Tara Tomaino, RD
T&B Nutrition Director
What are the health benefits of agave?
One tablespoon of agave syrup has about 60 calories and 15 grams of sugar. Agave syrup is comprised of mainly fructose (80%), glucose (20%), and water. Fructose is processed by the liver and does not require insulin for absorption, so it does not result in a large increase in blood glucose levels.
What are the health benefits of honey?
Like agave, one tablespoon of honey contains about 60 calories and 17 grams of sugar. Honey is made up of fructose (38.5%), glucose (31%), water (17.1%), and maltose (7.25%). Honey also contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, prebiotics, and antioxidants. For many years, honey has been used as a remedy for sore throats and coughs thanks to its antimicrobial properties.
The amount and types of antioxidants present in honey depend on the type of flower and nectar used by bees. The variety of flower has an impact on the color and flavor of the honey as well, and in the United States there are over 300 different varieties of flowers used for honey production. Make sure you buy honey that is labeled “pure honey” to ensure that nothing was added during the process of getting the honey from beehive to bottle.
What are the pros and cons of agave and honey?
Pros: Both agave and honey have a sweeter taste than table sugar, so you may be able to use less to sweeten your food or beverage. If you are careful with your portion, this may save you on the total calories and grams of sugar consumed.
Honey Pros: Honey is a source of antioxidants. Research has shown that darker colored honeys have a higher antioxidant content than lighter colored honeys. Honey has also long been used as a remedy for sore throats thanks to its antimicrobial properties.
Honey Cons: Honey is a potential source of Clostridium botulinum which can cause serious disease in infants under one year of age. It should not be fed to infants under one year of age due to their immature intestinal microflora.
Agave Cons: Fructose is metabolized in the liver and if consumed in excess, that additional fructose is converted to fat. An accumulation of fat due to excess fructose consumption can lead to fatty liver disease, increased triglycerides and bad cholesterol, and can promote fat build-up around organs.
Cons: Sugar, regardless of the form should be consumed in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 tsp of added sugars per day and men consume no more than 9 tsp per day. The FDA defines added sugars as “sugars added to foods and beverages during the processing of foods.” Both agave and honey fall under this category and will be included under the “added sugar” section on the nutrition facts label when used to create a food product. This designation can help consumers make better choices when selecting their foods and beverages. The U.S. dietary guidelines does not recommend specific types of sugar, but suggests keeping added sugar intake, including agave and honey, to less than 10% of total calories consumed.
I like to recommend honey more often than agave because of the numerous health benefits. Honey is also a versatile sweetener that can be used in baking and cooking, or in dressings, marinades, and beverages. Athletes can use honey as an efficient carbohydrate replacement during endurance activities. To use honey in baking, you can substitute up to half of the granulated sugar called for with honey. Reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup and add about ½ tsp of baking soda for each cup of honey used. The oven temperature should also be reduced by 25 degrees to prevent over-browning
Agave has a thinner consistency, which allows it to dissolve more easily in beverages and makes it good choice for sweetening cold beverages.