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Agave nectar vs Honey - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison

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Agave nectar
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Honey

Introduction

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.

Production

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.

Appearance

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.

Nutrition

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.

Calories

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

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.

Vitamins

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.

Minerals

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.

Glycemic Index

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.

Acidity

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.

Health Impact

Health Benefits

Honey is rich in minerals and agave nectar is rich in vitamins. But how exactly do these qualities translate into their health benefits?

Cardiovascular Health

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.

Diabetes

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.

Cancer

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). 

Wound Management

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).

Cardiovascular Health

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).

Cancer

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).

Summary

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.

Sources.

  1. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/diacare/suppl/2008/09/18/dc08-1239.DC1/TableA1_1.pdf
  2. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/81170038.pdf
  3. https://wholesomesweet.com/faqs/what-is-the-ph-of-wholesome-organic-agave/
  4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2010.10719885
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21310307/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25011004/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6115915/
  8. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965229918303200
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3005390/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6341176/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26567197/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5817209/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942905/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583289/
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3258097/
  16. https://cancerandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40170-020-00222-9
Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan
Profession: Yerevan State Medical University
Last updated: December 18, 2020

Infographic

Agave nectar vs Honey infographic
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Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
:
7
Honey
Contains more Iron +366.7%
Contains more Calcium +500%
Contains more Potassium +1200%
Contains more Magnesium +100%
Contains more Copper +300%
Contains more Zinc +2100%
Contains more Phosphorus +300%
Equal in Sodium - 4
Contains more Iron +366.7%
Contains more Calcium +500%
Contains more Potassium +1200%
Contains more Magnesium +100%
Contains more Copper +300%
Contains more Zinc +2100%
Contains more Phosphorus +300%
Equal in Sodium - 4

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
:
1
Honey
Contains more Vitamin C +3300%
Contains more Vitamin A +∞%
Contains more Vitamin E +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +334.2%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +469.4%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +875%
Contains more Vitamin K +∞%
Contains more Folate, total +1400%
Contains more Vitamin C +3300%
Contains more Vitamin A +∞%
Contains more Vitamin E +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +334.2%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +469.4%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +875%
Contains more Vitamin K +∞%
Contains more Folate, total +1400%

Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores

Summary score is calculated by summing up the daily values contained in 300 grams of the product. Obviously the more the food fulfils human daily needs, the more the summary score is
Vitamin Summary Score
24
Agave nectar
1
Honey
Mineral Summary Score
1
Agave nectar
3
Honey

Macronutrients Comparison

Macronutrient comparison charts compare the amount of protein, total fats and total carbohydrates in 300 grams of the food. The displayed values show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Protein
1%
Agave nectar
2%
Honey
Carbohydrates
76%
Agave nectar
82%
Honey
Fats
2%
Agave nectar
0%
Honey

Comparison summary table

Pay attention at the most right column. It shows the amounts side by side, making it easier to realize the amount of difference.
Agave nectar Honey
Rich in minerals ok
Lower in Sugars ok
Lower in glycemic index ok
Lower in price ok
Rich in vitamins ok
Lower in Cholesterol Equal
Lower in Sodium Equal
Lower in Saturated Fat Equal

Which food is preferable in case of diets?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Agave nectar Honey
Low Calories diet ok
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet ok
Low glycemic index diet ok

People also compare

Comparison summary

Which food is richer in minerals?
Honey
Honey is relatively richer in minerals
Which food contains less Sugars?
Agave nectar
Agave nectar contains less Sugars (difference - 14.09g)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
Agave nectar
Agave nectar is lower in glycemic index (difference - 46)
Which food is cheaper?
Agave nectar
Agave nectar is cheaper (difference - $1)
Which food is richer in vitamins?
Agave nectar
Agave nectar is relatively richer in vitamins
Which food contains less Cholesterol?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Cholesterol (0 mg)
Which food contains less Sodium?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Sodium (4 mg)
Which food contains less Saturated Fat?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Saturated Fat (0 g)

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

In the column "Opinion" we made some assumptions which could be controversial. For instance we are assuming that less saturated fats is good for you. Please ignore this column if you have your own opinion.We marked the nutrients, comparison of which we considered as not meaningful, as "N/A"
Nutrient Agave nectar Honey Opinion
Calories 310 304 Agave nectar
Protein 0.09 0.3 Honey
Fats 0.45 0 Agave nectar
Vitamin C 17 0.5 Agave nectar
Carbs 76.37 82.4 Honey
Cholesterol 0 0
Vitamin D 0 0
Iron 0.09 0.42 Honey
Calcium 1 6 Honey
Potassium 4 52 Honey
Magnesium 1 2 Honey
Sugars 68.03 82.12 Honey
Fiber 0.2 0.2
Copper 0.009 0.036 Honey
Zinc 0.01 0.22 Honey
Starch
Phosphorus 1 4 Honey
Sodium 4 4
Vitamin A 156 0 Agave nectar
Vitamin E 0.98 0 Agave nectar
Vitamin D 0 0
Vitamin B1 0.122 0 Agave nectar
Vitamin B2 0.165 0.038 Agave nectar
Vitamin B3 0.689 0.121 Agave nectar
Vitamin B5 0.068 Honey
Vitamin B6 0.234 0.024 Agave nectar
Vitamin B12 0 0
Vitamin K 22.5 0 Agave nectar
Folate, total 30 2 Agave nectar
Folic acid (B9) 0 0
Trans Fat
Saturated Fat 0 0
Monounsaturated Fat 0 0
Polyunsaturated fat 0 0
Tryptophan 0.004 Honey
Threonine 0.004 Honey
Isoleucine 0.008 Honey
Leucine 0.01 Honey
Lysine 0.008 Honey
Methionine 0.001 Honey
Phenylalanine 0.011 Honey
Valine 0.009 Honey
Histidine 0.001 Honey
Fructose 55.6 40.94 Agave nectar

References

The source of all the nutrient values on the page (excluding the main article the sources for which are presented seperately if present) is the USDA's FoodCentral. The exact links of the foods presented on this page can be found below.

  1. Agave nectar - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170277/nutrients
  2. Honey - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169640/nutrients

Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.