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Is agave nectar healthier than sugar or other sweeteners?

By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., April 10, 2009 - 4:36am

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Brierley asks: What natural sweeteners do you like to use?


I like agave nectar --but not in hot beverages. It is delicious over oatmeal.


01/23/2010 - 3:27pm

there is a lot more to consider than whether the GI is high or low. A great article that goes in depth about some of the other issues can be found at:

here is an excerpt:

why agave syrup is “low glycemic.”:
It is due to the unusually high concentration of fructose (90%) compared to the small amount of glucose (10%). Nowhere in nature does this ratio of fructose to glucose occur naturally. One of the next closest foods that contain almost this concentration of glucose to fructose is high fructose corn syrup used in making soda(HFCS 55), which only contains 55% fructose. Even though fructose is low on the glycemic index, there are numerous problems associated with the consumption of fructose in such high concentrations as found in concentrated sweeteners:
A. Fructose appears to interfere with copper metabolism. This causes collagen and elastin being unable to form. Collagen and elastin are connective tissue which essentially hold the body together.1 A deficiency in copper can also lead to bone fragility, anemia, defects of the arteries and bone, infertility, high cholesterol levels, heart attacks and ironically enough an inability to control blood sugar levels.2

B. Research suggests that fructose actually promotes disease more readily than glucose. This is because glucose is metabolized by every cell in the body, and fructose must be metabolized by the liver. 3 Tests on animals show that the livers of animals fed large amounts of fructose develop fatty deposits and cirrohosis of the liver. This is similar to the livers of alcoholics.

C. “Pure” isolated fructose contains no enzymes, vitamins or minerals and may rob the body of these nutrients in order to assimilate itself for physiological use.4

D. Fructose may contribute to diabetic conditions. It reduces the sensitivity of insulin receptors. Insulin receptors are the way glucose enters a cell to be metabolized. As a result, the body needs to make more insulin to handle the same amount of glucose.5

E. Consumption of fructose has been shown to cause a significant increase in uric acid. An increase in uric acid can be an indicator of heart diease.6

F. Fructose consumption has been shown to increase blood lactic acid, especially for people with conditions such as diabetes. Extreme elevations may cause metabolic acidosis.7

G. Consumption of fructose leads to mineral losses, especially excretions of iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc compared to subjects fed sucrose.8

H. Fructose may cause accelerated aging through oxidative damage. Scientists found that rats given fructose had more cross-linking changes in the collagen of their skin than other groups fed glucose. These changes are thought to be markers for aging.9

I. Fructose can make you fat! It is metabolized by the liver and converts to fat more easily than any other sugar. Fructose also raises serum triglycerides (blood fats) significantly.10

Now that you have a better understanding about Agave Syrup, hopefully the companies selling “raw” agave won’t dupe you. They are out to make a buck, which in this case is unfortunately at the expense of your health. If you are making a “raw” recipe and it does require a concentrated sweetener, I have some recommendations for some better options to use instead of agave: (Listed in order of preference.)

1. Use ripe fresh fruits. Ripe fruits contain nutrients, fiber and water, a complete package, as nature intended. I find that ripe and organic fruits are usually sweetest.

2. Use fresh whole stevia leaves. Stevia is an herb that actually tastes sweet but contains no sugar. This herb can be very hard to find fresh, so I personally grow my own. If fresh leaves are not available, get the whole dried leaves or the whole leaf powder. Avoid the white stevia powder and the stevia liquid drops as they have been highly processed.

3. Use dried fruits. If you need a “syrup” consistency, just soak the dried fruits in some water and blend them up with the same soak water. Dates, figs, and prunes are some of the sweetest dried fruits that tend to work well in recipes. Try wet Barhi dates blended with a little water for an amazing maple syrup substitute. Please note: Since there are no raw labeling standards, some dried fruit may be dried at higher than 118 degrees, and thus, not really raw. If you want to ensure you are eating really raw dried fruit, it is best do dehydrate it yourself.

4. Raw Honey is a concentrated sweetener, and although not recommended, in my opinion it is better than agave syrup because it is a whole food and occurs naturally in nature. Of course, honey is not vegan and that may be a concern for some. I recommend purchasing local honey from a beekeeper.

Other “concentrated sweeteners” that are often seen in raw food recipes include:

1) Maple Syrup which is not raw and heat processed. If it is not organic, it may also contain formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals.

2) Sucanat or evaporated cane juice is pure dried sugar cane juice. Unfortunetly this is processed at a temperature above 118 degrees and therefore can’t be considered raw.

3) Yacon Syrup is a syrup from the root of the yacon plant in South America. It is once again, a concentrated sweetener processed at a temperature of up to 140 degrees farenheight.

The moral of this article: Eat whole fresh fruits and vegetables, they are always best. Always question processed and concentrated foods that are not found in nature, even if “raw”.


1. Fields, M, Proceedings of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine, 1984, 175:530-537.

2. Klevay, Leslie, Acting Director of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Human Nutrition Research Center, Grand Forks, N.D.

3. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 2002 Vol. 76, No. 5, 911-922.

4. Appleton, Nancy Ph.D., Fructose is No Answer For a Sweetener,

5. H. Hallfrisch, et al.,The Effects of Fructose on Blood Lipid Levels, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 37: 5, 1983, 740-748.

6. J. MacDonald, Anne Keyser, and Deborah Pacy, Some Effects, in Man, of Varying the Load of Glucose, Sucrose, Fructose, or Sorbitol on Various Metabolites in Blood, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 31 (August 1978)): 1305-1311.

7. Hallfrisch, Judith, Metabolic Effects of Dietary Fructose, FASEB Journal 4 (June 1990): 2652-2660.

8. A. E. Bergstra, A. G. Lemmens, and A. C. Beynens, Dietary Fructose vs. Glucose Stimulates Nephrocalcinogenesis in Female Rats, Journal of Nutrition 123, no. 7 (July 1993): 1320-1327.

9. Roger B. Mc Donald, Influence of Dietary Sucrose on Biological Aging, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 62 (suppl), (1995): 284s-293s.

10. H. Hallfrisch, et al.,The Effects of Fructose on Blood Lipid Levels, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 37: 5, 1983, 740-748.

11. Method of producing fructose syrup from agave plants.

About the author, John Kohler has been on the living and raw foods diet for nearly a decade; he turned to living foods for healing from a life threatening-illness (spinal meningitis) and has enjoyed dynamic health ever since. One of Johns goals is to educate the world about the power of living and raw foods. He is the founder and webmaster of the largest living and raw food website on the internet,, and John is also the number one expert on raw foods appliances and gadgets in the world. He is widely sought out and regularly speaks and instructs at many raw food festivals and events. His area of expertise include recipe demos with 5-7 ingredients or less, young coconut recipes, traveling while raw, raw food appliances, successful transition to the raw foods diet, and the importance of a fresh organic whole foods diet. He believes that by using fresh, organic, and whole ingredients, that simple, healthy, and delicious recipes can be made with few ingredients and without the use of salt, oil, spices, refined sweeteners or chemical additives. He is known for his pragmatic approach to raw foods and has coached and helped thousands of people to incorporate more fresh raw fruits and vegetables into their diet. John is also available to individual raw food coaching.


04/20/2010 - 1:11am

Agave nectar and/or agave syrup is indeed popular but there are better options out there, such as coconut sugar and yacon syrup.

Agave is high in fructose syrup whereas coconut sugar has a pleasant taste and has more nutrients than just sucrose. The glycemic index of coconut sugar is 35 so it is a low GI food. Even lower then coconut sugar's GI is yacon syrup whose GI is 1. The sweetness of yacon syrup comes from complex carbohydrates called fructo-oligosaccharides, also known as a prebiotic.


11/06/2010 - 1:08pm



11/13/2011 - 3:37pm

I love agave! I bake with it, cook with it, use it in cold and hot drinks - everything!! Awwwemazing! I refuse to use white sugar anymore!


12/12/2011 - 1:37pm

I like using Xylitol


08/10/2012 - 9:30pm

The only time I ever used agave nectar was in hot coco last year thats it ! Otherwise I do not use natural sweeteners.


10/17/2012 - 10:19pm

I've been doing a lot of reading about the harmful effects of sugar, HFCS, fructose, and artificial sweeteners like Splenda, etc. They will all spike your insulin and cause you to gain belly fat, even though the artificial sweeteners may not add calories. I switched to Truvia and Stevia, having read that these will not spike your insulin and cause belly fat. So far (6 months), I have had a much easier time maintaining and/or quickly losing the 1-2 lbs. that I might gain, so I believe that the Truvia and Stevia have helped a lot. Judy K.


12/10/2012 - 3:56pm

Don't eat agave nectar. I did and, I will admit I used a lot, however I didn't even drink half of the slushy that I made. In less then 30 minutes my stomach was bubbling up. I research into agave more and to my surprise the stuff is horrible and being promoted as healthy alternative to sugar. Or healthy because it has a lower GI. I poured it out after reading. The best thing I know to do is use fruits, unrefined sugar, molasses or honey in low levels. We this day in age are addicted to too much sugar. As you wean yourself off and eat more vegetables you won't want your food to be so sugary sweet anymore.


03/16/2013 - 10:37am

Agave = high fructose corn syrup, so unless you think HFCS is good for you then agave is a terrible for your health.

Don't believe it, Google "is agave high in fructose".


12/18/2013 - 3:47pm

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