This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2011 edition
Agave nectar is touted as an alternative to both sugar and honey, presented as 100% natural, often organic and even raw, on the face of it agave nectar looks like the perfect solution. With a lower glycaemic index and glycaemic load than other non-artificial sweeteners it is an attractive product.
Made from the same plant as tequila, agave nectar appears to have impressive credentials. From manufacturers' websites you are presented with the impression that agave nectar dates back to the Aztecs and is a traditional product, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Agave nectar dates back to approximately 1990. It is made in both Mexico and South Africa; its production varies slightly depending on the variety used. In South Africa only blue agave is used, and in Mexico blue agave is also often the dominant crop. To manufacture agave from the blue agave the pineapple like core is used, while for the agave salimiana the stalk is cut before it fully grows and the liquid that collects in the core is collected daily.
Once juice has been obtained, the juice is then either heated to hydrolyse the polysaccharides into simple sugars, or treated with enzymes to hydrolyse the polysaccharides into simple sugars or more commonly heated and treated with enzymes to hydrolyse the polysaccharides that occur in the plant into the simple sugars of the final syrup. The syrup is then filtered and clarified to produce the nectar on the shelves. In pure chemistry and food production terms the processes used to produce agave nectar are the same as used to produce high fructose corn syrup from corn starch, deploying the same genetically modified enzymes and chemical agents to convert the indigestible polysaccharides (mostly insulin) of the agave plant into fructose and dextrose units. Raw nectar products do not use heat in the production process.
Agave nectar, depending on how it is processed can be up to 70% fructose, which is a very high concentration indeed; higher than is found in fruit and without the fiber, vitamins, and other goodies a whole food product brings. Agave nectar is also higher in fructose than high fructose corn syrup.
Is it something for a bodybuilder? Personally, I don't think so at all. Fruit is something for a bodybuilder certainly, but adding a concentrated supplemental fructose with its specific metabolism that first replenishes liver glycogen and then gets stored as fat without any impact on circulating or muscle glycogen levels, is not a way to be lean in my book. This would be enough, but it appears that fructose in higher amounts causes appetite and hunger to be stimulated via the inhibition of leptin. For me the case against agave nectar is pretty well stacked when you consider that there are alternatives sweeteners and ingredients available, such as honey, maple syrup and even table sugar.