Agave Nectar Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

agave nectar

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Agave nectar, also called agave syrup, is a sweet syrup made from the filtered juice of the agave plant, which is native to Mexico. It can be made from Agave salmiana or from blue agave (Agave tequilina), which is also used to make tequila.

To make the syrup, the agave juice is first extracted by pulping and pressing the harvested leaves of the plant. The filtered juices are then heated to evaporate the water and break down complex sugars into simple sugars.

Another method of production uses enzymes derived from the Aspergillus fungus to break the bonds that hold together the complex sugar molecules. Both methods result in a concentrated, sweetened nectar comprised of 90% fructose, which has a lower glycemic index (GI) than most other sweeteners, including sugar.

Agave Nectar Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition facts are provided by the USDA for 1 teaspoon (6.9g) of agave syrup.

  • Calories: 21
  • Fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 0.3g
  • Carbohydrates: 5.3g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 4.7g
  • Protein: 0g

Carbs

A teaspoon of agave nectar has about 5 grams of carbohydrates and a total of 20 calories. That is comparable with table sugar, corn syrup, molasses, or sugar in any other guise.

Agave nectar is primarily fructose, and while fructose is less glycemic than glucose, it still has negative effects through an increase in triglycerides.

Unlike glucose, fructose is almost entirely metabolized in the liver in a process known as fructolysis. During fructolysis, fructose is converted by the liver into:

  • Glucose, to be used for energy (about half of fructose becomes glucose)
  • Lactic acid, also for energy (about 25%)
  • Glycogen, the stored form of glucose (15% to 20%)
  • Triglycerides, a type of fat associated with an increased risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease (5% to 10%)

Fats

Agave nectar contains only a trace amount of fat, but a portion of the fructose it contains is converted into triglycerides. Using large amounts of any caloric sweetener, such as agave nectar is not advisable, especially if you have pre-existing cardiovascular condition, metabolic syndrome, or insulin resistance. 

In addition, added sugars are a source of extra calories. These can cause weight gain, which is an independent risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.

Protein

Agave nectar has a negligible amount of protein (less than 0.01 grams).

Vitamins and Minerals

As a plant-based product, agave syrup does contain small amounts of some vitamins (such as vitamin C and several B vitamins) and minerals (including potassium, calcium, and selenium). But the serving size is so small that the nectar provides little benefit from these micronutrients.

Health Benefits

The actual sap or juice of an agave plant contains phytonutrients that could have an antioxidant effect. However, the agave nectar that you can purchase is processed (using heat or a fungus), which eliminates any health benefits from the plant.

Agave syrup is about one and a half times sweeter than table sugar, meaning that you can use less to sweeten beverages or food, so you'll consume fewer calories from added sugar.

Allergies

There are no reports in the medical literature of allergic reactions to agave nectar, likely because the plant proteins have been removed through processing.

Adverse Effects

Fructose, like sucrose, can be detrimental to your oral health. When you eat fructose, the bacteria on tooth surfaces metabolizes the sugar to form acid. This lowers the pH of tooth plaque below 5.5, causing the enamel of the tooth to demineralize.

When the pH is restored above 5.5, usually within 20 to 30 minutes of eating fructose, the enamel can be repaired, at least in part, by calcium and phosphate released from the saliva.

Excessive amounts of dietary fructose have been associated with an increased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Varieties

For a neutral flavor, opt for a light agave nectar, which has a slightly golden color. Darker versions have a more caramel-like taste and can be poured directly on pancakes or waffles as a substitute for maple syrup.

For people who make an effort to eat naturally and avoid artificial sweeteners, agave nectar can be an attractive option if it is not refined and free from additives. It is important to check labels as some nectars that are commercially processed may contain preservatives and artificial colors. Always look for brands that are labeled "100% organic" and have been certified by an agency authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Storage and Food Safety

Agave nectar will not crystallize, is stable even at different temperatures, and has a shelf life of approximately two years.

How to Prepare

Since agave syrup is sweeter than table sugar, you will need less of it when you substitute it for other forms of sugar in recipes. It also dissolves easily, which is handy for beverages. You can use it as you would maple syrup, honey, molasses, or corn syrup—as a topping, in baked goods, or in sauces or marinades. But you may need to experiment to get the amount right.

Recipes

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