This is a bit of a tricky post to write, but one that needs to be written. You see, it looks like agave syrup might not be quite as “Cleanse” friendly as we all first thought and I feel I have a moral obligation to give you all the facts! The more I learn and the more new research comes to light, the more likely I am to have to change my advice from time to time.
Several weeks ago I read an article posted by another fitness trainer that basically said that agave was absolutely terrible, completely toxic to the body and could be considered even worse than refined sugar. Whilst this conjecture seemed a little extreme, some of the facts outlined in this article caught my attention. I’ll be honest, my heart sank as I read through the reasons why agave syrup isn’t always the healthiest alternative to sugar, but I didn’t just want to jump on the bandwagon and share the aforementioned article and start telling everybody to avoid agave like the plague! Not until I’d looked into it a bit more.
You see, before advising people about ANYTHING, I like to do my research and make an informed decision about what I think is right. I pride myself on continually educating myself, attending courses, reading a LOT of books, as well as other people’s articles and blogs. Of course, ultimately the decision lies in your hands. I can only impart my knowledge and share my experiences. You are entitled to have a completely different opinion!
Up until now, I have suggested that agave syrup is probably the best alternative to sugar. Whilst I have never shouted from the rooftops that is “good for you”, I have certainly said that it should be considered the first port of call for sweetening things if required (instead of sugar or maple syrup etc). I certainly don’t nor ever have actively advocated sweetening anything, but where people like to add a little sweetness to their homemade smoothies or wanted to replace sugar and try some “clean” baking, then agave has been my number one suggestion made in discussions on my community site. But having looked through my Four Week Fat Attack book, the accompanying meal planner, shopping list etc etc, the word “agave” is actually only mentioned once and I say “A few berries are a great way to sweeten things but if you REALLY need to add extra sweetness then you can use a little agave syrup.”
First, the reason agave syrup has previously been considered a very healthy alternative to sugar is because it should be “pure, unrefined, and raw” (i.e. heated at low temperatures less than 118 degrees). It’s also far sweeter than its counterparts so you don’t need to use much, it’s gluten free and has a low glycaemic index, meaning that your body doesn’t have a surge in insulin levels after consuming agave (unlike sugar or even honey). Sounds good.
However, like many things nowadays, it seems that most commercial agave syrups available on our shelves don’t actually fit the above criteria and are instead highly processed. The main reason that agave syrup has recently come under fire is due to the high fructose content. It seems that the reason agave has very little impact on insulin is because the body takes that fructose straight to the liver to be stored as fat, and to keep it out of the blood stream.
Most of you will have heard of the dreaded High Fructose Corn Syrup (contained in pretty much every processed food), which is about 55% fructose. The bad news is that many brands of agave syrup are anything between 70-90% fructose. The problem with fructose? For those who aren’t already aware, fructose is a huge burden on the body and excess consumption has been linked to a whole host of health complications ranging from IBS to liver cirrhosis, and cardiovascular issues to diabetes. NOTE: Clearly fruit contains fructose but first off, it’s not usually more than about 50%, second the fructose in fruit is easily metabolised by the body, and third there are many other benefits in all the vitamins and minerals found in fruit. (And besides, I don’t recommend consuming huge amounts of fruit anyway as it’s not ideal for fat loss).
The point that needs to be stressed here is that NOT ALL AGAVE SYRUP HAS SUCH A HIGH FRUCTOSE CONTENT, but many commercial brands do, and herein lies the problem.
I think this article HERE gives a very balanced view and outlines a lot of the facts clearly, so please do have a read if you have time.
To read about some other sugar alternatives then click HERE. (Please note, the article in this link is just one person’s opinion but it’s up to you to make up your mind).
– Ultimately sugar is still sugar and best kept to a minimum.
– If you can get hold of raw blue agave then this is your best bet (although so far I can only find it on US sites). This contains <50% fructose. As always, organic is best.
– My personal feeling is that, if necessary, using good quality honey is the way forward as it is at least natural and not processed in any way.
– Like anything, small amounts are fine. Even the “less good” (higher fructose) brands of agave syrup are not going to kill you if you have some occasionally.
I still have some agave syrup sitting in my cupboard and I’m not afraid to use it! I don’t believe it to be any more toxic to the body than alcohol. And while I wouldn’t suggest drinking too much too often, I myself enjoy the occasional glass of wine. I don’t use agave to sweeten drinks or to add to greek yoghurt. The only times I use(d) it was on pancakes from time to time and on the very rare occasion when I get round to trying some clean baking. Once I’ve depleted my stocks of agave I’ll no doubt go back to honey, but it’s something I use so rarely I’m not too concerned either way.
The point I’m trying to make is that you shouldn’t go adding agave to everything thinking that it is some amazing health food, and consuming raw chocolate and “clean” cakes on a daily basis. Hopefully that’s just common sense!