Millions of people have their vices, and for many it’s that available-without-prescription drug known as sugar. Its destructive and addictive abundance has helped make more than two-thirds of American adults either overweight or obese, not to mention saddling them with life-altering problems like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dementia. Its disease-promoting effects are proof that sugar is anything but sweet. Excess sugar, in all its guises, causes so much illness and suffering. I cannot stress enough how important it is to kick it and all sweeteners as well. And trust me, I know how challenging it is – I once had a sweet tooth too!
Back when I still felt I “needed” the sweet taste, I, like many others, looked for healthier alternatives, as in sweeteners found in nature not in the lab. I made the switch to agave nectar – and I wasn’t alone. Its popularity spread – it’s gluten-free! diabetic-friendly! vegan-friendly! – and seemingly overnight a billion dollar industry was born. Fast-forward a few years, and unfortunately, the stuff has revealed itself to be a classic case of ‘too good to be true,’ not the free pass everyone thought it was. So if you’ve been feasting on agave thinking it’s a health food, here’s your wake up call, and four reasons why you don’t need agave nectar:
1. It’s Tarted-Up Junk Food, Marketed as a Health Food
Agave. It’s an exotic name that conjures up images of the azure skies and painted desert landscapes of Mexico, where much of it is grown. The ‘nectar’ (such a delicious word!) of this exotic plant is sweet and golden like honey, blending easily into just about everything you wish to sweeten. Problem is, it’s also a smoking pile of marketing hooey. As appealing as this dream-like image may be, in reality agave nectar little more than a high-fructose syrup, as nasty to your health as its corn-based cousin – and possibly even more damaging.
2. If You Like Your Sweeteners With Chemicals, You’ve Come to the Right Place
Along with the agave nectar mystique, there’s this little problem of processing. While many people envision sap flowing down the plant and farmers tapping the stalks they way they do maple trees, there’s no old-timey tapping going on here. Instead, the leaves are cut away, the juice is expressed from the remaining root base bulb, heated (concentrating the sugars) and then filtered into a syrupy, fructose concentrate. Along the way, most producers will treat the syrup with caustic chemicals, enzymes and acids to clean, tint, clarify and preserve the liquid. So, if you think you’re sweetening with some groovy, raw, pure, unfettered, close-to-the-earth sweetener, more likely, you’re not.
3. It Won’t Spike Blood Sugar but Worse, It Drives Insulin Resistance!
Among the reasons agave nectar took off was that it is gluten-free and a seemingly more natural sugar substitute for most vegan and paleo types. And doesn’t trigger blood sugar spikes, making it technically OK for diabetics. But all that should go out the window (along with your bottle of agave) when you take into account the fact that processed agave nectar can be anywhere from 55% to 90% fructose, whereas plain old sugar comes in at 50%. Keep in mind that does not mean one is healthier than the other – both are lousy choices. And while marketers continue to hammer home the happy-sounding news that fructose doesn’t spike blood sugar, the reality is that it gets sent straight to the liver where excessive amounts can trigger insulin resistance, a true health nightmare. Eat too much fructose – particularly in the form of agave nectar, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, etc. – for too long and you’ll be on the road to diabetes and a host of other chronic diseases. My advice? Pull off the processed high-fructose highway long before your engine starts to sputter.
4. By the Time It’s Processed Into Nectar, Agave’s Benefits Are “No Mas”
Raw and unfettered, agave is said to confer a number of health benefits. However, the stuff that comes in plastic packets or bottles has been so heavily processed and refined that by the time you’re pouring it into your tea, its benefits have been bled out of it. The healing, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and probiotic effects you think you’re buying are dead on arrival. Light years away from the original plant, the commercially bottled stuff is just one more cleverly packaged form of sugar that your body simply doesn’t need.
BE WELL BONUS: So what’s a sweet lover to do? To quote Joan Rivers, “Grow up!” – as in do all you can to end your relationship with processed sugar and any sort of sweetener. If you need the occasional sweet treat, reach for a whole food, like an organic apple and savor the real, naturally occurring fructose which, unlike processed sweeteners, comes complete with fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. If the sweet monster has really got you by the throat and you’re hooked, try a detox to help change the course of your life and your health.
Also read 20 Ways to Get Sugar Out of Your Life for more thoughts on how kick the sugar and sweetener habit.
*Image of “agave nectar” via Shutterstock