Well, shoot. Some days it feels like us health-conscious folk just can't get a break. Rodale just published an article this week listing the top 5 worst sweeteners for your health. And no, sugar's not No. 1. That's reserved for aspartame, a chemical sweetener used in diet soda. So is sugar No. 2?
Agave nectar is No. 2, beating out Splenda, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.
Top 5 worst sweeteners
- Agave nectar
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- High-fructose corn syrup
Of course, this isn't news if you've been in the natural space for a while. Two years ago, we reported about how agave nectar, although it doesn't spike blood sugar, is extremely high in fructose which can cause insulin resistance—a risk factor for diabetes.
"Agave nectar is probably one of the worst sweeteners on the market, and it's deceptive because it's been marketed as a healthy alternative," nutritionist and author Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS told Rodale. "Everybody thinks it's a health food."
Is agave really that bad for you?
Okay, so it's no "health" food with its high fructose levels. But does agave seriously deserve a worse rap than sucralose (processed using chlorine!) and HFCS, which science has continually shown to be detrimental to our health. Where's the research showing agave nectar is worse than HFCS?
It's no surprise that agave's top of mind this week. A new meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which our Food Editor Elisa Bosley picked apart in her blog, found that fructose doesn't affect weight gain differently than other forms of carbohydrates. Although the analysis was self-serving and seriously flawed, score one for agave. The study pointed to the fact that excess consumption of calories deserves most of the obesity blame, and not fructose.
Moral of the story: moderation.
But here's the dilemma—lots of natural product companies sweeten with agave, including many of the raw or vegan products that I enjoy. It all comes down to priorities. Is natural important to you and your consumers? If so, I'd choose agave over aspartame, sugar, sucralose and HFCS any day. And be ready to explain why.
Do you have a love-hate relationship with agave? Share in the comments.