The harmful effects of sugar are among the few things that most health experts agree on.
Everyone knows that sugar is unhealthy and most health conscious people try to avoid it.
Not surprisingly, all sorts of other sweeteners have become popular, both natural and artificial.
One of those is called Agave nectar, a sweetener that is found in various “health foods.”
It is claimed to be natural, and marketed as a diabetic-friendly sweetener that doesn’t spike blood sugar levels.
However, if you ignore the marketing claims and take a look at what Agave nectar really contains, you will learn that it is actually even worse than plain sugar.
Let me explain why …
What is Agave?
The Agave plant grows natively in the southern U.S. and South America. It is most commonly associated with Mexico.
Although most Westerners only recently started hearing of Agave, it has been used in Mexico for hundreds (if not thousands) of years.
Back in the day, the Mexicans used it for various purposes and believed it to have medicinal properties.
This is what the Agave plant looks like:
The Mexicans also used to boil the sap (sugary circulating plant fluid) to produce a sweetener known as miel de agave (1).
But the most common use of the Agave plant is fermenting the sugars in it to produce the alcoholic beverage called tequila.
In fact, tequila is the most common commercial use of Agave today and one of Mexico’s best known export products.
Like many plants in their natural state, Agave probably does have some health benefits.
However, as is so often the case, when the product is processed and refined it tends to lose some (or all) of these beneficial health effects. This appears to be the case with the refined Agave sweetener that people are consuming today.
Bottom Line: Agave is a plant that grows in large amounts in Mexico. It has a long history of use as a medicinal plant, sweetener, and can also be fermented to make tequila.
How is Agave Nectar Made?
The sweetener commonly sold as Agave nectar would be more accurately labelled as Agave syrup.
The truth is… it has very little in common with the traditional sweetener made by the Mexicans.
The starting process is the same. They take the plant, then cut and press it to extract the sugary circulating fluid.
This process destroys all of the health promoting properties of the Agave plant, but instead produces the concentrated syrup available on store shelves that is falsely claimed to be healthy.
The manufacturing process is similar to how other unhealthy sweeteners are made, such as High Fructose Corn Syrup.
So … the sweetener sold as Agave nectar is NOT truly “nectar”—it is a refined, processed sweetener made from Agave nectar.
Bottom Line: The Agave sweetener sold today is made by treating the sugars with heat and enzymes, which destroys all the beneficial health effects of the Agave plant. The end product is a highly refined, unhealthy syrup.
Agave Nectar Does Not Spike Blood Sugar Much
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of how quickly the sugar in a food enters your bloodstream.
Unlike glucose, fructose does not go directly into the bloodstream and therefore doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels in the short-term.
This is why high fructose sweeteners are often marketed as “healthy” or “diabetic friendly.”
Agave nectar has a very low GI, primarily because almost all of the sugar in it is fructose. It has very little glucose, at least when compared to regular sugar.
A recent study in mice compared the metabolic effects of Agave nectar and sucrose (plain sugar) after 34 days. The mice getting agave nectar gained less weight and had lower blood sugar and insulin levels (8).
This is actually what we would expect in a short-term study, as the glucose in plain sugar elevates both blood sugar and insulin levels, whereas fructose does not.
That being said … the glycemic index is just one of many things to consider when looking at the health effects of sweeteners.
The harmful effects of Agave (and sugar in general) actually have very little to do with the glycemic index but everything to do with the large amounts of fructose … and Agave nectar is very high in fructose.
Bottom Line: Agave nectar is low in glucose and therefore doesn’t spike blood sugar levels much. This gives the sweetener a low glycemic index.
Agave Nectar is Dangerously High in Fructose
Sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contain two simple sugars … about half glucose and half fructose.
Although both glucose and fructose look very similar, they have completely different effects in the body.
Glucose is an incredibly important molecule. It is found in many healthy foods (like carrots and potatoes) and our bodies even produce it to make sure that we always have enough.
In fact, every living cell on the planet has glucose in it… because this molecule is absolutely vital to life.
Whereas every cell in the human body can metabolize glucose, the liver is the only organ that can metabolize fructose in significant amounts (9).
The liver gets overloaded and starts turning the fructose into fat, which gets shipped out as VLDL particles and raises blood triglycerides. Many researchers even believe that some of the fat can lodge in the liver and cause fatty liver disease (11, 12, 13).
Although fructose doesn’t raise blood sugar levels in the short-term, it can contribute to insulin resistance when consumed in large amounts.
Eating large amounts of fructose can also have various other harmful effects… such as increasing small, dense LDL particles and oxidized LDL (very bad), cause belly fat accumulation, to name a few (17).
Here’s where it gets really interesting … Agave nectar is about 85 pecent fructose, which is much higher than plain sugar (18).
This “Healthy” Sweetener is Even Worse Than Regular Sugar
If you must add some extra sweetness to your diet, agave nectar is absolutely notthe way to do it.
Agave nectar may just be the unhealthiest sweetener in the world. It makes regular sugar look healthy in comparison … and that is saying something.
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By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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