If you pay attention to ingredients, you’ve probably noticed that agave nectar is everywhere these days. Since it’s marketed as a healthy alternative to refined sugar, it’s become the darling of many natural brands, who add it to everything from Agave Plus Granola to So Delicious Fruit Bars to Oogave Natural Soda. Agave nectar is low on the glycemic index, it’s organic, it’s got terms like “all-natural” and “raw” on the label, and it even tastes okay. I get asked about agave nectar a lot, and, for a while I bought its whole line of rap.
But, it turns out agave nectar is, frankly, bad. The reason it ranks low on the glycemic index is because it’s very high in fructose — in fact, it’s higher in concentrated fructose than any other common sweetener, even the dreaded HIGH FRUCTOSE Corn Syrup (HFCS). Too much concentrated fructose (by which I don’t mean the naturally occurring kind found in fruit) can be unhealthy because your body doesn’t metabolize it very well and, for reasons better explained here, it messes with your liver and can cause obesity.
Plus, it bugs me when things are touted as “natural” when they aren’t. Agave nectar is actually a highly processed product made from the starchy root of agave plants (not the actual plant, as one would assume). It’s really not natural nor raw at all, thanks to the chemical process required to convert the starch to syrup — similar to the process used to make HFCS from corn.
Sorry to be the bearer or bad news. But I think I’ve found the perfect alternative to the alternative: Local honey. While I’m not going to sit here and call honey a health food, at least it really is natural — heck, it’s made by bees feasting on flowers and then transporting the nectar from those flowers back to their hives. (It’s a fascinating process and important ecological issue, by the way. I highly recommend reading The Beekeeper’s Lament if you’re interested in the subject.)
Honey is not quite as sweet and neutral tasting as agave (and I get it’s not for vegans), but I think it’s benefits outweigh those slight drawbacks. Honey has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Plus, it’s relatively high in antioxidants. What I especially like about raw local honey is its seasonal-allergy–fighting ability. Honey produced locally (preferably within 100 miles of where you live) will likely contain the specific pollens you might be allergic to, so eating it regularly before and during allergy season can help boost your immunity to those pollens. I started doing that last year (when I ditched the blue agave syrup I had been putting in my coffee) and really think it’s helped make me itch and sneeze less.
I don’t suggest anyone start adding honey to things just for the nutritional benefits, but if you’re already sweetening something (tea, yogurt, cocktails), why not snatch a teeny health benefit, too?