Agave Syrup: Sound Information or Sound Bites?

by GotAgave Expert: Craig Gerbore

The article below references Caren Baginski’s post on the NewHope 360 Blog titled Agave Nectar Named a top 5 Worst Sweetener. This article is written in response to an article by Leah Zerbe at Rodale, titled 5 Worst Sweeteners to Have in Your Kitchen. To gain context for the below, it maybe useful to read or reference these articles.

NewHope360 brought this to the attention of the trade, questioning agave syrups position on the list. Just below is the IOAA post to NewHope360.

IOAA post to NewHope360

Thanks Caren, for questioning sensationalist articles like that of Rodale’s “5 Worst Sweeteners.” Your comment is well said: “Agave nectar [syrup] is back in the news this week with a surprising placement among the top 5 worst sweeteners for your health. But does the sweetener deserve its rank?

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, a self-proclaimed “rouge nutritionalist” is the source cited by Rodale, which frankly seems a bit thin when one does further research on him. The question is: are there any references to sound, substantive, and scientific research to support his or Rodale’s position? In the same vein, our expert journalist Linda Lowen (About.com, a New York Times Company) wrote a piece that makes plain the need to utilize scholarly sources when publishing health related materials.

Agave has a low glycemic index, but is high in fructose which makes it an easy target for those who look at “high” and “low” without understanding the implications thereof. These individuals are simply looking to drive traffic to their site without regard for the validity of their information.

To support the scientific data required to make informed decisions, the International Organic Agave Alliance commissioned a white paper (a full literature review, peer reviewed) undertaken by the American Botanical Council (ABC) to assemble and convey the results. It will be published once the peer review process is complete.

Mark Blumenthal, Founder & Executive Director of the American Botanical Council, Editor, HerbalGram & HerbClip made the following comment:

“ABC has compiled an extensive literature review on Agave Syrup and another on its overall safety, with several hundred references. These papers are in the process of being edited and peer reviewed by scientific and medical experts prior to their final publication. Although ABC cannot comment on the tentative conclusions of these reviews at this time, I.e., until such literature reviews are vetted by the expert reviewers, ABC believes that any popular media coverage on the relative safety of agave syrup that relies on only a few references is probably inadequate and possibly even misleading.”

Mark’s comment is, in essence, saying the same thing you are in your article “[the] moral of the story: moderation [in consumption of sweeteners].” Moderation is clearly also applicable relative to authors who make extreme claims without necessary scientific data.

Thanks for helping set the record straight.

Michael B. Marcolla, Executive Director, International Organic Agave Alliance

Craig Gerbore’s Response

Clearly, the reason that agave nectar is targeted in articles such as Rodale’s is because of its fructose content. People are given the false impression that when using agave one will be consuming more fructose.

This is not true.

A fact often overlooked or just ignored is that a sweetener higher in fructose is sweeter and so LESS is used to obtain the taste one desires. Also this attribute has the benefit of adding fewer calories per serving than other natural sweeteners.

As consumers, we sweeten our food to taste, not by a prescribed volume, and adjust accordingly.  Consider a 20 gr portion of sugar as an example. To sweeten to approx the same level, 14 gr of agave can be substituted.

Portion           14 gr Agave    20 gr Sugar

Composition:

Water             3.36 gr

Fructose         9.04 gr             10 gr

Glucose         1.6 gr               10 gr

The dry weight of the agave in this example would be 10.64 gr of sugar solids, consisting of 9.04 gr (85%) fructose and 1.6 gr (15%) glucose and other.

As you can see by the above example, at relatively equal sweetness you can consume 10% less fructose using agave compared to sugar! Agave also has the added advantage of a low glycemic index.

Still, as Caren pointed out, moderate use is the key. On this even Jonny Bowden agrees, “[Bowden] notes that it’s not all or nothing. Using a teaspoon of agave nectar here or there in dessert recipes is reasonable, but you want to avoid drinks and foods sweetened with it.“ I interpret that as saying that it’s ok to use it moderately, but avoid over consumption. This same advice of course would apply to any natural sweetener.

So, the question for many is “What does use in moderation mean?” The dictionary defines moderation as the avoidance of excess or extremes, so that’s a good start. The American Academy of Family Physicians says that moderation involves your overall dietary intake, not just the portion size of one particular item.

Soft drinks, fruit juice, baked sweets and other foods all contribute to your total daily sweetener consumption. Moderation doesn’t mean a smaller spoonful of sweetener nor none at all. Using sweeteners moderately in the context of your daily diet means to monitor your overall consumption of sweetened food and use accordingly. If your diet includes many foods high in sweeteners, then one should avoid further added sweeteners. If you diet is otherwise limited in sweet foods, and beverages, then there is no reason not to use agave or other sweeteners at home.

I have to wonder why some spend so much energy railing on Agave when, at the end of the day, it is really such a small part of one’s daily diet. I also wonder what are the intents and motivations of Rodale and Jonny Bowden, to provide sound information and advice? Or sound bites to create sensationalism for their own benefit?

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