Agave nectar is a gold coloured syrup extracted from the agave plant in Mexico. These days millions of health conscious and acne-clearing enthusiasts are flocking to agave nectar for a “healthy”, “raw” and “100% natural” sugar alternative.
Diabetics are told that agave nectar spikes their blood sugar far less, adverts speak of the Aztecs using agave nectar as a wound dressing, and agave nectar is purported to contain saponins with anti-inflammatory powers. In the minds of health-concerned folks, agave nectar sits alongside honey as an acne-friendly sweetener that’s bursting with enzymes, antioxidants and many other skin-healing compounds…
…however, that is all total nonsense.
Agave nectar is the most deadly sweetener out there. It’s even worse than the dreaded high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and it’s especially bad for your acne. Natural health websites praise agave nectar endlessly, but white table sugar is actually far safer for acne patients.
The problem is that agave nectar bears little resemblance to the nutritious sap once used by the Aztecs. The plant is found in the Southern USA and South America, and is most heavily concentrated on volcanic mountain slopes in Mexico.
The agave nectar plant has impressive stature; it’s about 7 to 12 feet in diameter with leaves up to 8 feet tall. There’s over 100 different species of agave, with varying shapes and sizes. The two most prominent are agave tequilana and agave salmiana. Agave tequilana is heated and fermented to create the beloved Mexican alcoholic beverage tequila.
It’s this image of Mexicans relaxing in the sun with a delicious glass of tequila that agave nectar marketers want to convey to people. One agave nectar advert says “For thousands of years natives to central Mexico used different species of agave plants for medicine, as well as for building shelter.”
All agave plants ooze a lot of nutritious sap, and traditionally, Mexicans would boil this agave sap to produce a liquid called miel de agave or aguamiel. This beverage had been consumed in its fermented form for centuries.
This is the version of agave that the Aztecs used to sweeten their foods and it’s this traditional version that has health and acne benefits. Miel de agave is packed full of compounds called fructans, which can help acne by combating insulin resistance, and have benefits for the metabolism.
Miel de agave is also bursting with antioxidants, enzymes and other acne nutrients. This sap collects in the agave plant’s “wound” when you cut one of its stems, in an attempt to repair it; hence it’s packed full of all sorts of nutritional substances.
The production process – as far from natural as can be
You can still buy miel de agave for about $20 in shops like Whole Foods, and in Mexico today they turn agave nectar sap into a fairly acne-friendly beer called pulque…
…but almost all agave nectar found in American supermarkets today is so processed that it’s unrecognisable. Manufacturers claim that agave nectar is taken directly from the succulent leaves directly into the bottle. In reality, most agave nectar is not made from the sap at all, but rather the giant pineapple-like root bulb, known as the piña.
This piña is rich in a form of starchy carbohydrate called inulin which consists of chains of fructose molecules. What happens next transforms a once healthy product dramatically:
ONE – the piñas are inserted into a mill, where they are crushed into juicy fibres.
TWO – the agave fiber is run through a diffuser machine, where hot water is released that causes the fiber to release its juices. The raw agave juice is moved to filters and the fiber is discarded.
THREE – the raw agave juice is filtered to eliminate any solid particles the juice may contain left over from the fiber.
FOUR – the raw agave juice is subjected to factory hydrolysis. Over a period of hours, the temperature is raised to roughly 176F/80C. This separates the inulin from the juice, alters the ratio between fructose and glucose, and harmonises the more complex polysaccharides into simple sugars which have a sweeter taste.
FIVE – the newly refined agave liquid is passed through more filters, each smaller than the last.
SIX – the agave juice is chemically polished as an extra filtering step, to improve clearness and purity.
SEVEN – the agave liquid is funnelled through various ducts and evaporated at 95C/208F. The high temperatures evaporate the water portion and turn the agave juice into agave syrup.
EIGHT – the agave syrup is placed in a moving tank for a while to homogenise it. “Agave nectar” is born.
The problem is that there’s so much heating and chemical catalysts applied that once it becomes agave nectar, the delicate antioxidants and acne-friendly enzymes are obliterated.
Antioxidants are the big health obsession of the moment thanks to their ability to extend your lifespan, and boasting of antioxidants is a chief way that the bottles get consumers hooked. They help acne by keeping your sebum strong against free radicals.
But agave nectar has no antioxidants. This study analysed the nutritional composition of several alternative sweeteners, including honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, dark and blackstrap molasses, corn syrup, refined white sugar, and agave nectar. The antioxidant capacity was analysed using the ferric Antioxidant Absorbance Assay, a measurement used by scientists in many studies.
Apparently, agave nectar “contained minimal antioxidant activity”. It was equally bereft as refined white sugar and corn syrup. Meanwhile, standard brown sugar, honey and maple syrup showed moderate antioxidant activity. Dark and blackstrap molasses showed high antioxidant activity.
Agave nectar is actually the poorest sweetener for antioxidants you can buy. You’d be better off buying cheap brown sugar. Antioxidants are great for clearing acne but agave nectar won’t give you any.
Other healthy enzymes are destroyed as well. In fact, that’s the very reason why agave nectar is heated so harshly; if agave nectar still contained the heathy enzymes it would ferment and slowly morph into tequila on your shelf. Therefore, agave nectar is devoid of any of the health benefits promised to millions of customers, and any useful compounds for acne.
Agave nectar – a sweetener that’s dripping with fructose
What’s worse is that agave nectar is actually the worst sweetener for acne of all time. It’s just as bad as the much reviled high fructose corn syrup. The production processes of the two are nearly identical.
As we discussed, the inulin in the piñas is mostly made of fructose molecules. During the harsh heating of the hydrolysis process, the bonds break down en masse, giving the agave nectar massive quantities of fructose compared to glucose.
In this article, we discussed how high fructose corn syrup is a terrible sweetener for acne because of its fructose to glucose ratio of roughly 55:45. Table sugar has a ratio of 50:50, which is far better. Although all sugar causes acne, is highly inflammatory and can induce insulin resistance in high doses, only fructose can lead to the dreaded non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
When fructose is eaten in high quantities, your liver gets overloaded and can’t convert it to glycogen (energy) properly. The fructose instead gets converted to fat. More and more fructose equals more and more fat.
This chokes the liver out and impairs its glycogen stores, leaving them unable to detect insulin. Your pancreas has to produce more insulin to compensate, your blood levels rise, your skin turns oily, and you get acne.
Not to mention that a fatty liver leads to diabetes and a sluggish metabolism. Fructose also doesn’t satisfy your appetite anywhere near as much, which makes you eat more food, potentially acne-causing junk food, and get obese.
Therefore, while all sugar can cause acne, you’ve got to keep fructose low in particular. High fructose corn syrup is inferior to table sugar because as the name suggests, its ratio is skewed towards fructose. You’ll see many natural acne gurus, bodybuilders, hormone optimisation experts, and increasingly, even regular doctors recommend you to avoid high fructose corn syrup for that reason…
…but what’s less well known is that agave nectar actually contains more fructose than HFCS. Depending on the brand, agave nectar contains 70% to 97% fructose. That is a truly astronomical amount; no other sweetener contains that much.
It’s massive considering how healthy agave nectar is touted as being. Agave nectar is found in all sorts of health products, like protein bars eaten by gym rats, energy drinks, nutrition bars and even tea. Adverts particularly target vegans and vegetarians, who are urged to add agave nectar to oatmeal and coffee, for instance.
The love of agave nectar has crossed from the health sphere to the mainstream too. The number of new agave nectar products coming to market each year tripled from 56 to 176 between 2003 and 2007. Agave nectar sales are rising by 8% each year.
Diabetics everywhere eat it as agave nectar has a lower glycaemic index than regular sugar, meaning that in the short term it doesn’t mess with their insulin levels as much. What the adverts don’t mention is that in 2010, the Glycaemic Research Institute announced that it had legally “delisted” and banned agave nectar for use in food and beverage products. Why? Apparently, the results of five years’ worth of clinical trials showed highly negative effects on diabetics.
It’s critical that you don’t fall for this nonsense. Fructose itself doesn’t cause acne in low doses, but agave nectar contains massive doses. Its official scientific name is actually “hydrolysed high fructose inulin syrup.”
When fructose is bound up in fruit fibre like in watermelons or strawberries, it’s safer for acne because this slows down the digestion and subsequent absorption into the liver. But agave nectar’s fructose is all free floating. The extensive filtering and purification processes remove every last bit of fibre and nothing can hold the fructose back.
Then there’s the chemical catalysts involved. The polishing and clarification processes in agave nectar production involve chemicals like…
- Inulin enzymes
- Activated charcoal
- Cationic and ionic resins
- Sulfuric and/or hydrofluoric acid
One particularly toxic one is hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), also known as 5-hydroxymethyl furfural. This organic compound is created during the intense heating of the sugars, in both agave nectar and HFCS. According to this 2009 study, HMF is toxic, carcinogenic, and mutagenic. HMF is particularly potent at killing honey bees. Colony collapse disorder, a disease that has killed one third of the honey bee population in the US, is blamed on HMF by some researchers. Agave nectar might thus cause acne by increasing oxidative stress.
Then there’s hydrofluoric acid. That’s actually code for sodium fluoride, a nightmare for all acne patients.
Also, many manufacturers have been caught splicing agave nectar with cheaply produced corn syrup, in order to reduce the price. Corn syrup has plenty of fructose itself, but also other problems for acne like the toxic herbicide glyphosate, which can decimate your healthy gut bacterial populations.
Some shipments of agave nectar have been refused by the FDA, for containing toxic levels of pesticides. Generally, the quality control on agave nectar is very lax, because nearly all agave nectar products sold in the USA come from Mexico. There’s little insider knowledge of other dirty tricks they may be using. I’ve even seen some hints on the internet that agave nectar factories might use chemicals contaminated with the heavy metal mercury, which causes acne through insulin resistance and inflammation.
Your acne-friendly agave nectar strategy
We could go on all day about how bad for acne agave nectar is. Therefore, I’ll say now that you should not pick agave nectar as an alternative sweetener, and you should avoid any health foods containing agave nectar as an ingredient if you want acne-free skin. The evidence of its failures is overwhelming.
Luckily, news is now reaching the general public. With luck, the agave nectar business will soon begin to crumble as the very people it was marketed to, health-concerned fitness fanatics, begin to realise what a scam it is. Word is spreading like wildfire through the acne community already. It’s only a matter of time. Until then, avoid agave nectar all you can.
Top notch sweeteners for acne
If you can find the proper Mexican miel de agave lurking in any health food shops, then that does have health benefits. The Aztecs did indeed use it for boosting fertility and keeping wounds infection free. It’s clean from acne-causing problems like high fructose levels too because it’s basically sap taken straight from the leaves.
You can reportedly buy miel de agave in Whole Foods, but unfortunately, it’s very expensive and availability is limited outside of Mexico. Certain agave nectar products are lower in fructose than others, but even organic versions contain far too much.
That’s why if you want a sweetener that both tastes flavoursome and has an outstanding pedigree for acne, I’d have to recommend a fine bottle of raw honey.
As we discussed in this article, honey is bursting with acne-friendly compounds. It’s notable for its antibacterial activity thanks to Methylgyloxal, a peptide called bee-defensin 1, and its numerous other enzymes. These work excellently as a topical treatment, as honey is proven to kill p.acnes bacteria, but can also kill unhealthy bacterial strains in your gut lining.
That helps acne, because poor bacterial balance leads to inflammation and poor digestion of nutrients. In my eBook Annihilate Your Acne there’s a ton of information about restoring your gut flora, but I’ll say now that eating honey (in moderation; it’s still high in sugar) is one of the best ways to do it. Honey also contains its own healthy bacterial strains, which further help to displace unhealthy ones.
Raw honey also contains a unique antioxidant called pinocembrin, as well as many pinostrobins and many flavonoids. Since raw honey is taken straight from the beehive it’s not pasteurised or heated like agave nectar. All the enzymes beneficial for acne patients remain.
Plus in my opinion, honey tastes fantastic. The many different varieties produced from many different plants are interesting to sample. It’s probably the best sweetener for your acne in every way.
Honey’s sugar profile is good too; a fructose to glucose ratio of roughly 51:49. Honey hardly spikes your blood sugar at all; hence you won’t get a post-meal energy slump that many get from regular sugar or indeed agave nectar. You can also use honey as a topical treatment; it’s particularly great at calming down red and inflamed acne.
Many raw honeys can be quite expensive. However this Y.S. Eco Bee Farms Raw Honey provides all the aforementioned acne compounds while still being affordable.
As a natural, acne-friendly sweetener, honey massacres agave nectar. Rest assured that its health benefits aren’t mythical like agave nectar, but it is important for acne that the honey is raw. Pasteurisation destroys all the compounds which clear acne, leaving the formerly rich and nutritious honey sterile and dead.
If you’re too poor to afford honey either, then the best cheap sweetener for acne is brown sugar. The study above on the health properties of sweeteners found that basic brown sugar was much higher in antioxidants than agave nectar. It also contains trace acne minerals like iron and magnesium (an overlooked nutrient for acne) and spikes your blood sugar less than white sugar.
Conclusion – agave nectar is acne in a bottle
Agave nectar fails miserably at being a health food. It’s unhealthy for your body and your acne. Don’t let the marketing fool you!
The situation with brown sugar shows how ludicrous the agave nectar marketing is. Basically, a luxury product whose very name (agave) means “noble” in Greek, and is fairly expensive, has no useful compounds for acne whatsoever. Meanwhile, a completely unremarkable everyday ingredient that’s as cheap as sand and found in the cupboard of nearly all chefs worldwide does have acne benefits.
That illustrates a strategy you should always follow to cure acne: don’t believe that all natural products are a godsend, and always do basic research.
Thanks for reading!