Since I've been asked about this several times this week (and it's only Tuesday), I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts on the subject. : )
Is agave nectar safe? Is it OK to use? Is it a superfood? I'm going to break this down into 5 reasons why I eat agave nectar in moderation.
1. Like any sweetener, agave should be used in moderation. I don't believe there are any sweeteners (even natural ones) that should be used excessively. In moderation, agave nectar should be perfectly safe for most people, in my experience.
2. That said, every person is different. Have you ever heard of doshas? They are your body type, according to Ayurveda (an ancient system of body wisdom from India). Personally, I dig Ayurveda and find a lot of truth in it. I'm a "kapha" dosha, which means that I gain weight easily and have a hard time losing it (sigh) but that I tend to be grounded, warm, and easygoing (yay). Kapha doshas also do best eating minimal sweets.
On the other hand, there's the "pitta" dosha, which is a type of person who actually does well eating more sweets. In fact, sweets such as agave nectar can help to balance a pitta's fiery constitution. To find out more about what dosha you are, here's a fun and handy dosha quiz I like to refer folks to. And although I love Ayurveda, and find a lot of the dosha recommendations work for me, I still believe the ultimate wisdom is listening to your own body. No one system works for everyone.
3. Much of the negative hype about agave nectar is rooted in poor quality agave. Personally, I use a raw, organic blue agave that has not been cut with corn syrup (yuck!). I am very sensitive to sugars, and can immediately feel the ill effects of refined sugars if I consume them. And trust me, if I eat something junky, my body lets me know pretty fast! The older I get, the less tolerance I seem to have for non-ideal foods. Which is actually sort of cool.
However, I don't have a problem with high quality agave, when I eat it in moderation. For me, moderation means about a tablespoon or less per day. For someone else, that amount will be different. Again, this is all about my experience, and what works for me. I can't give any other person an exact formula because your body has its own wisdom and needs. : )
4. Consider using agave nectar along with another, even more clean, source of sweetness. For me, this means coconut sugar. I love raw coconut sugar and am using it more and more. I seem to tolerate it best out of all the sweeteners. There is also a liquid version, called coconut nectar.
However, I don't often use those items in my recipes. Why? Several reasons. First of all, I've already written four cookbooks, and I didn't start using coconut sugars until recently. And in all honesty, I want to make my recipes as easy to make and as accessible as possible for everyone. Not everyone can buy coconut sugar and nectar.
Another reason I don't use it in my recipes more is because coconut sugar is very textured and crunchy, and obviously dry, so it doesn't work when you need a smooth and non-textured sweetener. Why not use coconut nectar in those situations? Well, you can... but it's somewhat expensive, has a very distinct flavor, and doesn't always swap out perfectly for other sweeteners. So, for practical purposes, I still use agave in many of my recipes. However, at home when I'm just making something for myself, I'm often using coconut sugar.
That said, if you have my books, and want to use coconut sugar/nectar instead of the other sweeteners my recipes call for, that's great! They are very easy to substitute with a little figuring. For agave nectar, just substitute coconut nectar (adding a bit more if it's not sweet enough) and for dry sugars, you can substitute about 1 1/2 parts coconut sugar to regular sugar/brown sugar (as coconut sugar is less sweet).
5. And finally, why do I use agave nectar in moderation? Because any organic plant-based food, in my opinion, is OK in moderation. If you know me by now, you know I'm not one to say "Don't eat wheat! Don't eat soy! Agave is dangerous!" I am a big believer in balance, moderation, and finding your own body wisdom. Yes, if you eat too much of anything, it's not good. Yes, it's important to eat a variety of whole foods, lots of veggies, and try to make as much of you diet organic and local as possible. However, if you do that, there really isn't a whole lot left to worry about.
How many people do you know who are vegan, eating lots of organic, fresh vegetables, eating mostly whole foods, drinking plenty of water, eating healthy fats in moderation, getting fresh air daily, and listening to their body? If you know someone like that, who consumes agave nectar (and other controversial plant foods) in moderation, how healthy do they seem? My guess is, pretty damn healthy. So, my final two cents? Focus on the important stuff. A little agave nectar won't hurt you, especially if you're too busy the rest of the time eating kale and being happy. ; )
What are your thoughts? Please let me know what you've found to be true for yourself on this subject!