Agave Vs. Honey: Which Is Healthier, According To Nutritionists

Tracking down a healthy way to sweeten up your coffee or baked goods can feel like mission impossible. You know that piling on tons of granulated sugar isn’t exactly an A+ idea for your health, but what about all those “natural sweeteners” out there—like agave and honey? Are they really that much better for you?

First things first: Is agave really healthy?

The short answer: No. “Agave is marketed as a ‘natural sugar,’ however, it is not,” says Sonya Angelone, RDN. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but agave nectar is a processed sugar. The sap from agave is heated and treated with enzymes to produce the agave nectar you see in stores. “This process destroys any vitamins and minerals from the raw sap,” says Angelone. “Agave is basically a highly refined, unhealthy syrup.”

Agave field

The type of sugar in agave doesn’t help, either. “Agave is about 85 percent fructose and the rest is water,” says Angelone. “The fructose is metabolized mainly by the liver. If your liver gets too much fructose, it can increase LDL cholesterol, lead to belly fat, and contribute to fatty liver, which is becoming increasingly common.”

One tablespoon of agave, according to the USDA:

  • Calories: 60
  • Fat: 0 g (0 g sat)
  • Protein: 0 g
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 16 g
  • Sugar: 17 g
  • Fiber: 0 g

The fructose in agave can actually be tough on tummies, too. “One important point is that some people who do better on a low-FODMAP diet will find agave more problematic since fructose is a FODMAP,” says Angelone. “It can contribute to gas and bloating for sensitive people.”

Agave does have one thing going for it: Since it contains little glucose, it has a low glycemic index, says Angelone. That means, it won’t spike your blood sugar levels.

How about honey, is it healthy?

Honey levels up on health benefits, but the science is still a little slim. “Honey may soothe sore throats and help with a cough,” says Angelone. Research from the journal Frontiers in Microbiology found honey can potentially fight off your cold in multiple ways: It contains bacteria that actually kill cells; it weakens pathogens’ ability to multiply; and it can make antibiotics work even better.

“There is also some evidence that raw, local honey may ease symptoms of allergies since it has trace amounts of local pollen,” she says. Angelone also notes that raw honey is usually your healthiest choice, since it’s the least processed.


Honey also contains a number of antioxidants. “The darker the color, the more antioxidants it has,” says Angelone. Plus, there are traces of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, calcium, and iron, present in honey. However, none in significant amounts, per Angelone. “You would have to eat way more honey than advised to get noticeable amounts,” she says.

Honey’s exact spot on the glycemic index can vary, too. “The GI of honey varies depending on the flowers where the bees got the pollen,” says Angelone. “Honey is about 40 percent fructose and 30 percent glucose.”

Not everyone should dive into the honey pot, though. “Honey is not safe for infants younger than one year since it can contain botulism spores which can be harmful to infants,” says Angelone.

One tablespoon of honey, according to the USDA:

  • Calories: 64
  • Fat: 0 g (0 g sat)
  • Protein: 0.1 g
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 17 g
  • Sugar: 17 g
  • Fiber: 0 g

So, which is healthier agave or honey?

When pitting agave vs. honey, dietitians don’t hesitate to hand it to honey. “Since raw honey does contain immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties I would have to say that the better choice is honey,” says Keri Gans, RDN, nutrition consultant and author of The Small Change Diet.

While the calories in agave and honey are comparable (around 60 cals per tablespoon in each), agave tastes a bit sweeter, which means you won’t need to use quite as much to get the desired sweetness.

Craving something sweet? Check out Camila Mendes taste-test the best acai bowls:

What are the best ways to use agave and honey?

While you might think you can swap honey in your fave recipe and get a sweet result with more health benefits, you might end up with a sticky situation. Angelone doesn’t recommend substituting honey, or agave, in recipes that call for granulated sugar. “There is too much liquid in agave and honey and would change the recipe,” she explains. “They can be used interchangeably but not for a dry sugar.”

Instead, use honey for an immune boost in teas and other bevvies. “Also try it in plain yogurt or in oatmeal,” says Angelone. “And be sure to use raw honey when possible.”

The bottom line: Nutritionists prefer honey over agave. Honey has health benefits, but it’s important to stick to the serving size, since it still counts as added sugar.

via Agave Vs. Honey: Which Is Healthier, According To Nutritionists