Is Agave Nectar Paleo?
Agave nectar, a golden-colored liquid used for sweetening foods, is sweeter than pure table sugar.
Named after the Greek word for “noble,” the agave plant and its nectar may sound to some like a natural-based alternative to sugar.
However, a closer look shows that while it might offer some minor health benefits, it also has some undesirable characteristics that can defeat some of the key goals of a Paleo diet.
What You Need to Know About Agave Nectar
The scoop on agave nectar is that it’s gluten free and low glycemic, in comparison to other sweeteners. That’s often thought of as a good thing for those seeking the low insulin response that Paleo foods should bring.
However, the reason it has a low-glycemic index is because agave nectar is composed mainly of fructose. Although fructose is lower on the glycemic spectrum, it can be a detrimental form of sugar when used to sweeten foods. In fact, agave nectar contains the greatest fructose content of any sweetener that’s commercially available.
Fructose is also the sugar found naturally in fruit and it’s fine when your body absorbs it from whole foods like fruits. You also get the other nutrients from the fruit along with it, including the vitamins, minerals and fiber.
However, when fructose is mechanically extracted from the whole fruit and concentrated, that’s when metabolic craziness happens. Research has shown that fructose can lead to insulin resistance, as well as contribute to things like higher triglycerides, a tendency to develop fat around the mid-section (which is a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease) and the development of fatty liver disease.
Another important contrast is that in the actual agave plant, a majority of the plant’s sweetness comes from inulin, a form of fiber that offers some health benefits. However, in the commercially prepared nectar there’s not much inulin left in the liquid form. During manufacturing, enzymes are added to the inulin to break it down into digestible sugar (fructose), which creates a syrup that sports a fructose content between 57% and 90%.
While Paleo foods generally offer health-enhancing benefits and are found naturally in our environment, lumping in agave nectar with other Paleo sweet foods should raise the red flag of caution.
Some studies have shown that certain extracts obtained from the agave plant demonstrate antioxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics, but there’s little or no evidence that those properties exist in commercially-prepared bottles of the stuff – the main form that most folks use and obtain agave nectar.
What Do Other Paleo Experts Say?
Dallas and Melissa Hartwig say: “They (the high fructose corn syrup people, the agave people, the Stevia people) claim because a sugar is “natural” or “low on the glycemic index” or “non-nutritive” that it’s somehow healthy for us. On top of that, they sneak it in under the guise of a label that sounds vaguely plant-like and harmless, or in plain sight under its scientific name, easy to overlook because you just plain don’t know what it is. The truth? Sugar is sugar is sugar, regardless of the form it may take or the claims it might make. And on no planet does added sugar ever make you healthier.”
Dr. Jonny Bowden says: “Agave nectar/syrup is basically high-fructose corn syrup masquerading as a health food. Agave nectar has a low-glycemic index for one reason only: it’s largely made of fructose, which although it has a low-glycemic index, is now known to be a very damaging form of sugar when used as a sweetener.”
Amy Kubal says: A” cookie is always a cookie, a pancake is always a pancake, and sugar (whether it be honey, agave, or coconut nectar/sugar) is still sugar, and the body is going to treat it as such. “
So is Agave Nectar Paleo?
While there is some variation in the Paleo community about just how to classify agave nectar, in general, the consensus is that it shouldn’t be a part of a Paleo diet as it is just a different form of sugar.