Health Food Fraud – Agave Nectar

Up until recently we regarded agave nectar as a relatively benign, low glycemic sweetener.  No more.  Recent articles in the Townsend Medical Newsletter and Wise Traditions, the quarterly publication of the Weston Price Foundation, as well on Dr. Mercola’s website, reveal that it is a chemically processed syrup made the same way as high fructose corn syrup with likely the same negative health effects as high fructose corn syrup.  Continue reading for more information.
Agave Nectar
Agave Nectar

May’s health tip of the month is brought to you from Dan and Talitha Butterfield.  Both have been involved in health and wellness for more than 35 years.  I have had the honor of knowing and trusting their insights and knowledge for almost 20 of those years.  For more information on them, please visit their website.

Here is what they have to say: 

Agave syrup, a refined fructose product is being cleverly marketed in the health food industry as a wholesome, natural, low glycemic sweetener.  Even the word “nectar” is deceiving, as if it is dripping fresh from flowers or fruit.

Agave nectar, or more accurately refined fructose agave syrup was created in the 1990’s using technology devised by corn refiners to chemically convert corn starch to corn syrup, known as high fructose corn syrup, the sweetener that has done much to increase obesity, insulin resistance and increased heart disease and diabetes.  The main carbohydrate in agave is starch, which, like corn starch, is chemically converted to highly refined fructose.

The sugar that comes from fruit is levulose.  The word “fructose” is cleverly used by corn refiners to make you think it is a natural fruit sugar.

Fructose is not absorbed like other sugars.  It does not go directly into the bloodstream, but instead it goes to the liver where it is converted to triglycerides and fat.  “Low glycemic” makes it sound safe.  It is anything but safe.  High fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose.  Agave “nectar” is about 70% fructose.

While refined fructose agave syrup won’t spike your blood sugar levels, it will deplete minerals, inflame the liver, harden the arteries, cause insulin resistance leading to diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, and may be toxic for use during pregnancy.

So don’t use this unnatural sweetener or “health foods” that contain it.  As always, read labels so that you can make informed choices about what you put into your body.

 Hope this is helpful.       Talitha & Dan Butterfield

11 thoughts on “Health Food Fraud – Agave Nectar

  1. Linda ikeda

    I hear you! But, how much is bad if a teaspoon or half tsp of Agave is used in a cup of coffee or in a snack bar?

    Fructose comes from many sources. After reading the above
    article, it seems like you have generalized fructose as the evil
    one… So, based on this article, one would conclude that fructose is bad no matter where the source is?
    I do not have 35 years of experience you do, but I try to educate myself so that I stay healthier and disease free.
    I eat right and exercise as much as I can.

    For example: apple has 5.9 free fructose. (g/100g)

    Click to access 239.pdf

    The absorption and effects of fructose and glucose or any sugars will depend on the activities of the individual.

    Thank you for your time,


    1. juliewebster

      Hi Linda-

      I appreciate what you are saying and I am a firm believer that a little of anything isn’t going to hurt you. And, if you are a very active person, some sugars are needed. The point really being made is that agave is a refined form of sugar as compared to eating a whole apple that also contains the necessary fiber to slow down the assimilation process of the sugar. As is indicated any form of fructose that is refined will deplete your body in various ways. Last, unfortunately many people have thought that agave was completely benign and therefore tend to consume it in large quantities. As you can well imagine this can lead to unfortunate health issues.

      I appreciate your comments and look forward to hearing from you again! Thanks for reading my blog.


  2. Courtney

    Hi J, I recently read in “Skinny Bitch” (yes, dorky title) that the raw kind is OK: (page 30): “…We’re simply suggesting that you substitute natural, healthier alternatives for refined sugar. At the top of the list is agave nectar or syrup. This high-nutrient sweetener can actually be beneficial to your health. It doesn’t contain any processing chemicals, and the RAW version (completely unprocessed) contains vitamins and minerals. Because it absorbs slowly into the bloodstream, agave nectar doesn’t have a significant impact on blood-sugar levels. It can be sued in place of sugar in any product or receipe.”

    What do you think?

    1. juliewebster

      I think the jury is still out as to it actually being ‘raw.’ It still requires some processing and does potentially have negative effects if used in quantity.

      I prefer either using a raw honey, grade B maple syrup, or molasses. The most natural form of honey isn’t what you see in most stores – somewhat translucent but rather opaque. I have found that available at Vitamin Cottage. Ironically the other place you can usually find honey in this most natural state is at a home brew supply place!

  3. Courtney

    Me again, What are your thoughts about Stevia:

    (Skinny Bitch; page 30-31): “Stevia, another winner, is derived from a plant found in Paraguay. The Japanese have been using this wonder sweetener for decades, South Americans for centuries. In fact, it is used by hundreds of millions of people around the world to balance blood-sugar levels, reduce cravings for sweets, and aid in digestion. Additionally, it is known for its antimicrobial properties (it inhibits the growth of bacteria). Unfortunately, however, it is the most unrecognized sweetener in the United States. This natural, herbal sweetener contains no calories, has no glycemic index (meaning it won’t alter blood sugar), and is even safe for diabetics. But for reasons unknown to intelligent species everywhere, the Food and Drug Administration won’t approve Stevia for use in food products. Maybe they are sleeping with the sugar industry.”

    1. juliewebster

      Hi Courtney-

      I think stevia is ok to use as there seems to be no negative effects. I do find it has a bit of a different taste so only use it occasionally. Hope this helps.

  4. Pingback: Agave Nectar: A Raw Food “Do” or a Raw Food “Don’t”? « ruby shoe blues

  5. Thanks for your take on the ongoing Agave debate. You have a thoughtful commentary and are providing opportunities for more discussion.

    I’ve been using Agave Syrup-sweetener in place of sugar for two years in what I consider moderation (drop or two in tea- a touch in smoothies- a little bit in recipes). For whatever it’s worth- I’ve had no ill effects and actually my LDL has gone down considerably (although that could of course be due to other factors). My liver enzymes are fine.

    Couple of thoughts:

    Some of the research you cited relating to the dangers of Agave is coming from doctors and foundations whose work has been subject to an above average share of criticism and skepticism over the years and have not been free of controversy. This is not to say that the sudden anti-agave syrup POV isn’t valid. It just seems wise to me that anyone interested in thie debate do a bit of honest examination of what these researchers’ affiliations are and how their arguments have stood up on other issues.

    Likewise, the small companies who are making the stuff should be encouraged to state their case to help clarify various significant points. Several have done so and deserve to be heard. The discussion cannot proceed logically until all the manufacturers’ processes and products have been looked at with serious scrutiny.

    Everyone seems to be in some agreement that moderation is likely a good idea when it comes to just about anything you eat.
    To me It still seems a bit premature to conclude with a general renunciation of agave sweeteners because there is a lack of consensus about what constitutes moderation in the first place, and also whether all agave sweeteners are in fact the same. Furthermore, the jury still seems to be out on what the differences are between how the body processes fructose from these sweeteners as opposed to fructose found naturally in foods. Perhaps there is much more complexity to the discussion than appears at the moment. The discussion is beginning to sound like the anti-carb discussion.

    Although there may be some truth to it, I find your statement that daily consumption of Agave syrup is likely to be okay”occasionally but not daily” to be without convincing supporting evidence.

    Elsewhere I’ve read opposition to agave syrup linked to a general paranoia about fructose which includes charts stating, for example, that eating more than a half a mango in one day is likely to be dangerous. Considering how much fruit we’ve been eaten a species over the last million years such statements seem baseless.

    Hopefully we can all step back and agree that before vilifying this sweetener and the companies who are manufacturing it– far more clarification and evidence is needed before we draw general conclusions.

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