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Posted on Thu, 12 Aug 10

Is agave syrup really a health food?

An increasingly popular ingredient in health foods, agave syrup is little more than refined sugar in disguise.  Products containing agave syrup are marketed as sugar free, healthy alternatives to sugar sweetened foods but this is not exactly true.

Agave has traditionally been used as a base for tequila production and is rich in natural sugars, namely fructose with smaller amounts of glucose (1). More recently there has been a trend to use agave syrup (also called agave nectar) in the health food market. Few studies have directly examined the health effects of agave syrup but like any added sugar there is good reason to avoid excessive intake.

Bitter sweet

Excessive intake of fructose, the primary sugar in agave, has been linked to poor cardiovascular health, blood sugar balance and weight gain (2). While most studies have examined the effects of rather high intakes of pure fructose or high fructose corn syrup, a common ingredient in processed foods and soft drinks, a recent experimental study found that the effects of agave syrup were much the same (3).

So how much sugar is too much? Addressing this issue a recent expert scientific review concluded that “depending on the calorie level, recommendations for added sugars vary from 5 teaspoons per day (or 80 calories) for a daily energy expenditure of 1800 calories for an average adult woman and 9 teaspoons per day (or 144 calories) for a daily energy expenditure of 2200 calories for an average adult man (4).”

Small amounts of agave syrup or other sweeteners could be included as part of a healthy diet but the reality is most people are already well over their quota. Average refined sugar consumption is over 20 teaspoons (<350 calories) per day mostly from soft drink and processed foods.  



1. Michel-Cuello C,et al. Quantitative characterization of nonstructural carbohydrates of mezcal Agave (Agave salmiana Otto ex Salm-Dick). J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Jul 23;56(14):5753-7.

2. Stanhope KL, Havel PJ. Fructose consumption: considerations for future research on its effects on adipose distribution, lipid metabolism, and insulin sensitivity in humans. J Nutr. 2009 Jun;139(6):1236S-1241S.

3. Figlewicz DP, Ioannou G, Bennett Jay J, Kittleson S, Savard C, Roth CL. Effect of moderate intake of sweeteners on metabolic health in the rat. Physiol Behav. 2009 Dec 7;98(5):618-24.

4.  Johnson, R.K., L.J. Appel, et al. 2009. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 120: 1011–1020.

Tags: Agave Syrup, Refined Sugar, Sugar, Fructose, High Fructose Corn Syrup

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