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Q&A with Andrea: Is Agave Good or Bad?

BY: Andrea Nakayama

DATE: 2014-06-10

Confused by conflicting nutrition advice? Get Answers from an Expert!

Question: Is agave good or bad?

The agave question comes up a lot. Many of the answers in this regard stem from how agave is processed. Some of the confusion lies in the differing methods by which the agave plant (or plants, as there are different species) is converted into a sweet syrup.
But I’d like to focus on another question: How does the body digest agave?

No matter where agave comes from ~ whether it is raw or not; blue, amber or clear ~ for me it all boils down (pun intended) to the same concern within the body.

I’ll admit: I was a big fan of agave when it originally hit the market.

I was excited that it was a low glycemic sweetener that wouldn’t spike blood glucose like table sugar. But I was unaware of the cost at which that came. When the news started to surface about the detriments of consuming agave, I turned a deaf ear. I couldn’t face the music.

How could my sweet love be causing me harm?!

This is something I started to fully digest a couple of years ago when I first offered You’re Not the Boss of Me!, a detox focused on balancing your blood sugar (the 2014 edition starts on Monday!)
Just how was my sweetie sabotaging me?

All foods have a chemical structure. What happens in our bodies is therefore a bit of chemistry.

Our sweet foods are made up of monosaccharides in varying compositions. The monosaccharides include glucose, fructose and galactose. Simply, these molecules are the building blocks for all our sweets and carbohydrates.

The difference between those three monosaccharides is surprisingly subtle. But a subtle difference in a chemical structure can make a formidable difference in a chemical reaction. When glucose is eaten, it’s absorbed into the blood stream. It then makes its way to the liver where it is stored or broken down to supply the body’s energy. That break down and delivery process requires enzymes and insulin.

Glucose can actually move both into and out of the cells. Its movement depends on the concentrations of glucose both inside and outside of the liver. We need glucose for energy and we need insulin production to help us regulate our blood sugar.
We want the rate with which our blood sugar rises and falls to be slow and steady to simultaneously support our body’s need for energy and protect us from the detriments of high blood sugar, which include heart disease, diabetes, inflammation and their related imbalances, and high insulin levels, which can make us store more fat in places that don’t suit us.

This is why foods low in glucose (ie. low glycemic) got a good rap.

When fructose is eaten, that slight difference in its chemical structure takes it on an alternate digestive journey. Fructose is not a direct source of energy for the muscles and the brain as glucose is. Fructose does not go into the blood stream and effect our blood sugar.

And while this might be seen as a good thing with regards to the regulation of blood sugar, fructose is instead taken up more readily by the liver. There it prompts the liver cells to produce triglycerides, a type of blood fat associated with risk of heart disease, weight gain, liver inflammation and diabetes. For this reason, fructose is sometimes referred to as “the sugar that acts like a fat”.

Glucose converts to sugar in the blood. Fructose converts to fat in the blood and puts some extra stress on the liver and even, for many of us, the colon.

Ultimately, both lead to undesirable health issues including weight gain. Bummer.
But what does all this chemistry and physiology have to do with agave?

Digest this:

  • Table sugar (sucrose) is comprised of a mixture of both fructose and glucose in about equal proportions.

  • Agave is made up of anywhere from 92% fructose and 8% glucose to 56% fructose and 20% glucose. (The vast difference likely has to do with sources of the plant as well as the processing of the different plants.)

  • High fructose corn syrup contains about 42 – 55% fructose, with the remainder being glucose.

Clearly, agave packs a potent portion of fructose for the body to process.

High levels of fructose in the body’s system (rarely triggered by fruit consumption as fruits are paired with water, vitamins and fiber), can lead to serious health effects including:

  • digestive disturbances (gas, bloating and even IBS due to the fermentation of the sugars that can occur in the colon)

  • metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance, obesity)

  • liver disease

Remember: Your liver is the gatekeeper for your body ~ managing all the toxins that your body needs to process.

That organ is working hard! Substances high in fructose, like agave, place an excessive amount of stress on the liver. Though they might be good for helping to regulate blood sugar (because they do not spike it), they’re still no good for your weight, your heart or your immunity.

Well then, you might be thinking, is agave “good” or “bad”?

Though its effects on the body are different, I’d say it’s no better than refined sugar. If it’s clear, raw agave, from a reliable source (those that are lower in fructose), then moderation will likely be acceptable to your digestion. Choose wisely and discriminatingly. And remember to listen to you body. If you don’t turn a deaf ear and you clean up the inner storm, it will communicate clearly.
I know that my body can’t tolerate refined sugar or agave!

So what’s a girl (or boy) with a sweet tooth to do?

I thought you’d never ask!

I’ve crafted the perfect program for you. You can learn more about balancing your blood sugar and put it into all into practice with hand-holding support.

With You’re Not the Boss of Me! Controlling Your Blood Sugar so it Doesn’t Control You, you’ll not only gain a deep understanding about how sugars (glucose, fructose, carbs. . .) affect your body and brain, but I’ll lead you through a two-week transformation that will put you in the driver’s seat with your sweet tooth.

Move over sweetie, BOSS starts tomorrow and it’s not too late to join!

And don’t panic. You can still eat your Coconut Bliss. But I promise Ricki Heller (creator of the delicious BOSS recipes) has better options for you that will be sure to satisfy! (Yes, ma’am, this includes ice cream.)

Want to learn more about balancing your blood sugar?

Grab your green smoothie and listen to Even Keel: The Three Keys to Sustainable Blood Sugar Balance. Tune in here. It’s my gift to you!




You’re Not the BOSS of Me: Controlling Your Blood Sugar so that it Doesn’t Control You

Blood sugar affects your mood, your weight, your mechanisms of hunger and your hormone balance. When it’s out of whack for too long it can lead to chronic disease states like diabetes, hypertension, Candida and persistent internal inflammation.

You can finally get a handle on the conditions that are controlling your life. And we begin tomorrow!

Includes three online classes to discuss the Whys & Hows of your Detox Diet.
group detox start date: June 9th

detox duration: two full weeks!

In BOSS you’ll learn how to. . .

  • tackle chronic weight concerns

  • discover renewed energy

  • decrease your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer

  • mitigate mood swings

  • look and feel more vibrant throughout the entire day

Learn key information for your health while eating great food and living the best life possible to support not only your own wellness and equilibrium, but also that of your entire family.

click here to learn more and BE THE BOSS!

Your comments and feedback are always welcome.
Is there an ingredient you’d like to learn more about?
Is there a nutrition class you always wish existed?

Let me know!
Andrea Nakayama

Functional Nutrition

503 866.8079

Andrea Nakayama

By: Andrea Nakayama, FxNA Founder & Functional Medicine Nutritionist

Functional Nutrition Alliance provides the comprehensive online Functional Nutrition training in the Science & Art of the Functional Nutrition practice. Learn to address the roots of your clients’ suffering with client education, diet & lifestyle modifications.


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