It’s all the rage in California and now in London.  Agave is pitched as the ‘natural’ alternative to all that awful processed sugar.  But what is it?  

No so long ago, this Mexican desert plant’s only contribution to the betterment of mankind was as the basis for Tequila.  Agave Syrup (or nectar if you are from the right side of the tracks) is a different kettle of fish to the stuff fermented for imbibers.  If you just do a little bit of processing, you can turn Agave juice into a light syrup which is 90% fructose, making it very sweet indeed.  Voila, now food manufacturers can use loads of it in their ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ foods without that nasty word ‘sugar’ appearing in the ingredients list.  

Watch out for Agave Syrup – it might as well say ‘Pure Fructose’.

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • wise23girl says:

    Thanks David for all the work you have done to warn us of the hidden dangers in these products. It is scary how vulnerable we are to what I do not doubt is deliberate deceit

  • Ian Bicking says:

    I’m still really unclear about the effects of fructose. A lot of the evidence about fructose seems very unclear to me. For instance, rats can get insulin resistance from fructose, but I suspect this is when they have extremely fructose-rich diets, well beyond anything a normal person would have, and clearly fructose is metabolized differently depending on quantity. There’s all sorts of things you can do to create dysfunctions in rats because you can treat them in extreme ways.

    There’s also lots of talk about high fructose corn syrup, but HFCS isn’t substantially higher in fructose than other sugars, it’s just really cheap and easy to include in foods — so HFCS has led to much higher amounts of sugar in the average diet, but it’s unclear to me that the proportion of fructose is changed that much. Lots of the anti-fructose studies I’ve seen have talked about general changes in the population and its diet, but trying to figure out the effect of one chemical from that seems quite impossible.

    So I’m really unsure what fructose really does. In a pure form like Agave, it’s metabolized much differently than the 50% fructose in table sugar. But is it bad? It’s processed by the liver, which I believe is also the primary organ that signals being “full” (among all sorts of other things it does). So it seems it might at least have some potential, in isolation, of having a positive effect on diet. I wouldn’t trust that is true, but these aren’t untestable things.

  • Ian,

    The evidence on fructose is unequivocal and set out in detail in my book Sweet Poison … The evidence is not restricted to rat studies or population studies (although those help). It includes human studies (some very recent) and biochemical analysis (also very recent). Fructose is fructose as far as the human body is concerned and it is not metabolised differently according to its source.

  • Ian Bicking says:

    David: are there any primary sources online? I’ve looked around and only found rat studies and population studies, though of course it’d be easy for me to miss a study since I’m not sure what I’m looking for, and there’s lots of material that doesn’t link to primary sources, all of which is hard to sort through (and it makes me unsure of what to believe, as there’s also lots of stuff that’s also clearly wrong).

  • Ian,

    I’ve posted links to a couple of the human studies published in the last few months in this blog post:


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