Agave has become popular to whole-foodies as a gluten-free, vegan, low glycemic index alternative to sugar. I have seen it’s profuse use in popular paleo-chef’s dessert recipes. It has even found it’s way into the mainstream grocery stores and recognized in the media as “diabetic-friendly”. While agave seems appealing as a natural and sustainable plant-based sweetener, it is 55-90% fructose. The fructose in agave is the reason for it’s low glycemic index but what also what makes it harmful. Unlike glucose, which can be metabolized by all cells with the excess stored as glycogen in the liver, fructose can only be metabolized by the liver.
The problematic products formed from fructose metabolism in the liver include triglycerides (fat), uric acid, and free radicals. Inflammation, caused by inflammatory messengers called cytokines, result from the boost of blood sugar. Cumulative inflammation and free-radicals lead to pre-mature aging of the skin and a whole lot of other problems. The liver gets over-worked from metabolizing fructose, becomes insulin resistant, and has to recruit the pancreas to produce extra insulin. Excess insulin can cause a multitude of metabolic problems leading to most deadly diseases.
Not only does fructose metabolism make you look and feel old, but it also makes you fat! The triglycerides formed during fructose metabolism are transported via the blood to adipocytes (fat cells) and stored as fat. The resulting cumulative adipose tissue secretes adipokines (a form of cytokine) which contributes to further inflammation and metabolic syndrome. Of course, everything is ok in moderation and a teaspoon here or there won’t harm you. According to Jack Norris, RD, a person should not exceed 2 tablespoons per day to avoid negative results.