Is agave syrup healthy?
Is agave syrup good for you, or is it just another form of sugar? Registered nutritionist Jo Lewin discusses what agave syrup is, how to use it and its benefits
What is agave syrup?
Derived from the sap of the agave plant (a type of cactus native to Mexico), agave syrup is a sweet, golden brown liquid. It's now commonly used as an alternative to sugar, honey or maple syrup.
After the juice is extracted from the plant, it's filtered, heated and concentrated into a syrup. The taste of agave resembles molasses and, as a rule, the darker the syrup, the richer the taste.
Whether you're looking for sweet substitutes, sugar-free baking guides or simply want to find out your recommended daily amounts, find all the answers in our sugar hub.
How do I use agave syrup?
Agave syrup is about one-and-a-half times sweeter than sugar, which means you can achieve the same sweetness while using less. It's a versatile and easy to use syrup, and good for sweetening hot drinks, porridge and bakes – it can be used in place of golden syrup, for example.
Agave syrup works well in chewy bakes like flapjacks, as well as sticky cakes and muffins. But, be aware that you'll need to cook at a lower temperature when using agave (reduce the cooking temperature by about 10C).
For more tips on baking with alternative sweeteners, see our sugar-free baking guide.
Nutritional profile of agave syrup
- 63kcals / 264kj (per tbsp)
- GI value: 15
Agave syrup is processed by heat, which alters its nutritional contribution and lowers its antioxidant content. It contains only trace amounts of minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Is agave syrup healthy?
Agave contains less glucose and therefore has a lower glycaemic index (GI) than table sugar. This means the body absorbs agave more slowly into the bloodstream and as a result does not lead to a rapid spike in insulin. However, agave contains significantly more fructose. Although this gives it a sweet taste, fructose is metabolised differently from glucose, as it is primarily broken down by the liver.
Consuming excessive fructose is thought to put pressure on the liver, and may have undesirable effects on the body. Because fructose is considered to be one of the most damaging forms of sugar, you should aim to use agave in small quantities and buy organic, raw agave rather than the cheaper, highly processed version.
Is agave better than sugar?
The jury is out on whether agave is better for you than table sugar. It will have less of an immediate impact on your blood sugar levels due to its low GI score, but the high fructose content makes it more difficult for your body to process. Some opponents claim it is simply a condensed fructose syrup with minimal nutritional value.
It's also worth remembering that like other syrups, agave is classed as a 'free sugar'– the type we are advised to cut back on. However, if you are considering agave as an alternative to sugar, look for an ethical brand that processes the syrup at low temperatures to preserve the natural enzymes. Also, check the product contains an overall fructose content of around 50 per cent (some are as high as 90 per cent). This may not always be obvious on the packaging, so you may need to do a little research before purchasing.
If you're a healthy individual and prefer the taste of agave, then it's safe to use in moderation. Don't use agave as an excuse to increase the sugar in your diet just because it has a low GI – in excess, it's not a low-calorie option, and the consumption of high amounts of any form of sugar can contribute to health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
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Is agave syrup safe for everyone?
Some people have trouble absorbing fructose; as a result they may experience unpleasant side effects such as bloating or abdominal discomfort. If you're prone to gastrointestinal discomfort or have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may want to avoid this sweetener.
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Have you swapped sugar for agave and noticed a difference? Leave a comment below.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in personalised nutrition & nutritional therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years, she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications, including BBC Good Food.
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