IOAA Announces launch of Agave Quality Initiative (AQA)

FREEPORT, ME/March 6, 2013

The IOAA announces the successful launch of the Agave Quality Assurance (AQA) Initiative. The Initiative is a culmination of a scientific study, industry participation and subsequent scientific analysis. Click on the Agave Quality Assurance tab on the main menu for more information.

IOAA, with sponsorship from industry leaders, funded the scientific study to establish methodologies for validating Agave Syrup authenticity. These methodologies, which can be found in the IOAA’s Agave Quality Assurance – Summary of Analytical Tools for Testing, combine qualitative and quantitative metrics (sugar composition analysis and oligosaccharide profiling). The results provide the means to determine authenticity as defined in the NOM (Norma Oficial Mexicana) standards. Agave syrup meeting NOM standards is by definition authentic.

Taking action to implement the use of this methodology, the AQA Initiative performed a market assessment. The Initiative purchased consumer packs of agave syrup from a wide variety of retail outlets and submitted them for testing. Sample profiling results confirm the usefulness of the approach, yielding many authentic samples. While some samples did not meet the standards for authenticity, IOAA has contacted these companies to facilitate and address quality issues.

The IOAA encourages all companies in the agave syrup supply chain to use these testing methods. This enhances compliance to the legal NOM standards and to product authenticity, which is a further step to bolster consumer confidence and increase the marketability of this viable alternative sweetener.

Journal of Agriculture & Food Chemistry Publishes Agave Quality Assurance Article

Updated September 26, 2012

As part of the IOAA Agave Quality Assurance program, IOAA is pleased to announce a benchmark article has been published by the Journal of Agriculture & Food Chemistry.

FREEPORT, ME/August 29, 2012 – The American Chemical Society has published a benchmark study of agave syrup, a natural sweetener that has gained popularity in recent years.

The study, published in the ACS Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry on August 21, 2012, establishes the scientific profile of agave syrup and means to confirm quality assurance. An abstract is available here.

The article, titled “Major Carbohydrate, Polyol, and Oligosaccharide Profiles of Agave Syrup. Application of this Data to Authenticity Analysis” establishes the quality and purity baseline as well as testing methodologies to assure the same.

Publication of these research university findings by the leading scientific authorities in the food chemistry community provides consumer, industry and laboratories means to assure agave syrup quality.

Dr. Nicholas Low and Jamie L. Willems of the Department of Food and Bioproduct Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan authored the benchmark study. An internationally recognized authority in the areas of food chemistry, analysis and nutraceuticals, Dr. Low’s expertise includes carbohydrate chemistry, food authenticity, and traceability.

The study was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) discovery grant (NHL), a NSERC USRA scholarship (J.L.W.), and the International Organic Agave Alliance (IOAA).

The IOAA funding contribution to the University of Saskatchewan for this project was made possible by the special funding provided by IOAA Charter Sponsor – Best Ground, Guadalajara Mexico,  and Founding Charter Sponsor – Tradin Organics USA Inc. Santa Cruz, California, a subsidiary of SunOpta.

This joint effort of the Canadian government and IOAA furthers the industry-wide effort to confirm, by a scientific, fact-based means, that agave syrup is a quality assured alternative sweetener to be used every day.

A copy of the purity study can be obtained at the ACS Publications website noted above at $35 for non-members of the American Chemical Society.

Detailed information about the study is below and in the GotAgave post of July 1, 2012.

Agave Quality Profile and Authentication Methods Established

by GotAgave Expert: Craig Gerbore

Updated September 19, 2012

The information which follows outlines a milestone of achievement for the Agave Industry. Assuring the consumer of the purity of the product has been of great importance to the industry from the beginning.

The IOAA, the American Botanical Council, researchers at the University of Saskatchewan and I are proud to announce that a scientifically established quality baseline and purity assurance process have been successfully developed and submitted for publication. Further details below.

News about Agave Syrup Purity

The International Organic Agave Alliance (IOAA), funded Agave Syrup industry leaders, sponsored a scientific research project conducted by Dr. Nicholas Low at the University of Saskatchewan. Started in May 2011, the purpose and results of the study included establishing the product profile and the confirming quality assurance methodology. By application of this methodology, researchers were able to successfully and repeatedly identify pure and intentionally adulterated samples. The study, submitted June 26, 2012 to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and subsequently published, will be available to laboratories, the trade and the public.

Dr. Nicholas Low comments:

“Two analytical protocols were developed and applied to this purity and adulteration study, a high performance anion exchange chromatography with pulsed amperometric detection (HPAE-PAD) and capillary gas chromatography with flame ionization detection (CGC-FID).

Employing the aforementioned HPAE-PAD and CGC-FID protocols and a broad range of agave syrup samples, profile of 100 % pure agave syrup were established and all of the targeted commercial adulteration sweeteners detected and documented. The study includes the testing procedures and result profiles to be used by commercial laboratories.”

The IOAA has also sponsored two other studies conducted by the American Botanical Council. American Botanical Council Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal notes that:

“There is ongoing concern among responsible elements of the herb, dietary supplement, and natural foods industries regarding accidental and intentional adulteration of various ingredients; and, the methods to assure that ingredients are pure.

With the new analytical method developed by researchers at the University of Saskatchewan sponsored by the International Organic Agave Association, the IOAA has taken a significant step toward providing members of the agave syrup industry with a much-needed tool to help maintain the authentic quality of these syrups by determining the possible presence (or absence) of adulterants made of conventional commercial sweeteners.”

By making these studies widely available, the IOAA accomplishes two industry goals. First, the studies are part of the industry-wide effort to ensure quality assurance of agave syrup.  Second,  they provide confidence to consumers that agave syrup is a viable alternative sweetener they can use every day.

For additional information about the IOAA and the studies, go to

Agave Syrup: Sound Information or Sound Bites?

by GotAgave Expert: Craig Gerbore

The article below references Caren Baginski’s post on the NewHope 360 Blog titled Agave Nectar Named a top 5 Worst Sweetener. This article is written in response to an article by Leah Zerbe at Rodale, titled 5 Worst Sweeteners to Have in Your Kitchen. To gain context for the below, it maybe useful to read or reference these articles.

NewHope360 brought this to the attention of the trade, questioning agave syrups position on the list. Just below is the IOAA post to NewHope360.

IOAA post to NewHope360

Thanks Caren, for questioning sensationalist articles like that of Rodale’s “5 Worst Sweeteners.” Your comment is well said: “Agave nectar [syrup] is back in the news this week with a surprising placement among the top 5 worst sweeteners for your health. But does the sweetener deserve its rank?

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, a self-proclaimed “rouge nutritionalist” is the source cited by Rodale, which frankly seems a bit thin when one does further research on him. The question is: are there any references to sound, substantive, and scientific research to support his or Rodale’s position? In the same vein, our expert journalist Linda Lowen (, a New York Times Company) wrote a piece that makes plain the need to utilize scholarly sources when publishing health related materials.

Agave has a low glycemic index, but is high in fructose which makes it an easy target for those who look at “high” and “low” without understanding the implications thereof. These individuals are simply looking to drive traffic to their site without regard for the validity of their information.

To support the scientific data required to make informed decisions, the International Organic Agave Alliance commissioned a white paper (a full literature review, peer reviewed) undertaken by the American Botanical Council (ABC) to assemble and convey the results. It will be published once the peer review process is complete.

Mark Blumenthal, Founder & Executive Director of the American Botanical Council, Editor, HerbalGram & HerbClip made the following comment:

“ABC has compiled an extensive literature review on Agave Syrup and another on its overall safety, with several hundred references. These papers are in the process of being edited and peer reviewed by scientific and medical experts prior to their final publication. Although ABC cannot comment on the tentative conclusions of these reviews at this time, I.e., until such literature reviews are vetted by the expert reviewers, ABC believes that any popular media coverage on the relative safety of agave syrup that relies on only a few references is probably inadequate and possibly even misleading.”

Mark’s comment is, in essence, saying the same thing you are in your article “[the] moral of the story: moderation [in consumption of sweeteners].” Moderation is clearly also applicable relative to authors who make extreme claims without necessary scientific data.

Thanks for helping set the record straight.

Michael B. Marcolla, Executive Director, International Organic Agave Alliance

Craig Gerbore’s Response

Clearly, the reason that agave nectar is targeted in articles such as Rodale’s is because of its fructose content. People are given the false impression that when using agave one will be consuming more fructose.

This is not true.

A fact often overlooked or just ignored is that a sweetener higher in fructose is sweeter and so LESS is used to obtain the taste one desires. Also this attribute has the benefit of adding fewer calories per serving than other natural sweeteners.

As consumers, we sweeten our food to taste, not by a prescribed volume, and adjust accordingly.  Consider a 20 gr portion of sugar as an example. To sweeten to approx the same level, 14 gr of agave can be substituted.

Portion           14 gr Agave    20 gr Sugar


Water             3.36 gr

Fructose         9.04 gr             10 gr

Glucose         1.6 gr               10 gr

The dry weight of the agave in this example would be 10.64 gr of sugar solids, consisting of 9.04 gr (85%) fructose and 1.6 gr (15%) glucose and other.

As you can see by the above example, at relatively equal sweetness you can consume 10% less fructose using agave compared to sugar! Agave also has the added advantage of a low glycemic index.

Still, as Caren pointed out, moderate use is the key. On this even Jonny Bowden agrees, “[Bowden] notes that it’s not all or nothing. Using a teaspoon of agave nectar here or there in dessert recipes is reasonable, but you want to avoid drinks and foods sweetened with it.“ I interpret that as saying that it’s ok to use it moderately, but avoid over consumption. This same advice of course would apply to any natural sweetener.

So, the question for many is “What does use in moderation mean?” The dictionary defines moderation as the avoidance of excess or extremes, so that’s a good start. The American Academy of Family Physicians says that moderation involves your overall dietary intake, not just the portion size of one particular item.

Soft drinks, fruit juice, baked sweets and other foods all contribute to your total daily sweetener consumption. Moderation doesn’t mean a smaller spoonful of sweetener nor none at all. Using sweeteners moderately in the context of your daily diet means to monitor your overall consumption of sweetened food and use accordingly. If your diet includes many foods high in sweeteners, then one should avoid further added sweeteners. If you diet is otherwise limited in sweet foods, and beverages, then there is no reason not to use agave or other sweeteners at home.

I have to wonder why some spend so much energy railing on Agave when, at the end of the day, it is really such a small part of one’s daily diet. I also wonder what are the intents and motivations of Rodale and Jonny Bowden, to provide sound information and advice? Or sound bites to create sensationalism for their own benefit?

Understanding Glycemic Index and Agave

by GotAgave Expert: Craig Gerbore

During my years with Madhava, I always tried to personally answer as many consumer inquiries as I could. There have been many questions from people who wanted to learn about glycemic index and the importance of agave’s low GI value.

To fully address questions such as these now, we sought an authoritative account of this topic. The IOAA requested assistance from the experts in this field, the Glycemic Index Laboratories in Toronto, Canada.  They were kind enough to respond with the article that follows. It is written in simple, easy to digest (a little food humour), layman’s terms. Hopefully this short article can help you to understand more about the glycemic subject, why it is important and how it relates to agave syrup.

provided by GotAgave Scientific Expert: Glycemic Index Laboratories

What is the glycemic index?

In 1981, scientists at the University of Toronto in Canada published a ground-breaking study demonstrating that different carbohydrate foods have different effects on blood glucose levels.  They introduced the concept of the glycemic index (GI) as a way of ranking carbohydrate foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels.   Foods with a high GI have a large effect on blood glucose levels, raising them sharply and then causing them to drop rapidly.  Meanwhile, foods with a low GI have a more moderate effect on blood glucose levels, causing a smaller and more gradual rise and fall in blood glucose levels.  Low-GI foods help maintain more constant blood glucose levels, which has numerous health benefits.

Since its inception 30 years ago, the glycemic index has become a powerful tool for both clinicians and patients with diabetes in the fight to control blood glucose levels.  It has also become relevant to individuals looking to improve long-term health, wanting to lose weight, and looking to reduce the risks of various health conditions, ranging from heart disease to certain cancers to age-related macular degeneration.

How are foods classified according to the GI?

To help consumers use GI information for everyday food choices, the glycemic index divides carbohydrate foods into 3 categories – low, medium, and high, by ranking them on a scale from 1 to 100, with glucose scoring 100.

Low 55 and under
Medium 56-69
High 70 and above

Since the GI is a physiological measure and therefore subject to some variability, GI value ranges are more important than exact numerical values.  For example, a low GI food with a GI value of 30 is just as good a choice as a low-GI food with a GI value of 20 (assuming they have similar nutritional content).

What foods are best for people to eat?

To improve glucose control and overall health, people are encouraged to consume low-GI foods more often.  Swapping a low-GI food for a high-GI one in the same food group is an easy way to reduce the GI of your overall diet.  For example, eating oatmeal made from large flake oats for breakfast instead of corn flakes is an easy way to go from a high-GI breakfast to a low-GI breakfast.  As well, switching from most varieties of baked white potatoes to sweet potatoes is an easy way to lower the GI of your dinner.

How does the GI relate to health?

Over the past 30 years, research on the GI has exploded, with new implications and connections being discovered as research progresses.  Low-GI diets have been linked to better health, including better diabetes control, reduced risk of heart disease, and reduced occurrences of various cancers, as well as controlling appetite and assisting weight loss.

How is the GI determined?

Since the glycemic index reflects the rate of carbohydrate absorbed in a given food, only foods containing carbohydrate can be tested for their GI.  The glycemic index of a food can only be determined through controlled clinical human trials at a clinical laboratory with GI-testing capabilities.  After consulting with experts on GI testing, ISO, the International Standards Organization, has established a GI determination methodology that is followed by most GI determination laboratories.  According to the ISO methodology, 10 individuals consume a specific amount of a test food following a 12-hour overnight fast.  On a different day, those same individuals also consume a specific amount of reference food (usually glucose) containing the same amount of available carbohydrate, also following a 12-hour overnight fast.  The reference food is tested 2 or 3 times in humans, while the test food is tested once.  This way each subject acts as their own control, removing interpersonal variability from the results.  After consuming the reference food or the test food, the individuals are observed for 2 hours, with blood samples collected every 15-30 minutes.  Using specific laboratory equipment, each blood sample is analyzed for glucose levels.  Statistical calculations are performed comparing blood glucose values and areas under the curve for the test and reference foods for each of the ten subjects.  Using a series of statistical calculations, these values are averaged, resulting in a final glycemic index value that is determined for the test food.

What factors affect the glycemic index of a food?

The glycemic index is a value that can be affected by various factors, including processing, milling, acidity, ripening, and cooking.  The glycemic index reflects how quickly glucose can be released from a food upon eating it.  Foods that have been highly processed will often be easier to digest, resulting in a rapid release of sugar into the bloodstream, and therefore, a high GI.  Meanwhile, foods that have been minimally processed and are more intact are harder to digest and will therefore release sugar more slowly and gradually into the bloodstream, resulting in a lower GI.

How does the GI relate to agave?

In addition to applying to whole foods, the GI applies to ingredients as well.  Some agave syrups have been GI tested and have been determined to be low GI.  Other sweeteners, such as sugar, have medium or high GI values.  Therefore, the low-GI value of agave syrup makes it an appropriate substitute for other sweeteners, when a product with a lower GI is desired.

Atarah Grysman

Manager, Sales and Marketing

Science or Fiction: Check Your Sources on Agave Syrup ‘Facts’

A message from Craig Gerbore:

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce an exciting new GotAgave contributor: Linda Lowen, a freelance writer who is affiliated with the New York Times Company-owned website and is also a contributor to We are delighted to have such an accomplished, passionate, and professional writer among us. She is a like-minded natural foods enthusiast and mother of two whose accolades include: NPR’s Talk of the Nation, ABC’s Good Morning America, the 2009 Exceptional Merit in Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus, and twice the recipient of the Clarion Award for Best Women’s Issues Programming by Women in Communications.

Her passion for cutting through the hype and uncovering the truth has led her to write the first of what I hope are many articles on the subject of Agave. Below is Linda’s fully researched, vetted, and personal response to our first post. If you have questions about the research conducted or our choice to post this article, you can contact me, Craig Gerbore at or Linda Lowen at linda(dot)lowen(at)gmail(dot)com.


by GotAgave Expert: Linda Lowen

Agave syrup’s rapid rise in the food industry as a natural sweetener with low impact on blood sugar has attracted many new fans and consumers. But its expanding market share has also made agave the target of unsubstantiated claims by self-proclaimed “authoritative” sources in an effort to halt its growing popularity.

Earlier this year, one of these sources put forth misleading information via the internet in order to negatively influence public opinion on agave syrup.

You may recall blogs and websites mentioning a “breaking news” report in which a certain “institute” claimed to have “banned” and “delisted” the sweetener due to its side effects. Many conscientious food bloggers within the health and wellness community shared word of this “delisting” of agave without realizing that the “breaking news” was manufactured and had no real basis in scientific research.

This attempt to discredit agave syrup was the latest salvo in a multi-million dollar industry battle over natural sweeteners that are safe for diabetics and others concerned about controlling blood sugar levels. And much of that battle is being fought in the online environment.

More and more consumers rely on the internet as their primary source of information.  We “favorite” sites and revisit them for advice, guidance, and news on topics of shared interest, and we trust the entities behind these sites to pass along vetted, sourced, and accurate information. But when we do so, we accept health claims at face value and fail to perform the type of due diligence we would undertake in other aspects of our lives. It’s no wonder then that false claims can quickly take root.

Before those false claims can be addressed, let’s set the record straight on the current scientific findings regarding agave syrup and the research facilities and medical experts involved in evaluating the product.

Hydrolyzed from that nectar, agave syrup been marketed over the past decade as having a lower glycemic index than sugar — a fact that was verified by a June 2011 report released by the Glycemic Index Laboratories of Toronto, Canada (

GI Labs determined agave syrup’s glycemic index through testing on human subjects and the resulting value for the agave syrup was 17 +/- 3.2 .

This number represents how rapidly a food elevates blood sugar on a scale to 100, with lower numbers having less of an impact on blood sugar levels than higher numbers.

As Dr. Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, FACN, CNS, FISSN explains, the Glycemic Index is used to compare sugars to each other by measuring their ability to raise blood sugars: “The scale is set from zero to 100, where low numbers do not have much impact on blood sugar levels, and high numbers raise blood sugar levels quickly.”

A fellow of the American College of Nutrition and a member of The American Dietetic Association, Dr. Kleiner notes, “Fructose is very low on the scale. Because agave syrup is high in fructose, it has a rating of 32 or lower. Honey, which has a higher proportion of glucose to fructose, has a Glycemic Index of 58. Sucrose has a Glycemic Index of 68, and glucose, serving as the index standard, is 100.”

The exact determination of the glycemic index of agave syrup is a key issue in its continued success as a natural sweetener. Previous to the June 2011 GI Labs study, conservative estimates of agave syrups ranked it at approximately 32.

Those who might question GI Labs’ findings have only to look at the scientists affiliated with the facility to verify the merits of their research.

An ISO-certified company, GI Labs is headed by Dr. Thomas Wolever, MD, PhD, DM. Dr. Wolever holds a medical degree from Oxford University, a PhD in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Toronto, and a Doctorate in Medicine from Oxford.

GI Labs’ research and professional staff includes members with advanced degrees from Oxford, Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom. The lab’s Vice President, Dr. Vladimir Vuksan, PhD, was appointed by the World Health Organization as Program Director and Principal Nutrition Investigator of the Institute for Diabetes and Metabolism in Zagreb, Croatia, a position he held for 14 years.

Drs. Wolever and Vuksan, along with Dr. Alexandra Jenkins,  are identified as GI Labs’ key senior scientists and Principal Investigators on the website. A link from the main page displays a client list which includes Kraft Foods, Tropicana, Blue Diamond Almonds, Nature’s Way, Nutrisystem, and over a dozen additional companies.

All the information above is readily available on the website.

Who Is the “Institute”?

The transparency of GI Labs and its staff stands in sharp contrast to the anonymity of those associated with the Glycemic Research Institute (GRI), the entity behind the  “report” warning consumers away from the use of agave syrup.

Posted in June at the website and authored by the GRI, the “breaking news” report states, “The Medical Advisory Board of the Glycemic Research Institute (GRI) made the decision to halt all future clinical trials involving Agave as a result of the latest round of GRI Human In Vivo Clinical Trials, in which the diabetic subjects experienced severe and dangerous side effects related to the oral ingestion of the sweetener Agave.”

The dramatic language in the report was quickly picked up by the health, food and fitness blogosphere where GRI’s decision to “DeList” and “ban” Agave for use in foods, beverages, chocolate and any other products quickly spread — with many blogs replicating the report verbatim.

None of the bloggers who reposted the findings consulted with other reliable sources to verify the claims of the Glycemic Research Institute, vet the “institute” itself or evaluate its legitimacy as a scientific research lab. Nor did they seek to identify those individuals behind the organization or determine who serves on the group’s “Medical Advisory Board.”

Had they done so, they would have discovered that no supporting documentation exists in the field of nutritional studies or in peer-reviewed publications that recognizes the Glycemic Research Institute as either a medical facility or a research entity with the authority to approve or ban food products.

No information on GRI’s founder or CEO, its medical staff, or members of the medical advisory board is posted on its website. Neither does it provide any additional details on how it arrived at its “research” findings.

Google “Glycemic Research Institute Chief” and what comes up is  _________ at the website bearing her name. (The name is blanked out for reasons that will be made clear shortly.) Her website states she is Chief of Biomedical Research at GRI and announces that she is a “Federally Registered Trademark” and will take legal action if her name is used without permission. (Duly noted.)

A search for  ________’s credentials fails to reveal her educational background, medical training, or degree(s) granted by any institutions of higher learning. Instead, what surfaces are the following: articles at both and that question her legitimacy; critics who note that while she claims to have patents she provides no patent numbers; associations with Boresha B-Skinny Coffee (a purported weight loss beverage) and; and claims on her website that she is “the Apha Scientist” and “in the forefront of scientific breakthroughs, including…Quantum Chocolate.”

Despite these red flags, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal based an entire article on the Glycemic Research Institute’s dramatic warning of the dangers of agave syrup. Laura Johannes’ October 27, 2009 piece, “Agave Syrup May Not Be So Simple” relied heavily on GRI’s uncorroborated findings. In doing so, Johannes (and WSJ) bestowed a level of legitimacy to __________ and GRI that — in essence — “vetted” them both, a point that’s vigorously touted on the website.

Many bloggers and websites, trusting that the WSJ had properly fact-checked the story, have since accepted the “warning” as the gospel truth. Did Johannes look into the background of the GRI or attempt to identify its scientists or principal investigators, or did she — like so many others — accept the “report” at face value? Johannes, who was contacted for this article, declined to respond.

Very few of us are professional journalists with the resources, and ability to dig deeply into every health-related story that crosses our path. It takes time and energy to verify claims that are presented as facts and thoroughly confirm the legitimacy of each by way of tracking down multiple sources that support these claims.

But a few simple questions will enable you to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you encounter a new study that make dramatic claims, you don’t have to invest hours of searching to obtain the critical yet basic information you need. Before you blindly accept any claims as scientific fact, ask yourself:

Who or what is responsible for the research on which the findings are based?

Was the research conducted by a laboratory recognized for its work in the field?

Who are the members of the scientific team behind the research? the principal investigators?

Are the credentials, biographies, and publications of those individuals listed?

Is there complete transparency? Is all the information you need available on the website?

Is there an explanation of the methodology? Is there ample background material to support any and all findings?

Findings are based on facts, not pronouncements. Most are presented in a lengthy paper or report which is prefaced by an abstract. Most researchers will send out a news release of their findings and link to — or attach — a multi-page PDF. If this is not forthcoming, beware.

This was part of the argument put forth in a statement by Craig Gerbore in the aftermath of the Glycemic Research Institute’s “breaking news” announcing the “ban” and “delisting” of agave syrup. The he noted, “I find the GRI ® report to be less than compelling…[F]or all the scientific posturing, very little factual evidence has been offered to support the dramatic claims they have made. The lack of specific testing information to review makes it impossible to judge the methods they used, and this omission certainly casts great doubt on the validity of their statements regarding agave syrup.”

In the end no single article, blog post, or study should convince you one way or another…including this one. Search, investigate, poke around, and read as much as you can. Know the principals behind the claims and determine whether their expertise is solid or merely skin-deep. It’s your health and well-being at stake. Shouldn’t you know both sides before you decide?

Baseless, Non-Scientific Claims Behind GRI’s ‘Ban’ on Agave Syrup

by GotAgave Expert: Craig Gerbore

In response to a report from the Glycemic Research Institute (GRI), in which they call for a ‘ban’ on the use of Agave Syrup,  one questions their statements regarding the glycemic index of agave syrup and agave’s impact on diabetics. There are no other independent scientific research studies to support their claims, which are impossible to confirm as the statement posted on the GRI website is lacking information on testing protocol, data and treatments.

Publishing such information is standard in the scientific research community, where studies are made available in detail for peer and public review. To make bold statements without publishing a study or making reference to specific testing protocol and documentation of results is not an accepted method of the scientific community. This omission brings into question the credibility of GRI and their conclusions.

GRI goes to lengths to discuss glucose and some aspects of its role in both normal and diabetic persons. Nowhere do they make any direct connection between these comments and agave syrup.

I  also note that they have failed to clarify exactly what the test meals consisted of and the quantities given to the diabetic subjects.  It may not have been pure agave syrup as, according to the product manufacturer, it was a blend of agave and maple syrup. This relevant fact was noted in their comments to a newspaper reporter, but is not mentioned in the GRI website.

This is not to say that diabetics can freely over consume agave syrup. All natural sweeteners should be used in moderation, particularly by those with diabetes. Agave syrup though, does in fact have a lower glycemic index than other natural sweeteners and does raise blood sugar levels more slowly.

The GI of agave syrup has been tested several times and falls consistently into the low glycemic index category. The scientific report of one of the studies can be viewed on the IOAA website. In this study the GI was determined by a highly regarded organization: Glycemic Index Laboratories of Toronto, Canada. Using standardized methodology, the glycemic index was determined through testing on human subjects and the resulting value for the agave syrup was 17 +/- 3.2 . This number represents how rapidly a food elevates blood sugar, on a scale to 100.

This value falls in the low GI range and this scientific testing result is strong evidence of the low glycemic impact of agave syrup. This is due to the relatively high fructose and low glucose content of agave. While glucose is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream, fructose is converted to blood sugar by the liver and delivered to the bloodstream more slowly.

Blood sugar is essential to our body and brain’s proper function. When blood contains low levels of glucose, hypoglycemia can result. If the blood contains high levels of glucose, the condition is called hyperglycemia.

Diabetes is the most common cause of chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). The common symptoms if untreated are frequent pronounced hunger, thirst, and urination.

The common symptoms of hypoglycemia are produced by a lower than normal level of blood glucose. This can result in a variety of symptoms and effects but the principal problems arise from an inadequate supply of glucose to the brain and the consequences range from mild dysphoria to unconsciousness.

The fainting reaction or “serious adverse event” reported by GRI would lead one to suspect that the diabetic subjects were experiencing a low blood sugar condition, not high as some might assume.

How could this happen when the subjects were consuming a sweetener? The answer may lie in the amount of the test meal which may not have contained enough carbohydrate to balance the medication they received The fructose of agave is eventually converted to blood sugar by the liver however this takes time and is why agave raises blood sugar more slowly. It is conceivable that the combination of too little carbohydrate and carbohydrate which is slowly released resulted in the low glucose reaction. This would depend on test conditions and prior proper adjustment of their medication.

It is quite possible therefore that poor study design may have inadvertently induced a hypoglycemic reaction in their subjects, causing them to faint.

We note that in their conclusion, GRI indicates that further research is required to determine if diabetics react to high levels of agave or if it was related to other factors.

They go on to further state that prior testing (of pure agave) in more moderate doses did not instigate adverse effects.

This is somewhat less than a definitive conclusion on which to base their “ban” of agave.

As a result, we find the GRI report to be less than compelling. They certainly have not demonstrated how agave could elicit such a response and it is clear that for all the scientific posturing, no factual evidence has been offered to support the dramatic claims they have made. The lack of specific testing information to review makes it impossible to assess the methods they used, and this omission certainly casts great doubt on the validity of their statements regarding agave syrup.

As there is increasing interest in this subject, I look forward to objective, reliable, and validated scientific studies with results published in peer reviewed journals that are specific to agave consumption by diabetics. I fully expect any such studies to find no negative issues with the use of agave syrup in moderate amounts for any person including those individuals with diabetes.

Is Agave a Healthy Sweetener?

by GotAgave Expert: Craig Gerbore

Reading through the attack articles and blogs that have surfaced recently one could think that using agave is bad for one’s health. These claims are false and misleading. They are extreme views drawn from extreme examples and applied out of context. They are propagandizing and clearly designed to frighten, not educate. All of the fears and concerns associated with the over-consumption of sugars and calories in general have been unfairly cast on agave.

What is a “healthy” sweetener? One that you use moderately and sensibly.

Health concerns related to fructose and caloric sweeteners are all dependent on the over-consumption of them. All foods have calories and it is the overall consumption of calories that lead to obesity and related issues, not any one food source.

Agave’s caloric value is comparable to the other sweeteners in the category. Due to its greater sweetness though, less agave is used compared to the others, so agave actually can reduce caloric consumption per serving. This is due to a higher fructose content. The higher content does not mean higher consumption though, due to the smaller portion used.
As a reference point, 9-10 teaspoon servings of agave would be the approximate caloric equivalent of one 16 oz soft drink. With this perspective, is agave really being over-consumed as a choice of sweetener for home use?

The purpose of this article is to debunk the controversial misinformation surrounding agave. All information debunking the myths and misinformation is based on current science and facts. It is our goal to provide you with useful information so that you can make your personal nutritional choices in a well-informed, science-based manner.

The Agave Controversy: Exposing the fraudulent article by Rami Nagel

By Dr. Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, FACN, CNS, FISSN
And Craig Gerbore, President Madhava

The controversy about agave syrup was manufactured by the publication of a single article on the internet, which has been reproduced and adapted for virtually every other article produced on the internet and other media venues. That article, written by Rami Nagel and published on, was highly biased and full of inaccuracies, half-truths and misinformation about agave. Since the article has been the sole source of nearly all other popular articles in public media, we want to set the record straight with science-based, reliable information to offer a more balanced resource to those interested in learning more about agave syrup.

Who is the author, Rami Nagel?

According to the description on the website, Rami Nagel is a “citizen journalist”. This means that Mr. Nagel is self-employed, and not employed as an in-house journalist by the website. He wrote and published the article without any editorial or content oversight, and the editor of the website, Mike Adams, makes it clear that the article was not checked for incorrect or inaccurate information or facts. The introduction to the article, written by Mr. Adams, states that readers had written to comment that Mr. Nagel’s resources were biased with conflicts of interest due to their financial interests in competing sweeteners, such as brown rice syrup. So even the website editor himself states that the article is not fact-checked, and it is biased and unbalanced.

Who is Russ Bianchi?

The sole resource interviewed for the article is Russ Bianchi, identified by the author as Managing Director and CEO of Adept Solutions, Inc. Mr. Bianchi has clear conflict of interest ties to the sweetener industry. We have documentation of the fact that Mr Bianchi had plans to market a product named Replace. It was to be touted as a low calorie alternative sweetener composed of natural and artificial ingredients! Mr Bianchi was prevented from marketing this sweetener as the result of a lawsuit against him by the owner of the formula.

Mr Bianchi is quoted by Nagel extensively and exclusively. Many, if not all, of his statements are blatantly false or misrepresentations of fact. He is clearly propagandizing against agave nectar.

Was anyone else interviewed for this article?

Yes. Craig Gerbore, president and owner of Madhava Agave Syrup, was extensively interviewed by the author but no parts of that interview were included in the article.

It is important to note that neither Mr Nagel or Mr Bianchi have not made themselves available for questions on their statements since the articles appearance. They remain out of sight and have entirely avoided the controversy their statements created.

What is agave nectar?

  • The opening line of this paragraph in the article by Mr. Nagel states:

“The principal constituent of the agave is starch, such as what is found in corn or rice.”

This is absolutely false. There is no starch in agave. The source of carbohydrate in agave syrup is inulin, a polysaccharide made up primarily of strings of fructose units. Starch is a polysaccharide made up of strings of glucose molecules. They are significantly different, and this difference is why agave syrup is naturally sweet.

The very basis of the argument presented by Mr. Nagel is false.

The Process

The agave plant is a succulent, similar to a cactus. The agave sweetener comes from both the Salmiana agave plant and the agave Tequilana (Blue Agave) which are both organically farmed in Mexico and certified organic by USDA approved certifiers. As the salmiana plant grows it produces a stalk called the “quiote” and when this is removed, a natural liquid called “aquamiel”. The liquid is collected from the plant, while Blue agave pinons are harvested and shredded to remove the similar juice. Either can be naturally processed thermally or by enzymes into agave nectar.

The juice of the plant is not naturally sweet. The string of connected fructose units that makes up the major proportion of inulin does not have a sweet taste, but when the fructose units are separated (the process is called hydrolysis) by the addition of an enzyme, similar to digestion, or thermally for most blue agave, the syrup becomes quite sweet. That is the entire processing chain for agave nectar. There are no additives, other ingredients or chemicals in Madhava agave nectar. It is absolutely pure and organic and GMO free.

  • Mr. Nagel claims that agave syrup is a “refined corn fructose” similar to high fructose corn syrup. This is absolutely false. There is no relationship between agave syrup and high fructose corn syrup in any way, including the source of the product, or the manufacturing process.
  • Mr. Nagel refers to a “confidential FDA letter” from Mr. Martin Stutsman, claiming that agave is fraudulently labeled. We contacted Mr. Stutsman at the United States Food and Drug Administration, and his response made it clear that there was never a “confidential FDA letter”. He did publish a public letter referenced in an FDA document as “FDA letter from Martin Stutsman to Dr. Eric Wilhelmsen (Wilhelmsen Consulting), May 8, 2000”, regarding evaporated cane juice, a topic wholly unrelated to agave syrup.
  • He continued in his response to us that the paragraph in Mr. Nagel’s article inaccurately reflected the substance of his comments in the document.

This link will take you to the original document in which the letter was referenced (reference #2):

In fact, Mr. Nagel fabricated the entire story of the letter. Mr. Stutsman is a lawyer, not a doctor. The quotes were completely taken out of context from the document, and the quotes never referred to agave syrup at any time. Nagel goes on to further misrepresent Mr. Stutsman’s intent in the published document by weaving in other inaccurate information that is thoroughly unrelated to the original document. Mr Bianchi’s subsequent statements on labeling issues are false and without merit.

Mr. Nagel is clearly caught red-handed. He has misrepresented the words of a government official, lied about the facts, and twisted the information to achieve his own agenda. This strategy is repeated throughout the article.

  • Mr. Nagel continues his deceptive writing by referring to a quote by the late Dr. Varro Tyler in his book, The Honest Herbal. The first line of the paragraph is a direct quote from the book. Nothing else in that paragraph remotely resembles anything else found in Dr. Tyler’s book. Mr. Nagel is trying to claim that agave syrup contains large quantities of saponins, and that they can be harmful to health. Here is the debunking of that paragraph:
  1. Dr. Tyler does not include the variety of agave plant used for agave syrup.
  2. The entire discussion is about the use of the sword-shaped leaves and the stem. Agave syrup is produced from the natural liquid in the plant. The saponins are isolated from the leaves of the plant.
  3. There is no documented evidence to suggest agave syrup contains worrisome levels of saponins and the entire rest of the discussion about health dangers is fabricated and false.


People are going to continue to consume sweet food and drink. There are only three categories of choice to sweeten food. Those are artificial sweeteners, stevia, or caloric sweeteners from natural sources, sugars.

Most people will not choose artificial. Many will not choose stevia. That only leaves the category of sugars. In this group, agave is a good choice due to its organic quality, ease of use, neutral flavor, low glycemic index and the fact that less is used to equal the sweetness of the others in the category.

The sweeteners in this category are composed of three primary sugars used to sweeten foods: glucose, fructose and sucrose. These sugars belong to a class of compounds known as carbohydrates. “Saccharide” is a term that denotes sugar, or substances derived from sugar. Monosaccharides are simple or single sugars; disaccharides are derived from two joined monosaccharides and when they are hydrolyzed, or separated, they yield two molecules of simple sugar. Strings of more than two sugar molecules are called polysaccharides. This category includes compounds such as starches, cellulose and inulin.

Glucose and fructose are monosaccharides. Glucose and fructose are found abundantly in nature in fruits and plants. Sucrose is the disaccharide formed by the joining of glucose and fructose, also known as table sugar. When comparing their relative sweetness, glucose is the least sweet tasting, sucrose is next, and fructose is the sweetest of the three sugars, measured as 1.4 times sweeter than table sugar. Because it is so sweet, people typically use less fructose when sweetening foods compared to sucrose.

  • In the article by Mr. Nagel he states , “fructose is not what is found in fruit. Commonly, fructose is compared with its opposite and truly naturally occurring sweetener, known as ‘levulose’ (made by nature)…”

Another fabrication. In fact, levulose is just another name for fructose. There are various nomenclatures used in the scientific naming of compounds. Fructose and levulose are exactly the same thing; the names are interchangeable. It is no different than if you called your father, “dad”, and your sibling called your father, “father”. He would still be the exact same person. Fructose and levulose are different names for the exact same thing: a sugar found in nature.

Mr. Bianchi also is quoted to say that the body does not recognize the fructose in agave. This is another false piece of propaganda which demonstrates just how far he is reaching. If this were true, it would have no impact on us. He immediately contradicts himself with the claims of detrimental effects caused by the overconsumption of fructose.

Using Sugars

Sugars can be compared to each other in their ability to raise blood sugar levels by using the Glycemic Index. The scale is set from zero to 100, where low numbers do not have much impact on blood sugar levels, and high numbers raise blood sugar levels quickly. Fructose is very low on the scale. Because agave syrup is high in fructose, it has a rating of 32 or lower. Honey, which has a higher proportion of glucose to fructose, has a Glycemic Index of 58. Sucrose has a Glycemic Index of 68, and glucose, serving as the index standard, is 100.

All sugars, whether fructose, glucose, sucrose or others, contribute 4 calories per gram to our total diet. 1 teaspoon of sugar = 4 grams = 16 calories

In addition to calories, sugars sweeten our foods offering a desirable taste and adding enjoyment and pleasure to our dining. During cooking and baking, sugars allow for browning and the unique consistencies of syrups, candies, frostings and frozen desserts. The varieties of sugars, such as crystallized table sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, molasses, honey and agave nectar, among others, contribute different properties and flavors to foods.

When you add your own sugar to foods you are in control of how much sugar you use. Most people would never add as much sugar as do the food manufacturers. Moderate amounts of sugar can certainly be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet for an active individual. Natural sugars are easily metabolized and utilized by the body, offering a very efficient source of fuel for physical and mental activity.

Of course, sugars should be used in moderation in the diet. This can control calories and help create a diet that is dense in nutrients.

Impact of sugar on health and disease

The remainder of Mr. Nagel’s article works to link agave syrup with the increased incidence of obesity, diabetes, metabolic disease, and the general rise of morbidity and mortality in the population. This is an overconsumption issue involving far more than the occasional use of agave.

Here are the facts:

  • Rats that are fed a high fructose diet become obese and will develop the chronic diseases associated with obesity: insulin resistance, diabetes and metabolic disease.
  • No one should eat a diet that reflects this type of experimental diet.
  • Too much sugar in the diet, whether from fructose, glucose or sucrose, can be unhealthy. Diets high in sugar promote tooth decay and periodontal disease; create an overabundance of calories and a deficit of nutrients. This scenario typically leads to weight gain and the development of chronic disease.
  • Active individuals can include a moderate amount of added sugar in their diet without negative health consequences. When calorie intake is balanced with physical activity, sugar serves as an efficient source of fuel for muscles, the brain and the central nervous system.
  • According to the World Health Organization (2003), individuals can healthfully include 10% of their daily calories from added sugars. This translates into 200 calories for a 2000 calorie diet, or 12½ teaspoons of added sugar daily. Clearly, one can safely add a couple of teaspoons of sweetener to a cup of tea or coffee, or have a little sweetened food without worrying about their risk of developing disease.
  • Agave syrup, which is sweeter than other sugars and low on the Glycemic Index scale, is a good choice to include as one of the added sugars in your diet because you will use less sugar (and therefore fewer calories) and minimally raise blood sugar levels.

Just a teaspoon of agave: the healthy use of sweeteners in your diet

We all want to live healthier and longer lives. Diet and nutrition plays a key role, impacting our health and our ability to perform physically and mentally now and into the future. Food offers us not only sustenance, but also pleasure and enjoyment. Food is present in so many parts of our lives: at celebrations, business events, family events, religious and spiritual occasions, sports outings, the focus of our family meals, intimate dinners, and sometimes just the excuse to socialize.

Sweet foods make us feel good. Sugar allows for the elevation of serotonin in our brains, the “feel good” neurotransmitter that elevates mood, helps us focus, and in the evening, helps us relax and sleep.

Sugar is a source of energy for our muscles, brain and central nervous system. Without sugar our bodies will not function at peak capacity.

Too much sugar, however, is not good. In small amounts sugar energizes us, but in large doses, repeated throughout the day, day in and day out, sugar puts stress on the body. The extra calories can lead to weight gain and obesity, which in time can lead to chronic disease. In the short term, high sugar intakes can lead to a nutritionally deficient diet and a sense of being on an emotional roller coaster.

So be selective about your use of sugars and use them in moderation in your diet. Just like all foods, a variety will enhance the nutritional content of your diet and the flavor and tastes that you can enjoy. Since sugars come in different forms and have different flavors, they can be used most effectively in specific foods and beverages. For instance, agave syrup is liquid and less viscous than honey, making it easy to mix into cold liquids like iced tea and coffee, and is great to add to cold unsweetened cereals for a little sweet taste. Agave’s mild flavor allows chefs and bakers to sweeten foods lightly, without overpowering the taste of the dish.

Pay attention to how much sugar is added to your diet every day. Read labels so that you know when sugar is added to manufactured foods. Keep the consumption of added sugars in your diet to no more than 10% of your total daily calorie intake so that you have plenty of room for nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, protein-rich foods, nuts, seeds and healthy oils.

Remember that nutrition is a science based on facts. We are making great advances in our understanding of the science of foods and nutrition. Beware of people with hidden agendas using fear tactics to influence your choices. Don’t take their opinion at face value. What are their credentials? What conflicts of interest do they have? If they do not disclose conflicts, then assume that they are manipulating the truth.

Most of all enjoy food. Think about what you need to eat to promote whole health. Don’t overindulge, but don’t deprive yourself of the bounty of wonderful tastes, either. Use celebrations as occasions to enjoy your favorite foods and try new ones. A teaspoon or two of sugar easily fits into the diet of an active, healthy person. Agave syrup offers an organic low-glycemic choice for those looking for that option.

Resources for this article:

Charley H. Food Science, 2nd Edition. John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY, 1982.
Figlewicz DP et al. Effect of moderate intake of sweeteners on metabolic health in the rat. Physiology and Behavior 98:618-624, 2009
Johnson RK et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, 2009
Tyler VE. The Honest Herbal, Third Edition. Pharmaceutical Products Press, New York, NY, 1993.

©2010 Madhava Honey

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