Agave Syrup, Not so ‘Sweet’

The rapid rise in popularity and the wide acceptance of agave syrup as a healthful food and natural food has concerned me for some time. Agave is heavily promoted as a low glycemic food and target marketed to diabetics and health conscious consumers.

Agave concentrates may actually rank medium to high glycemically, but even if (when) an agave syrup ranks low (good), there is much more about the makeup of a sweetener than just its G.I. (glycemic index) that may relate to the product’s character and quality and its appropriateness/compatibility with the system(s) of the consumer.
Agave can now be found as an ingredient in a host of ‘value added’ and prepared foods typically found in health food stores and can increasingly be found in mainstream brands as well.

Based on reasonable criteria it may not be accurate to refer to agave syrup as a natural food, and it is often not organic.
Fully chemically processed sap from the agave plant is known as hydrolyzed high fructose inulin syrup.

Depending upon where the agave comes from and the amount of heat used to process it, a typical agave syrup can be anywhere from 55 percent to 90 percent fructose! This high percentage of fructose may disqualify the product as a healthful food.

Since most agave syrup has a high percentage of fructose, your blood sugar will likely spike just as it would if you were consuming regular sugar or HFCS, of course, that may be tempered by thoughtful combining to ease the ‘load’.

My big concern lies in the various bio-chemical pathways and properties peculiar to fructose.

As an example; the glucose in other sugars is converted to blood glucose, fructose is a ‘slippery’ fuel that your liver converts to fat and cholesterol. So the body metabolizes fructose in a much different way than glucose.
Virtually, the entire burden of metabolizing fructose falls on the liver.

In a way eating agave syrup is like drinking the other popular agave product, Tequila.

After eating fructose, 100 percent of the metabolic burden rests on your liver. But with glucose, your liver only deals with 20 percent.

Every cell in the body, utilizes glucose. Therefore, much of it is ‘burned up’ immediately after consumption. By contrast, fructose is turned into free fatty acids (FFAs), VLDL (thought to be most the damaging form of cholesterol), and triglycerides, which get stored as fat.

The fatty acids created during fructose metabolism accumulate as fat droplets in the liver and skeletal muscle tissues, causing insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). If not remedied, insulin resistance advances to metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes.

Fructose is the most lipophilic (fat-loving) carbohydrate known (fructose converts to activated glycerol [g-3-p], which is directly used to turn FFAs into triglycerides). The more g-3-p one has, the more fat he stores. Glucose does not do this.

When you eat 120 calories of glucose, less than one calorie is stored as fat. 120 calories of fructose results in 40 calories being stored as fat.
The bottom line is: fructose consumption (in amounts greater than what a few servings of whole fruit daily will supply) typically leads to increased belly fat, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, (syndrome x) and all too often a long list of chronic diseases conditions.
Very importantly, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion, or enhance leptin production, which is involved in appetite regulation.

The problems associated with ingesting fructose may well be exacerbated by any saponin factors remaining in the syrup as saponins lower fluid surface tension and tend to enhance assimilation, there are additional aggravating factors associated with ‘above threshold levels’ of saponins as well, agaves are rich in saponins.

Other Dangers of Fructose

In addition, consuming high amounts of concentrated fructose may cause health problems ranging from mineral depletion, to insulin resistance, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and even miscarriage in pregnant women.

Fructose may also interfere with your body’s ability to metabolize some minerals and/or signal the body to ‘dump’ minerals.

Fructose consumption has been shown to significantly increase uric acid (Gout, arthritic joints, heart disease, and systemic acidosis). It has also been shown to increase blood lactic acid, especially in diabetics. Elevations in lactic acid can result in metabolic acidosis.
Isolated fructose has no live enzymes and marginal if any vitamins or minerals and can rob the body of these nutrients in order to effect assimilation.

Fructose metabolism

Fructose is readily absorbed and rapidly metabolized by human liver. For thousands of years humans consumed fructose amounting to 15–20 grams per day, largely from fresh fruits. The trend toward SAD (standard American diets) has resulted in significant increases in fructose consumption, leading to typical daily intakes of 90–100 grams or more of fructose. The exposure of the liver to such large quantities of fructose leads to rapid stimulation of lipogenesis and triglyceride accumulation, which in turn contributes to reduced insulin sensitivity and hepatic insulin resistance/glucose intolerance. These particular negative effects of fructose are the reason that fructose metabolism has gained recent research attention. Strangely, it looks like small quantities of fructose can have positive effects, and actually decrease the glycemic response to glucose loads, and improve glucose tolerance. No agave fans that I know are using these small (catalytic) amounts of fructose-containing agave.

For thousands of years, the human diet contained a relatively small amount of naturally occurring fructose from fruits and other complex foods. Adaptation of humans to a high glucose/low fructose diet has likely driven evolvement of the pathways/systems by which hepatic carbohydrate metabolism efficiently and actively metabolizes glucose, leaving us with a limited capacity for metabolizing even a small regular intake of fructose.

Fructose is a monosaccharide (single sugar), also called fruit sugar. Fructose has the same chemical formula as glucose (C6H12O6), but different molecular structure. They both have about the same caloric value, but fructose is sweeter.

Fructose is not an essential nutrient in human nutrition.

My major issue with the casual use of agave sweeteners is the dangerous FRUCTOSE component, but there may be other reasons to be conservative with the use of Agave.

While there may be almost no safe and sensible level of fructose intake specifically, all such concerns may be minimized when people are more conservative with regards to intake of concentrated/isolated sugars. It is well to recognize that humans do indeed have an instinctive attraction to the ‘sweet flavor’ and that it is part of our ancestral make-up for two primary reasons:

We can benefit from sweet sugar doses in times short of term, instant high energy demands.

The ‘sweet flavor’ is a signature/marker of tonic ‘tonifying’ foods important for deep nourishment, long term organic balance and overall strength and stamina/vitality. This is NOT to say that a candy bar or chocolate cake is a healthful tonic, it’s about the hint of deep sweetness which is part of the overall complex of flavors in Ginseng, Licorice, sprouted rice Etc. Connected to this important energetic property is the further built-in desire to hold carbohydrate-rich foods (the clean and efficient source of operational energy) in the mouth for long periods of time, this develops the craved sweetness and at the same time pre-digests the food for optimal assimilation (and appreciation) of nutrients (physical and etheric) in the food.

For a healthful alternative to agave syrup, consider:
Organic rice syrup (GI 25) and/or barley malt syrup (GI 42), these are actually ‘tonics’. (Tonic foods which can build strength, stamina, disease resistance and have an overall balancing effect on the body).

Fructose (when isolated or concentrated) is best avoided:
Scientists have recently proven that fructose, the ‘slum’ of sugars used in zillions of processed food products and soft drinks, can damage human metabolism and is fueling the diabetes epidemic and runaway obesity.

Fructose (generally) is a low priced, low class sweetener usually manufactured from GM corn, and can cause dangerous growths of fat cells around vital organs and is able to trigger the early stages of diabetes and heart disease.
A small scale study showed that volunteers on a controlled diet including high levels of fructose produced new fat cells around their heart, liver and other digestive organs. The same participants also showed signs of abnormalities linked to diabetes and heart disease. The control group of volunteers with glucose sugar replacing fructose did not develop the fat-encasements.
And from Science Daily (Dec. 11, 2008) A new University of Illinois study suggests that we may pay a price for ingesting too much fructose. According to lead author Manabu Nakamura, dietary fructose affects a wide range of genes in the liver that had not previously been identified.
Fructose Metabolism More Complicated Than Was Thought:

Manabu Nakamura’s study shows that the metabolism of fructose is more complex than the data had indicated. “Our gene-expression analysis showed that both insulin-responsive and insulin-repressive genes are induced during this process. Our bodies can do this, but it’s complicated, and we may pay a price for it,” he said.
According to the scientist, most carbohydrates are handled fairly simply by our bodies. They are converted quickly to glucose and used for energy or stored as fat. “When we are eating, blood sugar–and insulin production–goes up. When we sleep or fast, it goes down,” he said.
The process is not so simple with fructose, he noted. “In order for fructose to be metabolized, the body has to create both fasted and fed conditions. The liver is really busy when you eat a lot of fructose.”

Fructose, when concentrated or isolated is confusing and stressing to the body and likely uses up more energy/essence than it contributes.


Agave Syrup, No Thanks

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