In the past few months I've somehow managed to accumulate three bottles of agave nectar in my kitchen. One came with a gift basket, and the other two were bought by my husband and me independently.
So I'm rich in agave nectar - which is great because it's healthier than other sweeteners, right?
One often hears that white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup - found everywhere, in soft drinks, juices, baked goods, condiments, etc - are terrible for us, while more "natural" (eye roll) sugars like honey, maple syrup, molasses and the new star, agave, are better. But the reality is that it's all rather complicated, and the bottom line seems to be "Stop swallowing so many sweeteners."
What the experts say
"We have shown that consuming three large servings per day of a drink sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease within two weeks in young, healthy subjects. High-fructose corn syrup and sucrose have similar chemical compositions, so it's likely the effects would be similar. None of the sugars used to sweeten processed foods are likely to be less problematic, unless you're looking at xylitol or sorbitol, but these cause diarrhea and stomach ache. While fructose causes adverse metabolic effects, an increase in lipids and visceral fat and insulin resistance, we did not see those in subjects consuming glucose [found in grains, fruit, dairy]. That doesn't help for wise choices, because sugars in our foods are a combination of both. The comparison between maple syrup or honey and sugar has not been done."
researcher in nutritional biology, University of California Davis,
"Agave nectar, maple syrup and honey are slightly different than white sugar, which is refined and fairly pure sucrose, so maybe they provide some protective effect. More research is needed. We have increased our consumption of high-fructose corn syrup especially in beverages, and that has an undesirable effect on the lipids and an overwhelming effect on the liver. Agave syrup contains fructose, and if it's absorbed quickly, it will affect your liver. If you eat an agave plant, you'll be fine; fructose in fruit comes with fibre and requires some work to eat. With orange juice, you can ingest [the equivalent of] five oranges in the time it takes to eat one."
professor of biochemistry, Touro University,
"Toxic substances are used in refining white sugar, including phosphoric acid, sulphur dioxide and formic acid. Agave nectar is high in fructose and is one and a half times sweeter than cane sugar, with 50 per cent more calories. It hasn't much nutritional benefit. Processed honey is higher in fructose than cane sugar, and processing destroys its nutritional benefits. Raw honey has higher fructose than sugar as well, and has 50 per cent more calories. But it contains nutrients: B vitamins, amino acids, antioxidants, minerals. Best is manuka honey. Coconut-sugar nectar from the coconut flower contains more B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium and potassium than cane sugar, and many amino acids. Maple syrup contains manganese, calcium, iron and antioxidants and has very low fructose levels but more calories per tablespoon than cane sugar."
"At the end of the day, fructose, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, agave - they're all basically the same. Some would argue that fructose is detrimental, but the doses in many studies outweigh the concentrations you and I would ever consume in a typical meal, much less a typical week. Sugar is not bad for you, but like any dietary component or food, too much could be detrimental. Eat the fruits and enjoy the juices in moderation. Balance, moderation and variation remain key elements in a healthful diet."
professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences, University of Southern California,
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