Is agave good or bad?
The agave question comes up a lot. Many of the answers in this regard stem from how agave is processed. Some of the confusion lies in the differing methods by which the agave plant (or plants, as there are different species) is converted into a sweet syrup.
But I’d like to focus on another question: How does the body digest agave? Because no matter where agave comes from ~ whether it is raw or not; blue, amber or clear ~ for me it all boils down (pun intented) to the same concern within the body.
I’ll admit: I was a big fan of agave when it originally hit the market. I was excited that it was a low glycemic sweetener that wouldn’t spike blood glucose like table sugar. But I was unaware of at what cost that came. When the news started to surface about the detriments of consuming agave, I turned a deaf ear. I couldn’t face the music. How could my sweet love be causing me harm? This is something I started to fully digest a couple of years ago when I first created my Sweet Tooth, Bitter Truth class which is now an integrated part of the new You’re Not the Boss of Me! detox (renamed from Sweet Victory in March of 2013).
Just how was my sweetie sabotaging me?
All foods have a chemical structure. What happens in our bodies is therefore a bit of chemistry. Our sweet foods are made up of monosaccharides in varying compositions. The monosaccharides include glucose, fructose and galactose. Simply, these molecules are the building blocks for all our sweets and carbohydrates.
The difference between those three monosaccharides is surprisingly subtle. But a subtle difference in a chemical structure can make a formidable difference in a chemical reaction. When glucose is eaten, it is absorbed into the blood stream. It then makes its way to the liver where it is stored or broken down to supply the body’s energy. That break down process requires insulin. Glucose can actually move both into and out of the cells. That movement depends on the concentrations of glucose both inside and outside of the liver. We need glucose for energy and we need insulin production to help us regulate our blood sugar. We want the rate with which our blood sugar rises and falls to be slow and steady to simultaneously support our body’s need for energy and protect us from the detriments of high blood sugar, which include heart disease, diabetes, inflammation and their related imbalances.
This is why foods low in glucose (ie. low glycemic) got a good rap.
When fructose is eaten, that slight difference in its chemical structure takes it on an alternate digestive journey. Fructose is not a direct source of energy for the muscles and the brain as glucose is. Fructose does not go into the blood stream and effect our blood sugar. And while this might be seen as a good thing with regards to the regulation of blood sugar, fructose is instead taken up more readily by the liver. There it prompts the liver cells to produce triglycerides, a type of blood fat associated with risk of heart disease, weight gain, liver inflammation and diabetes. For this reason, fructose is sometimes referred to as “the sugar that acts like a fat”.
Glucose converts to sugar in the blood. Fructose converts to fat in the blood and puts some extra stress on the liver and even, for many of us, the colon. Ultimately, both lead to undesirable health issues including weight gain.
But what does all this chemistry and physiology have to do with agave?
- Table sugar (sucrose) is comprised of a mixture of both fructose and glucose in about equal proportions.
- Agave is made up of anywhere from 92% fructose and 8% glucose to 56% fructose and 20% glucose. (The vast difference likely has to do with sources of the plant as well as the processing of the different plants.)
- High fructose corn syrup contains about 42 – 55% fructose, with the remainder being glucose.
Clearly, agave packs a potent portion of fructose for the body to process.
High levels of fructose in the body’s system (rarely triggered by fruit consumption as fruits are paired with water, vitamins and fiber), can lead to serious health effects including:
- digestive disturbances (gas, bloating and even IBS due to the fermentation of the sugars that can occur in the colon)
- metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance, obesity)
- liver disease
Remember: Your liver is the gatekeeper for your body ~ managing all the toxins that your body needs to process. That organ is working hard! Substances high in fructose, like agave, place an excessive amount of stress on the liver. Though they might be good for helping to regulate blood sugar (because they do not spike it), they’re still no good for your weight, your heart or your immunity.
Well, you might be thinking, is agave “good” or “bad”?
Though its effects on the body are different, I’d say it’s no better than refined sugar. If it’s clear, raw agave, from a reliable source (those that are lower in fructose), then moderation will likely be acceptable to your digestion. Choose wisely and discriminately. And remember to listen to you body. If you don’t turn a deaf ear and you clean up the inner storm, it will communicate clearly.
I know that my body can’t tolerate refined sugar _or_ agave!
So what’s a girl (or boy) with a sweet tooth to do?
I thought you’d never ask. I’ve crafted the perfect program for you. You can learn more and put it into practice with hand-holding support. With You’re Not the Boss of Me! you not only gain a deep understanding about how sugars (glucose, fructose, carbs. . .) affect your body and brain, but I’ll lead you through a two-week transformation that will put you in the driver’s seat with your sweet tooth. Move over sweetie!
Eater’s Digest Homework:
Stop, Look & Listen
Don’t panic. You can still eat your Coconut Bliss. But I think Ricki Heller, my Sweet Victory teaching partner has a better option for you.
Click here to listen to us chatting about how we met and the #1 way to start your sweet transformation now. (Oh, and she does mention what kind of ice cream will be included in the Sweet Victory program!)