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Agave doesn’t cause a big blood sugar spike like table sugar does, but when you take in tons of fructose at once, say, by devouring half a batch of cookies, your liver has nothing to do with the excess that your body doesn’t need for energy. So it gets turned into fat. That could have something to do with why studies link high fructose consumption to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and obesity.
Instead of glorifying (or demonizing) one type of sugar over another, you’re better off sticking with whatever natural sweetener you like best and using it in moderation.
Your liver is basically repackaging agave as blood fats called triglycerides, which increase your risk for heart disease. These high fructose levels can also contribute to insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes, as well as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Complicating matters, studies—including one published in 2010 in the journal Cancer Research—are finding that fructose actually feeds some cancers.
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When University of California San Francisco researchers replaced the fructose in subjects’ diets with an equal amount of fructose-free carbs (think, swapping candy for pasta), subjects struggled to maintain their weight even though they were eating the same number of calories. And though the subjects all started out with symptoms of metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and extra body fat), those problems had all but vanished by the end of the study nine days later. Which, if you’ve been happily chowing down on agave-sweetened raw chocolates or nondairy ice cream, is pretty bitter news.
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“There is little to make agave nectar significantly more or less healthy than table sugar, honey, or maple syrup,” explains Kantha Shelke, a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists and founder of the food science and research firm Corvus Blue. In other words, all types of sugar are, well, sugar. And they’re all bad for you.
So what’s a health-minded eater to do? Instead of glorifying (or demonizing) one type of sugar over another, you’re better off sticking with whatever natural sweetener you like best and using it in moderation. (One teaspoon of agave nectar in the occasional dessert recipe is fine.) Your health—and your waistline—will thank you.