The Truth About Agave

For a while, I was using agave nectar to replace sugar in some of my baking recipes. I thought this “natural” sweetener was a gift from heaven! But then I began to question it, because if I have learned only one thing at NTI, it is to do your own research and come up with your own decisions about the foods you put into your body.

Here is what I found:

Most types of agave are actually a starch that is converted into a refined fructose. Depending on the source of the syrup and the amount of heat used to process it, agave can be anywhere from 55% - 90% fructose. This “conversion” sometimes includes high levels of heat and chemical alteration, such that the fructose found in agave nectar is more concentrated than that found in high fructose corn syrup. Refined fructose can eventually turn into triglycerides in the blood or be stored as fat. Fructose is not converted to glucose and therefore does not alter blood glucose levels. This is why claims are made about agave being safe for diabetics. However, it has other detrimental affects to our bodies that go beyond blood sugar levels, such as mineral depletion, cardio-vascular disease, pregnancy complications, and others.

The fructose in most types of agave has no enzymes, vitamins or minerals for digestion, and therefore will attempt to obtain these from other nutrients in your body, leading to nutrient depletion. Agave is not a whole food. It is fractionated and processed and has lost many of the nutrients found in the original plant. Agave nectar and tequila come from the same plant. Natural enzymes in agave are removed to prevent agave from fermenting into tequila.

Finally, there are no strict controls around production of agave, so labels should not be completely trusted. Most agave originally came from the blue agave plant, but a shortage in this plant could be causing use of other agave plants that are lower quality and more toxic.

The core of the agave plant is harvested after 7-10 years and the sap is removed and heated to create agave. Usually you’ll find agave labeled as raw, light or amber. Amber agave is actually just fructose that has been heated at a higher temperature, and therefore burned and darkened. Agave labeled raw has not been heated above 120 degrees, which does help it retain some nutritional elements. Light agave is heated to a level somewhere in between those of amber and raw.

The producers of Madhava brand agave nectar claim they make it in a way that does not destroy nutrients and little to no heat is used. This brand, bought in the raw form, may be a better option than others. It's a Colorado company, so I'd love to be able to support them. They make great honey.

The choice is up to you. Some types of raw organic agave may have similar qualities to raw organic honey. If I use agave I will stick with the raw, organic type. However, I am going to mainly stick to sweeteners like raw organic honey, stevia, organic maple syrup or dates for my baking.

I’ll talk about raw organic honey another day – it’s an amazing food!


  1. Thanks for that Ann, really good to know. Ironically, that is the same Agave brand I use on the other side of the world! It must be the best around. You got me thinking though, NZ has some of the most amazing honeys and I should really just utilize them as sugar supplements; rather than a product possibly highly refined and shipped in from across the world. I saw food inc the other night, and it really drove home quite a few things for me, just being a conscious shopper and thinking about the origin of my organics. Lol life was a but crusier before I learned any of this :)
    When I send honey home to my parents next time I'll send you some as well :)

  2. Sheila - I had no idea Madhava was so widely distributed... my mom said that's what she gets in MN too. You should definitely stick with the amazing honey you have there! There is nothing better than fresh honey...

    Also I hadn't heard of xtendlife but researched it a little and it looks really good - has it helped your mom at all? Maybe it's too soon to tell but keep me posted...


  3. Ann, I love your research and it's very informative. I didn't know what to think about agave nectar but now I know. Thanks for the wonderful job! I am looking forward to hear about the raw honey! Miriam

  4. I bought Madhava Agave Nectar in Walmart which totally surprised me.

  5. I've seen some agave at Costco, not sure what brand. I recently bought Xagave premium raw Agave Nectar with Inulin and calcium. It says it is a product of Mexico. The ingredients listed are organic agave salmiana nectar and inulin derived from agave tequilana 12% by volume. It has 17% calcium Comes from Better Body Foods based in SLC, UT. Sounds fairly decent. But I too wondered about agave nectar, so it was great to see what you had written about it. I don't use it a lot, but it is a nice alternative to sugar.