Agave nectar and maple syrup are both sweet substances that people add to foods or drinks.
Both these sweeteners are extracted from plants and used as substitutes for regular table sugar.
In this article, we will be discussing and comparing the health benefits and noting differences in nutritional quality and benefits of agave nectar and maple syrup.
Overview of Agave Nectar and Maple Syrup
Agave nectar is a syrup that is made from the sap of the agave plant and processed to form a syrup.
This plant grows in desert-type and semi-arid regions of the United States, Caribbean, and Mexico. Agave nectar is used mainly in drinks and as a sugar substitute when baking.
The sap of blue agave specifically is used to make tequila. Vegans prefer agave nectar to honey since it uses no animal products in its processing (1).
The sap is extracted from the stems of the Agave plants. The raw sap of agave is processed by first filtering out impurities and then boiling to convert large carbohydrates into smaller sugars (2).
Maple syrup is produced by extracting, filtering, boiling, and evaporating the sap from the sugar maple tree, Acer species (3).
The sugar maple trees grow in North America in the northern and eastern regions (4). The maple syrup industry is concentrated in Vermont in the United States and Quebec in eastern Canada (5).
Maple syrup is used on foods such as pancakes, scones, and popcorn. It is also added to various snacks and used in desserts. The syrup can be used to make certain types of cocktails.
The syrup is made from sap that is tapped from trees during particular times of the year. The season for maple syrup is from the middle of January to the middle of April each year.
Nutritional Data Comparison
|Value||Agave Nectar (Per 100g)||Maple Syrup (Per 100g)|
|Calories per 100g (kcal)||310||260|
|Lipids (fats) (g)||0.45||0.06|
|Glycemic (GI) index||19||54|
|Vitamin A (µg)||8||0|
|Vitamin B1 – thiamine (mg)||0.122||0.066|
|Vitamins B2 – riboflavin (mg)||0.165||1.27|
|Vitamin B3 – niacin (mg)||0.689||0.081|
|Vitamin B5 – pantothenic acid (mg)||0||0.036|
|Vitamin B6 – pyridoxine (mg)||0.234||0.002|
|Vitamin B9 – folate (µg)||30||0|
|Vitamin C (mg)||17||0|
|Vitamin D (µg)||0||0|
|Vitamin E (mg)||0.98||0|
The nutritional data in the above table for agave nectar and maple syrup are taken from the USDA website (6, 7).
It is important to use scientific studies to compare the advantages and the disadvantages of these sweeteners when it comes to health.
Both sweeteners have sugars present and at least some vitamins and minerals that could be helpful for maintaining health. However, there are some negative aspects to both, which we will point out.
Agave Nectar and Diabetes
Research using rodents showed that that agave nectar leads to lower weight gain than table sugar (8). People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Studies on young adults showed that blood glucose was lower after consuming agave nectar when compared with the group consuming table sugar, suggesting agave may be better for diabetics than regular sugar (9). This is because of the low glycemic index.
The GI index is a measure of how quickly sugar rises in the blood after eating a particular type of carbohydrate.
Carbohydrates that are digested more slowly tend to have lower GI indexes and are considered healthier for diabetics (10).
This is significant since diabetics have difficulty controlling their blood sugar, so ingesting food that rapidly raises blood sugar is bad for people with diabetes.
A disadvantage of agave nectar was that there was some stomach upset, though, possibly because of the high content of fructose (9).
Agave Nectar and the Problem with Fructose
Agave nectar has a lower GI index than sucrose but there is a concern because of the high fructose content (more than 70% of the carbohydrates present) that could also have a harmful impact on triglycerides in the blood (11).
High blood levels of certain triglycerides are unhealthy because these are fatty substances that can clog arteries.
The high fructose present in the agave nectar is an issue because it is associated with increased metabolic problems.
Fructose can be harmful because in excess it can trigger fatty liver disease, kidney problems, and high blood pressure (12).
Fructose can cause weight gain and metabolic syndrome that can also result in cardiovascular disease (13). This means that agave nectar can still be harmful to your health if you consume too much.
Beneficial Nutrients in Agave Nectar
Agave nectar is not all bad since it does contain some important vitamins. It has vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B3, B6, and B9 present.
These B vitamins are all important in keeping the cells of the body healthy. Vitamin B1, thiamine, is important for the functioning of the brain as it helps in the synthesis of important brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (14).
- Vitamins B2, B3, and B6 are all important in energy production in the cells and they help to form other substances that the body needs.
- Folate (vitamin B9), is needed for red blood cell production, and it helps prevent fetal birth defects (15).
- Vitamin A is important for eyesight and the immune system.
- Vitamin C and E in agave nectar are important antioxidants that protect cells and help boost the body’s immune system.
- Vitamin C is also important for keeping the skin healthy, and for wound healing (16).
Agave does contain some beneficial minerals such as zinc, selenium, phosphorus, manganese, and iron. It also has magnesium, calcium, and potassium. The concentration of selenium is higher than in maple syrup.
Selenium is an important mineral because it helps our immune system function properly (17). The immune system is what protects us from harmful pathogens like bacteria and viruses. Selenium may help reduce the risk of cancer in some cases.
There is dietary fiber in agave nectar, which is a good thing. Fiber is important in helping the digestive process and even helps lower cholesterol (18).
The agave fiber comes from the presence of fructans (19). The fructans are made of fructose and includes inulin, which does function as a prebiotic providing food for helpful bacteria.
However, fructans can cause digestive upset.
Maple Syrup and GI Index
Maple syrup has a high GI index when compared with agave nectar. This means that it raises blood sugar levels more rapidly, which is not healthy for people with diabetes.
Besides the GI index, the amount of calories and types of sugar present in a substance impacts metabolic illnesses like diabetes. Maple syrup has fewer calories and carbohydrates than the agave nectar.
Eating too many calories without enough physical activity leads to weight gain and can result in obesity.
Obesity is associated with metabolic syndrome and illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes (20).
It is, therefore, important to choose lower calorie options like maple syrup (which has fewer calories than agave nectar), and limit portion sizes.
Added sugars, particularly, fructose, is linked with insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes in older adults (21). Maple syrup has only small amounts of fructose compared with sucrose.
This suggests that it may be healthier than agave nectar, which has high concentrations of fructose.
Maple syrup has more of the sugars in the form of sucrose, similar to what one finds in table sugar.
Beneficial Nutrients in Maple Syrup
Maple syrup has plant chemicals that are antioxidants which help repair cell damage that happens because of molecules formed during cellular reactions.
- Maple syrup contains phenols and polyphenols, which have good antioxidant activity (22, 23).
- The syrup does contain some B vitamins such as thiamine, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin.
These are water-soluble vitamins, which means that a person does have to take these in every day in their diet. This is because water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the liver in the way that fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A and D, are.
Most of the water-soluble vitamins that are not used are excreted from the body in the urine.
Maple syrup contains a lot of zinc, which is an important mineral that we need to take in with our diet to stay healthy. Zinc has many functions including helping enzyme reactions and the functioning of the immune system (24).
Electrolytes in Maple Syrup
Maple syrup, when compared with agave nectar, has much larger quantities of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These minerals are electrolytes that are essential for the functioning of your nervous system (25).
Electrolytes include sodium chloride, which enables nerve impulses to propagate. All the muscles in your body, including your heart, need electrolytes in order to function correctly.
Manganese is also present in maple syrup at higher levels than in agave nectar, and helps the body to form many tissues, including bones (26).
Agave is quite a bit sweeter than sugar because of the fructose content. It is not quite as sweet as honey, though. Some people have even described the taste of agave nectar as bland.
Maybe compared with maple syrup, it is not as rich in taste but it still provides enough sweetness to help make drinks palatable.
The taste of maple syrup ranges from sugary to similar to the taste of molasses. The darker amber syrups are those that are richer and taste more like molasses than sugar.
The taste of maple syrup is familiar to people because of the high sucrose content.
The color of agave nectar varies. It can range from a very light whitish color to a dark amber. This color is based on which agave plant the syrup is extracted from.
It turns out there are more than one species of agave from which the sap can be extracted and processed. For instance, Agave salmiana produces the darkest color syrups (27). These darker syrups have more moisture than the lighter syrups.
Maple syrup comes in various grades. These have different colors that range from light golden to dark brown.
There are A and B grade maple syrup; the B grade is reserved for the darkest color maple syrup. The A grades in order of lightest to darkest color are called fancy, medium amber, and dark amber
The sugar content of every grade of maple syrup is the same for all grades. The colors of the extracted sap are related to seasons
Darker sap is made and extracted as the weather heats up in spring. The flavor is stronger with darker grades compared with grades that have lighter saps (28).
The consistency of agave nectar is thin, while maple syrup is much thicker like what you expect from a syrup. This difference in consistency may also be why agave nectar is most often used in liquids.
Maple syrup, being more like honey in consistency, tends to be popular for spreading onto pancakes and waffles.
Which is Better?
It is tricky comparing agave nectar and maple syrup because while agave syrup is used in liquids, maple syrup is mainly used on food items.
In general, maple syrup is a better option in terms of health benefits than agave nectar. This is because it does not have a large quantity of fructose present, even though the GI index is higher.
It also has lots of calcium and potassium present, which are important electrolytes for the body.
Since agave nectar and maple syrup have a lot of carbohydrates, they can both lead to weight gain if a person takes in too much of these sweeteners.
Both substances can be used to sweeten drinks and snacks, but should only be ingested in small amounts.