sweeteners like agave syrup were introduced into the market to make a profit, not to make consumers healthy.  Clever marketing has led many consumers to believe that the high level of fructose in agave syrup makes it a safe and a natural sweetener.  Agave syrup labels do not conform to FDA labelling requirements, thus deepening the false illusion of an unprocessed product.  As we have demonstrated here, if a sweetener contains manufactured fructose, it is neither safe nor natural, especially at levels up to 70 per cent. Agave syrup is a man-made sweetener which has been through a complicated chemical refining process of enzymatic digestion that converts the starch and fibre into the unbound, man-made chemical, fructose.  While high-fructose agave syrup won’t spike your blood glucose levels, the fructose in it may cause mineral depletion, liver inflammation, hardening of the arteries, insulin resistance leading to diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and obesity. If you want something sweet, eat a piece of fruit, not a candy bar labelled as a “health food”.  If you want to create something sweet, use sweeteners that are known to be safer.  For uncooked dishes, unheated raw honey and dates work well.  For cooked dishes or sweet drinks, a good organic maple syrup or even freshly juiced apple or orange juice can provide delicious and relatively safe sweetness; dehydrated cane sugar juice or maple sugar may be used in moderation in cookies and desserts that contain nutritious ingredients and good fats such as…nuts. However, to be healthy, you cannot eat sugar all day, no matter how natural the form.  You should limit total sweetener consumption to less than five per cent of daily calories.  For a diet of 2,500 calories per day, that’s less than three tablespoons of honey, maple syrup or dehydrated cane sugar juice or several pieces of fruit.  And many people do best by avoiding sweeteners completely. The lack of standards in the health food world comes as depressing news; but let this news encourage you to consume more pure and unrefined foods and sweetener sources.  Good health depends on wise food choices, and wise food choices depend on constant vigilance.”

∞ AC