Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Agave nectar and diabetes


I’ve had a number of people mention to me that a relative of theirs has diabetes and uses agave nectar as a sugar substitute.

Agave nectar comes from the agave plant; incidentally, the same plant from which tequila is made. I think that because agave is seen as “natural” it’s thought to be healthier than other sugars. This is not the case. It’s the same sort of product as the dreaded corn syrup (also from a plant by the way). Agave nectar may have a slightly lower glycemic index than other caloric sweeteners but this is only because it has a very high fructose content. Not really a good thing from a nutritional standpoint.

As for use of agave nectar as a sweetener for diabetics. Certainly, they may use it but in the same way that any other sugar or syrup would be used (1).

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Fattening fructose

As dietitians we’re fond of saying that your body treats all types of caloric sweeteners the same way. A recent article in Nutrition Action magazine made me wonder if this is actually true. I know that many people prefer to use more “natural” sweeteners such as honey, agave nectar, and maple sugar in place of granular sugar. As the nutrition facts panels don’t break the sugar down into its components (e.g. fructose, glucose, galactose, etc.) how do we know that our body is treating all of these sweeteners in the same manner? And how do we know that these sweeteners are affecting our bodies in the same way? Included in the article (sorry, it’s not published online so I can’t share a link) is information on research studies showing that fructose may increase liver, muscle, and visceral fat. These types of fat, especially liver and visceral, can contribute to insulin resistance and diabetes. The studies showed that it didn’t take much added fructose to create increases in fat stores. It’s advisable to avoid over-consumption of added sugars and naturally sugary beverages (such as fruit juice) regardless of the type of sugar present (added or naturally occurring) but it might also be worthwhile to pay more attention to the breakdown of the sugars in your sweeteners. Vegans beware: agave nectar is extremely high in fructose.

The following chart shows the breakdown of sugars in various sweeteners (I essentially copied this from the Nutrition Action article):

Sugar Breakdown