Since it was featured in Anticancer, a lot of information has circulated about agave syrup on the Internet, some of it very negative. So here’s an update on  its advantages and disadvantages.

Critics of agave syrup point out that it’s primarily made up of fructose, and therefore may contribute more to weight gain than ordinary sugar, while also increasing triglyceride levels (these are fatty acids in the blood that are produced by the liver in the presence of sugar). Others add that fructose also contributes more to insulin resistance than regular sugar, which is part of the “metabolic syndrome” that is associated with weight gain and high blood pressure. Finally, there is also criticism relating to the allegedly un-natural and “chemical” procedures involved  in the extraction of agave syrup from the plant.

It is true that chemicals are utilized to make some adulterated syrups produced under dubious conditions. However, high quality agave syrup (especially when it is also organic) is extracted according to entirely natural procedures, without any use of chemicals, from the same plant that is used to make tequila.

It’s also true that agave syrup is roughly 90% fructose, and in fact this is the main reason why it doesn’t increase the blood glucose level in the way refined (white) flours and other sugars do. And fructose does indeed encourage weight gain. But no more so than ordinary sugar does (“sucrose” which is a mixture of glucose and fructose).

Regarding triglycerides : all sugars are metabolized by the liver into triglycerides when the nutritional intake of sugar exceeds expenditure of energy, and this is true of fructose as it is of glucose. To my knowledge, no studies currently suggest that fructose contributes more than white sugar does to insulin resistance (If any such studies do exist I would be grateful if someone could point me to them).

A small proportion of the fructose in agave syrup takes on a particularly interesting form: Inuline. It consists of several molecules of fructose linked together. Inulin acts like a fiber rather than a sugar: as such it contributes to building up beneficial intestinal flora (probiotics) and helps with the absorbtion of magnesium and calcium.

Finally, agave syrup is sweeter than sugar. Two-thirds of a teaspoon of agave syrup is usually enough to replace one teaspoon of white sugar. This allows us to consume less of it.

But be careful: agave syrup is still sugar. It’s favorable nutritional profile should not encourage us to indulge in massive quantities. Like all sugars, if consumed in excess (more than one tablespoon per day, say), it can make us fat and may indeed induce hypertriglycedemia. Like dark chocolate, which also leads to weight gain when consumed in excess, agave syrup should be enjoyed in moderation.