It's easy to get answers about health and nutrition! Just send your question by email to [email protected] and Dr. Harlan will respond to selected questions of general interest. Answers will be posted in the Ask Dr. Gourmet newsletter (sign up now!) and archived in the Ask Dr. Gourmet section of the website.

Please note that the Ask Dr. Gourmet feature is restricted to questions regarding food and nutrition. Due to the many questions we receive, not all questions may be answered. For more specific questions about your individual health, please contact your doctor. About Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy


Ask Dr. Gourmet

Agave nectar vs. table sugar

Does my body process agave differently than sugar?

Dr. Gourmet Says...

The agave plant

This is a great question. Hands down, of the two choices - table sugar or agave nectar - sugar would be your better choice. Both are sugars, but agave is predominantly fructose - about 82% fructose - where sucrose (table sugar) is 50% fructose and 50% glucose.

Sugar in any amount is challenging, and you should be limiting your consumption, whether it is table sugar, honey, agave, brown sugar, or maple syrup. The problem with agave is that the fructose is taken up and metabolized differently than sugar. It is taken up into the body differently, but most importantly it is processed immediately in the liver and does not stimulate insulin release and other hormones. (Sucrose is also processed in the liver, but not immediately.) As such, fructose raises triglycerides, has a negative effect on cholesterol levels, and is linked with a higher risk of hypertension and diabetes.

Interestingly, because of the way it is processed, fructose does not suppress ghrelin, the body's hormone that stimulates appetite. As such, you might consume agave nectar and take in the same amount of calories as sugar, but still be hungry.

Don't be fooled by the fact that it is labeled "natural," because that really means nothing. Many of those syrups are just as processed as table sugar is. All sugars are calorie dense and you want to use them and anything containing sugars sparingly, including sugar.

In the end, use sweeteners carefully and your best bets are table sugar, maple syrup, or honey. Cook and bake with them sparingly.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet