I received some interesting feedback from my article Agave-Health Food Fraud. Some people were defensive or angry, others concerned or happy to be informed. I stated that agave syrup was a chemically processed starch similar to the way high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made. A number of people reported that Madhava’s agave syrup was not chemically processed. Perhaps not. The real issue is fructose, and what happens when it enters the body. There continues to be more studies coming out implicating HFCS in heart disease, liver disease, diabetes and obesity.
A recent human study compared two groups of people, one consuming glucose, the other fructose. While both groups gained 3 pounds of weight, the fructose group also had elevated LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and their extra weight was more abdominal fat than the glucose group.
When glucose is absorbed, it goes into the bloodstream, raising blood sugar and insulin to bring glucose to the cells for energy. Excess glucose is converted to fat. When fructose is absorbed, it goes directly to the liver and does not raise blood sugar levels. It is touted as a low glycemic sweetener for this reason.
In the liver, fructose is converted to triglycerides for storage as fat through a process called glycosolation. This causes glycation, or sugar damage to the liver and other tissues. Glycation and oxidation are the two main ways that our bodies age.
Fructose is processed in the liver similar to the way alcohol is processed, creating some of the same side effects of chronic alcohol use, right down to the beer belly and can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Fructose also raises uric acid levels, a cause of gout and chronic inflammation. It also leads to weight gain, abdominal obesity, decreased HDL, increased LDL, and elevated triglycerides. It is similar to drinking alcohol without the buzz. This creates insulin resistance first in the liver, then throughout the body. Insulin resistance causes obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimers and cancer.
While there are more and more studies on the negative effects of HFCS, there are no studies that I know of on agave syrup. However, we do know the potential damage that fructose can cause. HFCS is 45-55% fructose. Agave syrup is 56-97% fructose, having almost twice the fructose as HFCS.
Nature may have made fructose fattening, rather than energy producing for good reason. In temperate climates, almost all the fructose in the form of fruits ripen toward the end of the summer and fall, so that mammals that hibernate and humans and mammals that don’t, can increase their fat reserves to survive the winter.
– Agave syrup, or nectar, is not a health food.
– It is not a safe sweetener.
– In small amounts occasionally, not daily, will likely do little harm.
– Companies that market agave pointedly note that
overconsumption of any sugar is unhealthy. So while they lay the
blame on consumers for overconsumption of fructose, they
continue to push agave syrup as safe. Meanwhile,
large amounts of agave are included in soft drinks, ice creams
and other food products, and consumers are continually
marketed that agave syrup is low glycemic, “gentle” or safe.