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Natural Sweeteners and the Health Halo: Do Your Research

By May 10, 2017Nutrition

I’m sure many of you have heard about using agave nectar as a natural sweetener, especially you vegans out there (it’s a good honey replacement). But is this sweet stuff derived from the agave plant actually healthy? It sure sounds like it would be, because anything from nature must be healthy, right?

Wrong.

Health experts are now backpedaling on their initial praise of agave, warning all consumers of its dangerously high fructose levels and potential health consequences.

Agave was initially thought to be a good sugar substitute because since it has a low glycemic index, it doesn’t cause a blood sugar spike. But this doesn’t mean it’s healthy – just that it’s low in glucose.

Agave is made from the agave tequiliana plant grown in Mexico, which is why it was given the “natural” health food label. The problem is that to get from the plant to the grocery store shelf, agave nectar undergoes extensive processing that completely strips the nutritional value from the original agave juice of the plant. All that is left is a product comprised solely of fructose, the most damaging form sugar can take. Agave has double the amount of fructose that high fructose corn syrup has.

Excessive fructose consumption wreaks havoc on our bodies. Since it can only be broken down by the liver, as it digests free radicals are formed causing an inflammatory response and ultimately damages cells. The dangerous final products of fructose breakdown are triglycerides, which directly contribute to plaque build up in the arteries, greatly increasing future risk of cardiovascular problems. Other potential health issues include metabolic distress, hormone disruption, and adrenal fatigue. 

The good news is, there are so many other nutritious, natural sweeteners out there! Here’s a quick list of a great alternatives:

  • Organic raw honey: antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, provides many essential vitamins, minerals, and enzymes
  • Maple syrup: rich in antioxidants, provides manganese, calcium, potassium
  • Black strap molasses: highest antioxidant activity, provides calcium, iron, potassium, vitamin B6

And hey, some agave is totally fine, but enjoy in moderation. That media-given health halo doesn’t tell the whole story.

The big picture lesson? Don’t trust every new health food fad that comes out. Wait out the initial craze to make sure it’s something worthwhile. 

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Author Kelsey Jesaitis

Kelsey is a sophomore at Binghamton University in New York studying psychology. Some things she loves includes: taking spin classes, going on hikes, eating ice cream, and baking all kinds of fun desserts. If she's not in class or studying, she's probably at the gym or watching Parks and Rec on Netflix.

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