Most types of agave are actually a starch that is converted into a refined fructose. Depending on the source of the syrup and the amount of heat used to process it, agave can be anywhere from 55% - 90% fructose. This “conversion” sometimes includes high levels of heat and chemical alteration, such that the fructose found in agave nectar is more concentrated than that found in high fructose corn syrup. Refined fructose can eventually turn into triglycerides in the blood or be stored as fat. Fructose is not converted to glucose and therefore does not alter blood glucose levels. This is why claims are made about agave being safe for diabetics. However, it has other detrimental affects to our bodies that go beyond blood sugar levels, such as mineral depletion, cardio-vascular disease, pregnancy complications, and others.
The fructose in most types of agave has no enzymes, vitamins or minerals for digestion, and therefore will attempt to obtain these from other nutrients in your body, leading to nutrient depletion. Agave is not a whole food. It is fractionated and processed and has lost many of the nutrients found in the original plant. Agave nectar and tequila come from the same plant. Natural enzymes in agave are removed to prevent agave from fermenting into tequila.
Finally, there are no strict controls around production of agave, so labels should not be completely trusted. Most agave originally came from the blue agave plant, but a shortage in this plant could be causing use of other agave plants that are lower quality and more toxic.
The core of the agave plant is harvested after 7-10 years and the sap is removed and heated to create agave. Usually you’ll find agave labeled as raw, light or amber. Amber agave is actually just fructose that has been heated at a higher temperature, and therefore burned and darkened. Agave labeled raw has not been heated above 120 degrees, which does help it retain some nutritional elements. Light agave is heated to a level somewhere in between those of amber and raw.
The producers of Madhava brand agave nectar claim they make it in a way that does not destroy nutrients and little to no heat is used. This brand, bought in the raw form, may be a better option than others. It's a Colorado company, so I'd love to be able to support them. They make great honey.
The choice is up to you. Some types of raw organic agave may have similar qualities to raw organic honey. If I use agave I will stick with the raw, organic type. However, I am going to mainly stick to sweeteners like raw organic honey, stevia, organic maple syrup or dates for my baking.
I’ll talk about raw organic honey another day – it’s an amazing food!