Agave nectar vs Honey - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison
Agave nectar and honey are both natural sweeteners that are often used instead of refined, white sugar, as healthier options. Here, we will compare the two sweeteners to see which one is actually healthier or more nutritious.
The name “agave nectar” is misleading since it is actually a syrup. Agave syrup is made from desert succulents called Blue Agave. After cutting the leaves of this plant, the agave base is extracted which is later filtered and heated. The heating process breaks down the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. After this, the juice is concentrated to achieve agave nectar. The main carbohydrate found in agave is inulin or fructosan, which is broken down into fructose. Fructose is the sweetest naturally occurring carbohydrate.
Honey, on the other hand, is made by insects in a complicated process. Bees naturally make honey to use in cold seasons or in times of scarcity. Using their long, tubular mouthparts, bees extract liquid nectar from flowering plants, after which the honey stays in the bee’s extra stomach and changes composition. When bees reach the beehive, they regurgitate the honey into the next bee’s mouth and so on until it reaches the honeycomb. At last, by fluttering their wings, bees evaporate water, making the honey more dense, and seal the honeycomb with beeswax.
Both agave nectar and honey can appear in an array of colours from pale yellow to dark brown depending on processing, quality and kind.
Agave nectar is usually slightly thinner than honey.
Taste and Use
Agave nectar and honey taste very similar. However, agave nectar has been described to have a bit more neutral flavour. Light agave nectar in particular has a much milder taste.
We know that artificial sweeteners are more nutritious than white sugar, but what exactly do they contain, and how do they compare to each other?
Macronutrients and Calories
The two predominant components of natural sweeteners are water and carbohydrates. Honey is more dense with a water percentage around 17, whereas agave nectar contains 23% water.
One average serving size of honey is one tablespoon equal to 21g. That is over two times less than that of agave nectar. A serving size of agave nectar is one quarter of a cup or 55g.
Agave nectar and honey are both high calorie foods. Agave nectar has a slightly bigger caloric value with 310 calories per a 100g serving. The same amount of honey contains 304 calories.
Protein and Fats
Although honey is slightly richer in protein, both honey and agave nectar contain less than a gram of protein per 100g.
Agave nectar also contains less than a gram of fats, whereas honey is completely fat free.
Carbohydrates are naturally the main ingredient of honey and agave nectar.
A serving of honey contains more carbohydrates than agave nectar does. Around 76g of carbohydrates can be found in a 100g serving of agave nectar, while a 100g of honey contains 82g of carbs.
The composition of carbohydrates in both agave nectar and honey is dominated by sugars, with very little dietary fiber.
The simple sugars found in agave nectar are glucose and fructose. In addition to that, honey also contains small amounts of galactose, maltose and sucrose.
Agave nectar usually contains around 90% fructose. Honey contains less than 50% fructose and over 40% glucose.
When it comes to vitamins, agave nectar is the clear winner. Four vitamins can be found in agave nectar that are absent in honey. These are vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B1 and vitamin K. Agave nectar is also richer in vitamin C, folate or vitamin B9, vitamin B2, vitamins B3 and B6.
Regardless, honey can be a good source of vitamin C.
Both agave nectar and honey are completely absent in vitamin D, vitamin B12 and the folic form of vitamin B9.
In contrast to the vitamin category, honey is the clear winner in this one. Honey is much richer in most minerals, including zinc, potassium, calcium, iron, copper, phosphorus and magnesium.
Agave nectar and honey contain the same amount of sodium.
Based on specific types of honey, the glycemic index can range from 35 to 87. The mean glycemic index of honey, based on seventeen different types, has been found to be 61±3 (1).
The glycemic index of agave nectar is much lower and depending on the type, can fall in the range of 10 to 20. The average GI of agave nectar based on three studies has been calculated to be 13 (1). Such a low GI is explained by the percentage of fructose contained in agave nectar.
This means that honey has a moderate glycemic index, while the glycemic index of agave nectar is low.
The pH value of different types of honey can range from 3.67 to 4.11 (2). It has an acidic character.
Agave nectar is only slightly more acidic with a pH ranging from 4.3 to 4.8 (3).
Another important physicochemical property of foods is the potential renal acid load (PRAL). This shows the capacity of the food to produce base or acid inside the body.
Honey has been calculated to have a PRAL of -0.9, making it slightly alkaline. Agave nectar, on the other hand, with a PRAL of 0, is neutral.
Weight Loss and Diets
Agave nectar and honey are both very high in calories, however, they are usually used in small amounts and are a better alternative compared to refined, white sugar. Both honey and agave nectar contain less calories than white sugar.
Some studies have suggested that honey can help suppress appetite and help lower weight gain, due to lower food intake (4,5).
Similar research has been done for agave nectar, suggesting that it may have a positive influence on weight gain and glucose control, in comparison to sucrose (6).
Agave nectar being made from plants is completely vegan friendly. On the other hand, many vegans avoid using honey, as it can be considered to be a form of animal exploitation, and commercial production of honey can endanger bees.
Honey is rich in minerals and agave nectar is rich in vitamins. But how exactly do these qualities translate into their health benefits?
Honey has been researched as an antioxidant, helping to reduce oxidative stress in individuals with metabolic syndrome. Because of this, there is a strong potential for honey supplementation to be integrated into the management of metabolic syndrome (7).
Some types of honey have been studied to have effects on the cardiovascular system, lowering diastolic pressure (8).
Certain antioxidant polyphenols found in honey have also had a promising pharmacological role in preventing cardiovascular disease (9).
Agave nectar can also be considered an effective source of antioxidants (10), however more research is needed to conclude how this sweetener affects the cardiovascular system.
Studies have found a correlation between high intake of fructose and insulin resistance (11). This means low fructose sweeteners may help prevent diabetes or its progression. Different kinds of honey and have different percentages of fructose, however, most have lower levels of fructose than white sugar. Honey contains less fructose than agave nectar as well.
Honey may be used as a potential antidiabetic agent, with the potential to reduce the complications of diabetes (12).
Even though honey has a higher glycemic index than agave nectar, honey is the right choice of sweetener between these two for people with diabetes.
Despite the popular belief that all sugar is carcinogenic, honey has been shown to have a direct anti-cancer effect on various cancer cell lines, as well as being a natural immune booster and an anti-inflammatory agent (13).
Honey can also be used as a natural ingredient for promoting healing of chronic ulcers and wounds (14).
Downsides and Risks
Adverse effects of honey and agave nectar may appear based on production methods, namely contamination by antibiotics, pesticides, heavy metals and other toxic compounds (14).
Despite the positive effect agave nectar may have on weight gain, a study has shown that even a moderate intake of high fructose liquids may have an unfavourable effect on plasma lipid profile, potentially contributing to the onset and development of metabolic syndrome (15).
Not enough research has been done about a connection between agave nectar and cancer, however, high fructose intake has been associated with cancer growth (16).
In summary, agave nectar and honey are both natural sweeteners that can be used as substitutes for white sugar. Agave nectar is plant based and honey is produced by bees. Agave nectar is higher in calories and fats, while honey is higher in carbohydrates and protein. Agave nectar is richer in all vitamins, whereas honey contains more of all minerals, except for sodium.
Both agave nectar and honey can have positive effects on weight control, but honey is the preferred choice for decreasing chances of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
Overall, honey can be considered as the healthier choice, however the final decision is up to the consumer.
Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores
Comparison summary table
|Rich in minerals|
|Lower in Sugars|
|Lower in glycemic index|
|Lower in price|
|Rich in vitamins|
|Lower in Cholesterol||Equal|
|Lower in Sodium||Equal|
|Lower in Saturated Fat||Equal|
Which food is preferable in case of diets?
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet|
|Low glycemic index diet|
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All nutrients comparison - raw data values
|Folic acid (B9)||0||0|