Agave nectar and honey—two golden liquids that seem similar, yet are very different. Both have their pros and cons, but which one is victorious over the other?

Agave nectar

This amber-colored sweetener is derived from the agave plant and is actually a syrup—nectar is purely a marketing term. You may have heard of the agave plant before; it’s the same species that tequila is made from.

Agave nectar has made headlines because it ranks relatively low on the glycemic index due to its high fructose content—higher than any other common sweeteners including high fructose corn syrup. The American Diabetes Association stresses that even with a low-glycemic index, agave should be treated like any other sweetener.

As with anything we ingest, understanding the labels is critical. Agave is labeled a “natural sweetener” which leaves us thinking that it’s just pure syrup from the desert succulent. Actually, the juice is made from the sap in heart of the plant, then heated to cause a thermal hydrolysis, breaking down the carbohydrates into sugars. Then the juice is concentrated to a liquid thinner than honey.

Nutritional breakdown
One serving: 1 teaspoon
Calories: 21
Total carbohydrates: 5 grams
Sugar: 4.7 grams
Glycemic index: 10 to 19


Raw honey is a natural unprocessed food, made by honeybees from the nectar of plants. No added preservatives. No added colorings. No added flavorings. Just the hard work of thousands of honeybees.

The high levels of monosaccharides, fructose, and glucose in honey mean that it contains about 70 to 80 percent sugar, giving honey its sweet taste. The flavor of honey can vary based on the region where the bees live.

Honey is composed of glucose, fructose, and various minerals. It also possesses antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Honey in general should not be given to children under a year of age because of the risk of botulism.

Nutritional breakdown
One serving: 1 teaspoon
Calories: 64
Total carbohydrates: 17 grams
Sugar: 17 grams
Glycemic index: 58

The verdict

Both may be great sweetener options. Depending on what is most important to you, you may choose either one. Agave has fewer carbohydrates and a lower glycemic index, but honey is less processed. On the other hand, because of the high fructose levels in agave, sometimes as high as 90 percent, it can raise blood triglycerides after a meal.

In the end, the amount of sugar you're eating is much more important than the type of sugar. If you use sugar in moderation—a few teaspoons here and there—then pick the one that tastes best to you.

To learn more about artificial sweeteners:

6 Sugar Substitutes For Diabetes
Artificial Sweeteners: Not as Diabetic-Friendly as You Thought
Two Sides to the Artificial Sweetener Story