Agave Nectar – A Vegan Sweetener Panacea?

agaveJane and I are trying to be good vegans. We carefully read labels at the grocery store and avoid all known animal products. We surf the net, read other vegan blogs, and often visit the sites we've chosen to link to as our Vegan Resources. Occasionally, we find something is vegan that we didn't know about previously. And, there are a few issues that are gray in the vegan community, which always merit further reading.

One of these issues is the use of sweeteners. Some eschew refined sugar as most refined sugars are processed using bone char. We choose to follow Vegan Outreach on this topic and allow refined sugar in our diet. However, refined sugar is generally considered unhealthy, and not an environmentally friendly product, so we try to consume alternative sweeteners as well. Jane hates the taste of maple syrup, so that's out. Honey is also often debated as to whether or not it is vegan. We allow honey in our diet, and use Vegan Action to define our approach on this topic. There's also brown rice syrup (which we have in the cupboard, but haven't tried yet), and agave nectar, which we enjoy, but is a little pricey.

Today, as I was surfing, I stumbled across this article in the Chicago Tribune which suggests that agave nectar may not be all that healthy after all. One doctor likes it and says that it doesn't impact blood sugar as much as other sugars, which makes it an ideal sweetener for diabetics. This doctor also says agave nectar contains a bacteria which helps fight colon cancer. Another doctor states that agave nectar is almost all fructose which impacts blood fructose, and that is worse than impacting blood sugar. This doctor claims that fructose interferes with healthy metabolism.

The most alarming information I gleaned from this article, is that the Food and Drug Administration notes that "in the past, agave products may have been 'economically adulterated or misbranded by adding corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup [HFCS].' Chronic shortages of the plant make this a real concern."

The article ends with this warning:

If you use agave:

• Botulism spores can be found in bottled sweeteners originally derived from natural products. Treat it like honey; don't give it to children under age 1.

• Avoid it if you're pregnant; some believe it can cause miscarriages.

• Seek out an agave product that is organic and carries the official USDA seal.

• The FDA says there is no current need for regulatory action but would like to know if there is any literature or other information that shows agave causes adverse effects.

Oi! It seems like in the world of sweeteners, there is no ideal product.

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