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The claim: Agave nectar has gotten some positive press for being better for you than sugar and many other sweeteners because it metabolizes more slowly. Food manufacturers who package and sell agave in the U.S. market also claim that it has been used medicinally by indigenous people in Mexico and Central America for centuries.

The reality: How fast or slow agave metabolizes depends on its level and method of processing. Derived from a starchy root, agave has been used in Central America for centuries, but not always as medicine. Indigenous people both fermented it to create an alcoholic beverage and also boiled it to make miel de agave, a reduction they used as a sweetener. But that sweetener, which was minimally refined and probably slower to digest as a result, bears no resemblance to the agave nectar now on most store shelves.

The fine print: The modern process for producing agave nectar is not unlike the process of converting corn into high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Most industrially produced agave syrup is processed with enzymes and other harsh chemicals that convert the starches into fructose, according to osteopathic physician and best-selling author Joseph Mercola, DO. The finished product, agave nectar, is 70 percent (or more) fructose, on par with HFCS.

Bottom line: If you’re avoiding added sugars, and especially fructose, don’t give commercial agave syrup a special pass.

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