The Great Agave Debate

“Why do you use agave? I’ve heard that it’s very unhealthy”  I’m asked this question about my “go to” sweetener on at least a daily basis.

First off, there really is no perfect sweetener, so I recommend everything in moderation.

We often take sugar and other sweeteners for granted, forgetting that they were not widely available to humans until the modern era (excluding of course, those living in the tropical regions feasting on mangoes and pineapple). Processed sugar was invented between the Medieval Period and the Enlightenment (more than 500 years ago), it became more widely available during the 1400 and 1500’s. By 1750 (with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the invention of sugar mills) sugar became wildly popular.

So if we really think about it, up until a couple of hundred years ago, the majority of the human race (at least those living in colder climes) only experienced the taste of sweetness by eating fruit when it was in season (or when nursing, of course). The fruit that was eaten was not the overly ripe, super sweet fruit that is bred today. Think of wild blueberries –they are tiny and tart. The fruit we eat today has been cultivated for its juicy, sweet flavor.

I think the spike in diabetes and other diseases we have seen during the past decades may partially be due to the fact that humans are not accustomed to eating large quantities of sugar and are not able to efficiently metabolize this substance.

Sugar is sugar. Agave is sugar. An apple is sugar with some good vitamins, minerals and fiber. Basically, many of us (especially those with celiac) would be prudent to monitor our intake of sugar in any form (celiac and diabetes ride on the same HLA gene, so the presence of one increases the likelihood of the other).

While I do use agave in my dessert recipes, I am very cautious about my overall intake of this (and all other sweet substances) because I find that unfortunately, I am one of those whose body rebels against too much sugar. Of course, my husband and children can eat a lot more of this substance than I do and still feel great. That’s what keeps me baking like a fiend. They want their treats and they do just fine with them.

For those of you that are now on the anti-agave bandwagon, I have come up with this date sweetened recipe.  Of course, I will still be using agave because I feel ok when I consume it in very small amounts.

gluten free banana walnut muffins recipe

Banana Walnut Muffins

Print Pin Recipe
Servings 6 muffins



  • Place eggs, oil, bananas, dates and stevia in a vitamix; blend on medium speed until combined
  • Add in coconut flour, salt and baking soda and blend until smooth
  • Fold in walnuts
  • Scoop ¼ cup batter into a paper lined muffin pan
  • Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes (my batch took exactly 23 minutes; all ovens are slightly different)
  • Cool and serve
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 35 mins
Tried this recipe?Mention @elanaspantry or tag #elanaspantry!

These tasty gluten-free, Paleo (I think) muffins do not contain agave for all of the agave-phobes out there.  I will be creating some desserts with alternative sweeteners just to spice things up (plus, I like a good challenge every now and then).  However, I will still be using agave for some recipes.

In terms of the great agave debate, I want you all to know that I use Madhava Agave Nectar. While I’ve noticed a lot of your comments with links to articles about the evils of agave syrup I want to also point out this link posted by one of my readers, Shari, from Madhava’s President Craig Gerbore.

On a much lighter note, here’s a cool coincidence in regards to agave nectar. The winner of last weeks Freebie Friday is Karen from She left an interesting comment regarding the controversy over agave nectar on my Asian Salad Dressing post.

Agave or not, have a great weekend!

UPDATE: please visit Madhava’s Agave MythBuster website for more information on the agave debate.


99 responses to “The Great Agave Debate”

  1. i do trust dr mercola and am very grateful for his work…i sadly agree if he says it is bad he is most probably correct…and i also sadly wonder how businesses can get away with lying to people and question how they can ‘sleep at night’ misleading people for profit…where does this all end?? :-(

  2. I still believe that Agave is not good for you as sighted by Dr. Mercola…its is processed and is worse then high-fructose corn syrup….
    If it is iffy like that then stay away from it… I threw it out of my kitchen and now use ACTUAL food such as maple, or honey, or stevia to sweeten…

  3. by the way…has anyone found a stevia product that does not have that awful under-taste that tastes like nutraweet? UGH! can’t stand it!

  4. wow- this discussion has been going on almost a year! since it started and i expressed i had never heard anything bad about agave…of course, all kinds of information to the contrary began to turn up…we still use it- very little and i am changing things up with raw honey-xylitol, and maple syrup here and there…but we really do not use sweetener that much, anyway….so i guess i have to agree with the concept of all things in moderation, anyway…don’t know what else to feel about it!
    there is some information at if anyone is interested- dr. mercola- who i feel trust for very strongly- has given some of the cons of agave and, unfortunately- his word is kind of the ‘last one’ for me…:-(

  5. “Yucca species, together with other agaves, are known to contain large quantities of saponins,” according to Tyler’s Honest Herbal. Saponins in many varieties of agave plants are toxic steroid derivatives, as well as purgatives, and are to be avoided during pregnancy or breastfeeding because they might cause or contribute to miscarriage. These toxins have adverse effects on non-pregnant people and many health compromised consumer categories as well. They are known to contribute to internal hemorrhaging by destroying red blood cells, and they may gravely negatively harm people taking statin and high blood pressure drugs. Agave may also stimulate blood flow in the uterus.(10) Other first hand reports indicate agave may promote sterility in women. Since the agaves used for agave syrup are not being used in their traditional way, there should be a warning label on the sweetener packages that it may promote miscarriage during pregnancy, through weakening the uterine lining.

    What’s Wrong With Fructose?

    Once eaten, refined fructose appears as triglycerides in the blood stream, or as stored body fat. Elevated triglyceride levels, caused by consumption of refined fructose, are building blocks for hardening human arteries. Metabolic studies have proven the relationship between refined fructose and obesity.(11) Because fructose is not converted to blood glucose, refined fructose doesn’t raise nor crash human blood glucose levels — hence the claim that it is safe for diabetics. Supposedly, refined fructose has a low glycemic index, and won’t affect your blood sugar negatively. But the food labels are deceptive. Refined fructose is not really safe for diabetics. “High fructose from agave or corn will kill a diabetic or hypoglycemic much faster than refined white sugar,” says Mr. Bianchi. “By eating high fructose syrups, you are clogging the veins, creating inflammation, and increasing body fat, while stressing your heart. This is in part because refined fructose is foreign to the body, and is not recognized by it.”

  6. I encourage everyone to look up the video “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” on YouTube and learn about the problem with fructose. Fructose is a unique sugar that our body does not process well; to be frank, it is a toxin, that we can handle in very small quantities. In large quantities, it causes insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, and contributes to diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

    It has been judged as good for diabetics because it does not affect blood sugar or insulin levels; unfortunately, this is because it can only be metabolized by the liver, unlike every other form of sugar which is available as energy to the whole body. Fructose has a similar effect on the liver as does alcohol.

    You can look all of this up; it is well known in recent years, and demonstrated by numerous studies. Watch the video that I mentioned.

    Regular white sugar, sucrose, is digested as half glucose, half fructose. Honey is roughly similar, half fructose. Most high fructose corn syrup is roughy equivalent, as well. Agave nectar, however, is commonly around 90% fructose. That is why it is so low-glycemic, and also why it is frankly just not a healthy choice, even less-so than regular sugar.

  7. I’ve tried about 7 of the recipes (each made 10+ times) and substituted PALM SUGAR melted down from the palm “candy” found in Thai grocery stores. I usually add a 1/4 water + an oz rock of the Palm Candy to yield a very thick syrup, which I then dump back into my empty agave cotainer. Palm Sugar is low glycemic (same as Agave about 30 ) and made from sucrose. All receipes tasted good or better – the sweetness is similar, a little more earthy, but there is no noticable difference. I even made my own dark chocoate chips. I’m not anti-agave, but it doesn’t hurt to go 1/2 agave 1/2 palm sugar on all these receipes. they taste the same, and it keeps your blood sugar low as opposed to honey which spikes it.

    I’m totally anti-Stevia. I think it’s an herbal drug, similar to sucralose, with a nasty aftertaste.

    For paleo people, myself included, palm nectars as well as honey, would have been available to paleolithic/neolithic peoples.

  8. Anyone with intestinal difficulties should be aware that honey is used to combat constipation. In my case, anything over a teaspoon or so can cause distress and even diarrhea. I think honey’s a wonderful substance — it’s even an antibacterial — but be aware of this property of it.

    Someone claimed that American Indians did not have honey prior to the arrival of Europeans. I find that strange, considering that bears will take it right out of the hive. I have a hard time believing that ancient Indians did not observe and imitate this behavior. It is much simpler to obtain than maple syrup, which takes a lot of processing to create out of the watery sap that comes from the tree (I live in New England so maple culture is all around me.)

    Interesting discussion.

  9. i believe these would not be considered truly paleo only due to the use of stevia. to my knowledge, the only sweetener sanctioned in the book is the occasional use of honey. but they definitely look delicious and everyone i know on paleo certainly wouldn’t turn away a treat every once in a while!!

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