I am such a huge fan of raw desserts as they are one of the healthiest options for our sweet cravings IF they have the right ingredients. One of my biggest pet peeves with many raw food enthusiasts, cookbooks, and restaurants is their use of agave nectar. Agave is a beautiful succulent and I know the food may be well-intentioned; however, this is NOT a healthy food even if it falls under the term of raw.
There is no legal definition of raw, and it was accepted for a long time in the raw community that “raw” meant foods were never heated passed 118 degrees; lately, I’ve heard more people say it is closer to 107 degrees. If you see “raw” as a listed ingredient, this does not tell you much about the food because there are no legal guidelines.
Agave has been placed in the “health food” category mainly because it is a low-glycemic index. However, this is not the only measure of what makes a food healthy. The agave is very high in fructose with no fiber. Fruits can be higher in fructose, but when consumed raw and whole, they are in their natural intrinsic form, which is excellent!
Keep in mind that you don’t just stick a tap into the agave plant, and syrup comes out. It is a highly processed end product, even if it is never heated passed 107 degrees. In reality, the manufacturing process for agave nectar is nearly the SAME as refined corn to make high-fructose corn syrup.
Here is how it works: extracting the glucose and inulin found in the plant’s roots manufacturers manipulate it with a chemical enzymatic, often using genetically modified enzymes that convert it into almost pure fructose (70%-90%). If it is a version that is not considered raw, sometimes that extraction is heated to convert the complex sugars into simpler sugars. High-fructose corn syrup has less fructose coming in around 55%, and despite the cute popsicle commercials, we know how bad that has been for our health.
Here is what research is saying, note that we are NOT talking about fruit sugar here. The 2018 study, Fructose, and Sugar: A Major Mediator of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) tells us that diets high in sugar, from sucrose and/or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) increases the risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the hepatic manifestation of metabolic syndrome, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. NAFLD is often linked to elevated plasma triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, impaired fasting glucose levels, increased waist circumference, and elevated blood pressure.
They go on to tell us that “reducing sugary beverages and total fructose intake may have a significant benefit on reducing hepatic fat accumulation.” (1) Now, remember agave nectar has 15%-35% more fructose than HFCS.
Anther 2015 study concluded that (2) (directly from their report):
- “Sugar consumption is consistently associated with increased energy [calorie] intake and with the development of obesity and metabolic diseases in epidemiological studies.”
- “Fructose can cause weight gain.”
- “A high-fructose diet can increase blood triglyceride, alter hepatic glucose output, and increase uric acid concentrations.”
If you are looking for sweeteners there are plenty of other options listed from my most preferred:
- Organic fresh or dried fruit
- Monk fruit
- Yacon syrup
- Maple syrup
- Coconut syrup
- Brown Rice Syrup
Note that agave can and is used in cooked foods as well. It is just ubiquitous in the raw food world.
What is your go-to sweetener?
- Jensen T, Abdelmalek MF, Sullivan S, et al. Fructose and sugar: A major mediator of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. J Hepatol. 2018;68(5):1063–1075. doi:10.1016/j.jhep.2018.01.019
- Tappy L, Lê KA. Health effects of fructose and fructose-containing caloric sweeteners: where do we stand 10 years after the initial whistle blowings?. Curr Diab Rep. 2015;15(8):54. doi:10.1007/s11892-015-0627-0