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Agave nectar vs Honey - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison

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Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan by Victoria Mazmanyan | Last updated on December 18, 2020
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Agave nectar
vs
Honey

Summary

Agave nectar and honey are 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. However, the average serving size of agave nectar is over double that of honey.

Agave nectar is richer in all vitamins, whereas honey contains more of all minerals, except for sodium.

Both agave nectar and honey can positively affect weight control, but honey is the preferred choice for decreasing the 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.

Introduction

Agave nectar and honey are natural sweeteners often used instead of refined white sugar as healthier options. Here, we will compare the two sweeteners to see which one is 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. By 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 denser, and seal the honeycomb with beeswax.

Appearance

Both agave nectar and honey can appear in an array of colors 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 flavor. 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 denser, 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. One 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 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.

The same serving size of honey contains more carbohydrates than agave nectar does. Around 76g of carbohydrates can be found in a 100g serving of agave nectar, while 100g of honey contains 82g of carbs.

However, one average serving size of honey contains 17g of carbs, while an average agave nectar serving provides 42g 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 entirely absent in vitamin D and vitamin B12.

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 A +∞%
Contains more Vitamin E +∞%
Contains more Vitamin C +3300%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +334.2%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +469.4%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +875%
Contains more Folate +1400%
Contains more Vitamin K +∞%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 10% 20% 0% 57% 31% 39% 13% 0% 54% 23% 0% 57%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 0% 0% 0% 2% 0% 9% 3% 5% 6% 2% 0% 0%
Contains more Vitamin A +∞%
Contains more Vitamin E +∞%
Contains more Vitamin C +3300%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +334.2%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +469.4%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +875%
Contains more Folate +1400%
Contains more Vitamin K +∞%

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.

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
Contains more Calcium +500%
Contains more Iron +366.7%
Contains more Magnesium +100%
Contains more Phosphorus +300%
Contains more Potassium +1200%
Contains more Zinc +2100%
Contains more Copper +300%
Equal in Sodium - 4
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper 1% 4% 1% 1% 1% 1% 1% 3%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper 2% 16% 2% 2% 5% 1% 6% 12%
Contains more Calcium +500%
Contains more Iron +366.7%
Contains more Magnesium +100%
Contains more Phosphorus +300%
Contains more Potassium +1200%
Contains more Zinc +2100%
Contains more Copper +300%
Equal in Sodium - 4

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, is 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. Based on three studies, the average GI of agave nectar 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 basic or acidic compounds inside the body.

Honey has been calculated to have a PRAL of -0.9, making it slightly alkaline-producing. 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 than refined white sugar. Both honey and agave nectar contain fewer 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 absolutely vegan. On the other hand, many vegans avoid using honey, as it can be considered a form of animal exploitation, and commercial honey production 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 affect 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 agave nectar 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 widespread 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 the 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 unfavorable 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).

References

  1. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/114/5/1625/6320814
  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
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Last updated: December 18, 2020

Infographic

Agave nectar vs Honey infographic
Infographic link

Comparison summary table

Pay attention to 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 Sugar ok
Lower in glycemic index ok
Lower in price ok
Rich in vitamins ok
Lower in Sodium Equal
Lower in Cholesterol Equal
Lower in Saturated Fat Equal

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

Nutrient Agave nectar Honey Opinion
Net carbs 76.17g 82.2g Honey
Protein 0.09g 0.3g Honey
Fats 0.45g 0g Agave nectar
Carbs 76.37g 82.4g Honey
Calories 310kcal 304kcal Agave nectar
Starch g g
Fructose 55.6g 40.94g Agave nectar
Sugar 68.03g 82.12g Agave nectar
Fiber 0.2g 0.2g
Calcium 1mg 6mg Honey
Iron 0.09mg 0.42mg Honey
Magnesium 1mg 2mg Honey
Phosphorus 1mg 4mg Honey
Potassium 4mg 52mg Honey
Sodium 4mg 4mg
Zinc 0.01mg 0.22mg Honey
Copper 0.009mg 0.036mg Honey
Vitamin A 156IU 0IU Agave nectar
Vitamin E 0.98mg 0mg Agave nectar
Vitamin D 0IU 0IU
Vitamin D 0µg 0µg
Vitamin C 17mg 0.5mg Agave nectar
Vitamin B1 0.122mg 0mg Agave nectar
Vitamin B2 0.165mg 0.038mg Agave nectar
Vitamin B3 0.689mg 0.121mg Agave nectar
Vitamin B5 mg 0.068mg Honey
Vitamin B6 0.234mg 0.024mg Agave nectar
Folate 30µg 2µg Agave nectar
Vitamin B12 0µg 0µg
Vitamin K 22.5µg 0µg Agave nectar
Tryptophan mg 0.004mg Honey
Threonine mg 0.004mg Honey
Isoleucine mg 0.008mg Honey
Leucine mg 0.01mg Honey
Lysine mg 0.008mg Honey
Methionine mg 0.001mg Honey
Phenylalanine mg 0.011mg Honey
Valine mg 0.009mg Honey
Histidine mg 0.001mg Honey
Cholesterol 0mg 0mg
Trans Fat g g
Saturated Fat 0g 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g 0g
Polyunsaturated fat 0g 0g

Which food is preferable for your diet?

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

People also compare

Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores

The summary score is calculated by summing up the daily values contained in 300 grams of the product. Obviously the more the food fulfills human daily needs, the more the summary score is.
Vitamin Summary Score
25
Agave nectar
2
Honey
Mineral Summary Score
1
Agave nectar
5
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 food.
Protein
1%
Agave nectar
2%
Honey
Carbohydrates
76%
Agave nectar
82%
Honey
Fats
2%
Agave nectar
0%
Honey

Comparison summary

Which food is richer in minerals?
Honey
Honey is relatively richer in minerals
Which food is lower in Sugar?
Agave nectar
Agave nectar is lower in Sugar (difference - 14.09g)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
Agave nectar
Agave nectar is lower in glycemic index (difference - 48)
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 Sodium?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Sodium (4 mg)
Which food contains less Cholesterol?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Cholesterol (0 mg)
Which food contains less Saturated Fat?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Saturated Fat (0 g)

References

The source of all the nutrient values on the page (excluding the main article the sources for which are presented separately if present) is the USDA's FoodCentral. The exact links to 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

All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000 calorie diets.

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