Agave Nectar Vs. Honey

When it comes to natural alternatives for refined sugar, honey and agave nectar are equally popular. Which one is the better option? Let us find out...
With the increasing awareness about the negative effects of refined sugar, more and more people are now opting for its natural alternatives. They include honey, agave nectar, barley malt syrup, blackstrap molasses, date sugar, brown rice syrup and maple syrup. The wide range of options naturally leads to the question, "which one is the best"? Agave nectar and honey are among the most widely used alternatives to refined sugar.

Agaves are succulent plants, from which the popular drink named 'tequila' is prepared. This drink is made through fermentation and distillation of agave juice. Agave syrup or nectar is another product that is prepared by processing agave juice. According to the exponents of this product, it is one of the healthiest substitutes for refined sugar. With a low glycemic index, agave nectar is said to be beneficial for diabetics too. Honey is made by honey bees from the nectar they collect from flowers. Raw honey is well-known for its nutritional and health benefits. It is claimed to be very effective in boosting the immune system, thereby preventing diseases. It is also used for healing wounds and burns, as it has anti bacterial properties. As it is rich in carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and phytonutrients, honey is also said to be a good energy booster.

Agave Nectar and Honey - Pros and Cons

Appearance: Agave syrup comes in different types that may vary in color, ranging from light brown to dark brown. Honey has a rich golden color and is thicker in consistency, when compared to agave syrup. Agave nectar dissolves quickly than honey. While agave syrup has a stable shelf life of around three years, honey can get crystallized, when stored for longer durations.

Flavor: Honey has a distinct flavor that may not go well with all foods, whereas agave nectar has a very delicate flavor that may not be noticeable. The flavor of agave syrup is often compared to that of simple sugar syrup and so, it is widely used as an additive in many foods. Agave syrup is much sweeter, when compared to the same amount of honey.

Nutritional Value: The calorific values of honey and agave nectar are more or less similar. In fact, honey has a slightly higher calorific value, as compared to agave nectar. The amount of total carbohydrates and total sugars are also almost equal in both the products. Agave nectar contains a small amount of fiber, which is not found in honey. While agave nectar is not known to have noticeable amounts of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, honey is better off.

Glycemic Index: When compared to honey, agave nectar has a much lower glycemic index, which is claimed to be one of its major advantages. The glycemic index of honey may range between 40 to 70, depending on the type. Raw honey is said to have the lowest glycemic index. In case of agave nectar, the value drops below 20. This means that agave nectar has very low glucose level and it does not cause a spike in blood sugar level. So this agave product is claimed to be safe for diabetics.

Fructose Levels: Agave nectar is said to contain high levels of fructose and this is the major disadvantage of this product. The level of fructose in agave nectar may vary from one brand to another and may range between 56% to 96%. In case of honey, the level is around 40% to 45%. So the fructose level in agave nectar is much higher than that of high fructose corn syrup. If consumed in excess, fructose can cause considerable increase in the level of triglycerides and lead to various diseases and disorders, including insulin resistance, heart diseases and metabolic syndrome.

Processing: Though the method of processing may vary with different manufacturers, it is said that agave nectar is produced through a chemically intensive process. Apart from using various chemicals like clarifiers and caustic acids, genetically modified enzymes are also said to be used in this process. So, agave nectar cannot be considered a natural sweetener. Though raw honey is completely a natural sweetener, store-bought versions may have undergone certain forms of processing, like heating or pasteurizing.

Health Benefits: Honey has been used by mankind since time immemorial, and it is said to have numerous health benefits. It has anti-bacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. It is used for healing wounds, cuts and lesions. It is used for relieving cough, throat irritation, and certain gastrointestinal problems. However, honey can cause allergic reactions, if used by people with pollen allergies. Another cause of concern is the possibility of botulism in infants, as raw honey may contain botulinum spores. Agave nectar is also claimed to have anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Honey or Agave Nectar?

Though agave nectar is said to have a low glycemic index, it has high levels of fructose. It is suggested that consumption of fructose is more unhealthy than consumption of glucose. Another drawback of agave nectar is the method of processing, which is said to be chemically intensive. However, it is claimed that certain brands provide minimally-processed, organic products. This is not applicable for local, raw honey, but most of the store-bought brands are processed ones. The amount of total sugars and the calorific value are almost similar in honey and agave nectar. So there is no drastic difference between the two, if you are calorie conscious. Agave nectar is preferred by vegans, who do not use honey. Raw honey could pose the risk of botulism in infants.

Whether it be honey or agave nectar, moderate use is advisable. Choose raw honey or minimally-processed, organic agave nectar. Considering the above mentioned factors, it can be concluded that raw honey is preferable to agave nectar. However, agave nectar is also claimed to be a healthier option with a low glycemic index, but there is no conclusive proof to substantiate these claims. If you want to use agave nectar, you may opt for any organic brand certified by the USDA. As both the products contain considerable amounts of sugar, it is always better to consume them in moderation. Diabetics must avoid both these products. The above said is only a brief overview about honey and agave nectar. For a detailed understanding, you may seek the opinion of your physician or nutritionist.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert advice from a nutritionist/health care provider.