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

Ingredients

Instructions

  • 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 wrighttherapies.com. 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.

Comments

99 responses to “The Great Agave Debate”

  1. That said, I still LOVE all of your recipes even though I alter them for my personal sweetener preferences! :) Love your website.

  2. If you look into the research behind sugar and all its different forms (which I have because I’m just way too informed about nutrition, lol), you learn that fructose is actually the most harmful of all the sugars. Fructose is the main ingredient in high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, any fruit-based sweeteners like brown rice syrup, date sugar, etc. In fact going by the data, agave nectar has higher amounts of fructose than even high fructose corn syrup, so actually high fructose corn syrup from a sugar-quantity perspective is “healthier”. Ironic, huh? Sucrose especially in its raw, unprocessed form or as molasses is actually much healthier for sugar. Fructose does not do good things in the body, even from excess fruit consumption.

    • Agave is almost all fructose generally around 90 grams per 100g. Honey is around 40 – 50g depending on the type. All fruits contain different levels of fructose some low some high. I use Sweet Freedom which has only 24g of fructose per 100 and is made from just fruit, apples, grapes and carob although I don’t think you can get it in the US yet? It’s a syrup, tastes like sugar but lower cal and GI. Am sure you would all love it, it’s in UK supermarkets though so probably not much help!

  3. I just wanted everyone to know that I have made several recipes from this site and from Elana’s cookbook and replaced the agave with honey and all of them came out successful!

  4. I think this recipe should be posted in the desserts or breakfast sections, I think it gets lost in the “Agave Debate” title. This recipe is so wonderful, I love that it is sweetened with dates and stevia. I use agave regularly but sometimes it is nice to experiment with stevia too…I haven’t had all that great of luck with the taste in my stevia recipes but this one was perfect. I made it with bananas and walnuts but substituted prunes for the dates(I was out!) the first go round and the muffin was terrific. This week I substituted pumpkin and pecans for the bananas and walnuts and added some dried cranberries and 1 Tbs. pumpkin pie spice…Yum-my! It was a great fall day snack!

  5. jen..thanks SO much for the info about the coconut sugar and nectar…i will try them both…i had also just heard about coconut secret coconut aminos-which is supposed to be a substitute for soy sauce or braggs aminos for those of us who are also soy sensitive…good to know they are making some great things from coconut! have to check them all out
    i also have elana’s book and use it a couple times a week now- it already had stains all over it just like a well worn favorite cookbook ;-) love it!
    i wondered tho about using the coconut sugar in place of the agave since the agave is liquid- does it affect the texture at all or baking time?
    thanks again
    donna

    • Hi Donna,

      Glad to help. I am really digging the wonderful world of coconut- what a superfood it is! As for the recipes, I have just been using the coconut sugar granules in place of the agave in her recipes and I follow the recipe just the same as she has us to. It has worked out fine so far with the baked recipes I have tried- obviously the syrups and stuff wouldn’t work but you can just use the coconut nectar for that. I will say though that i have had to add more coconut sugar in place of the agave amount because it is less sweet. So for example, if the recipe calls for 1/4 cup agave, I have had to add 1/3-1/2 cup coconut sugar. You’ll have to experiment with the desired sweetness for you. Everything I have made with the coconut sugar though has turned out wonderful. Hope that helps and thanks for the tip about the braggs replacement.
      Jen

  6. For those of you who are not into using agave as your go to sweetner and are looking for a safe, low glycemic all natural sugar that won’t spike your insulin levels then check out coconut sugar or coconut nectar (if you prefer a liquid). You can buy the sugar which looks a lot like sucanat off of Amazon. You can find the nectar on iherb.com. They both are good but the sugar is amazing and is so good to use for baking! I have Elana’s almond flour cookbook which is awesome by the way and totally worth buying if you haven’t already. I have been substituting the agave nectar in her recipes with the coconut sugar and the recipes have turned out wonderful. Because the coconut sugar isn’t quite as sweet as the agave I do use a little more sugar then what her recipe calls for with the agave.

  7. I need to avoid processed sweeteners, including agave nectar, but want to keep my baked goods edible for folks who have not cut back on sugar. I also avoid honey and maple syrup – they are too high on the glycemic index for my well-being.

    I am thinking of substituting half – or more – of the agave nectar called for in these recipes with brown rice syrup.

    From a baking chemistry standpoint, is there a difference?

  8. can I use figs instead of dates? its what I have on hand… just wondering if anyone else has tried it.
    THANK YOU!

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