Agave syrup, also called agave nectar, is a sweetener obtained from various species of agave, common succulent plants often used as ornamental plants in gardens. Agave syrup has, unlike sugar, a high sweetening power and a low glycemic index, around 15. In order to better understand, you can consider that, for example, white sugar has a glycemic index of 65. For these characteristics it has been considered for some time the perfect substitute of sugar and honey for people suffering from diabetes or for those who want, or have to keep at bay, their blood sugar levels. But is it really so? Let's try to understand what science says.
Agave syrup, properties and side effects
According to scientific studies and laboratory analysis (Velazquez Rios et al, Food Sci Nutr, Jan 2019), agave syrup has a high carbohydrate content, especially fructose, followed by glucose and trace amounts of sucrose. This composition is the reason why agave syrup has a so low glycemic index. The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly the glucose taken with the diet reaches the blood flow, however, the real impact in the body depends also on the quantity of carbohydrates present. In any case, it can be said, generally speaking, that foods with a high glycemic index cause higher blood sugar levels. Fructose, and therefore the agave syrup that is rich in fructose, being characterized by a low glycemic index, does not affect the blood sugar in body. Moreover, the agave syrup also contains antioxidants, including phenols and proanthocyanidins, although the quantity depends on the species of agave from which the syrup is extracted. For example, agave salmiana syrup is more antioxidant than agave tequilana. The problem, however, is that the agave syrup modifies the lipid profile of blood. In particular, based on a scientific research (Figlewicz et al, Physiol Behav, Dec 2009 - Havel et al, Nutr Rev, May 2005) the daily intake, even moderate, of this sweetener increases the levels of triglycerides in the body. This effect is due to fructose, very abundant in agave syrup, which alters the metabolism and overloads the liver that starts to transform fructose into fat. There is no increase in weight, it is true, but in the long term a high intake of fructose can also induce insulin resistance and fatty liver and can create the conditions of illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a risk for the health of the cardiovascular system (Zelber-Sagi et al, Journal of Hepatology, Nov 2007, Faeh et al, Diabetes, 2005). But be careful, this whole story does not apply to fruits, which, even if they are a source of fructose, they contain just a small amount of it and they bring also fibers, important to modulate the absorption of sugars and able to allow the body to manage the fructose introduced with diet.