The truth about food trends, vol. 2: Agave nectar, juice cleanses, coconut oil & more

Bottles of multicolored juices

When it comes to the liquids we drink and cook with, it’s tempting to try each new product we hear about on TV or social media. But which of these trends actually have nutritional value behind them?

In this WellTuned series, The Truth About Food Trends, we’ll speak to registered dietitians and nutritionists for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee to learn more.

In volume 2, we talked with Leslie Cornett, RDN, about agave nectar, juice cleanses, coconut water and more.

What’s the difference between agave and sugar?

Cornett: Agave is tricky. People often think they’re getting a much healthier product with agave nectar than with sugar. In its natural form, agave does have some health properties, such as B vitamins, which may help your immune system.

But when agave is processed, those healthy components break down. That creates the byproduct fructose, a type of sugar that makes up about half of table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Studies show that consuming high levels of fructose can be damaging in the long run, possibly even causing metabolic disorders.

The upside is that fructose doesn’t have the same blood-sugar-raising effect as sugar. So for people with diabetes or someone watching their blood sugar, adding a little to coffee is probably okay. Just remember: Agave may be sweeter than sugar, so don’t use as much. Better yet, try raw honey in place of it, which will give you sweetness plus antioxidants and B vitamins that agave nectar doesn’t have.

Are juice cleanses healthy? 

Cornett: If you do a juice fast for a day or so, that’s probably not going to be harmful for most people. If you’re drinking juices made from fruits, vegetables and nuts, you’re filling your body with enzymes and vitamins and minerals, and that’s good.

However, any “cleanse” that goes on for an extended time could lead to a deficiency in protein and healthy fats. Look at the nutritional information of the juice, and be sure it doesn’t have a lot of added sugar. And definitely don’t try to create a “cleanse” using fruit juices you’d find at the grocery store, which are high in sugar and low in nutritional value.

How sugary beverages affect health in Tennessee (and what to drink instead)

Are there any health benefits of drinking coconut water?

Cornett: Coconut water is a good fluid replacement and source of electrolytes, which conduct the impulses in the body that contract muscles, keep you hydrated and regulate pH levels (the balance of acidity and alkalinity).

Nothing is better for your body than just pure water, but if you’re looking for a little bit of flavor, coconut water is okay. It does have 40-50 calories per cup, though, so it shouldn’t be a one-to-one water replacement.

What about coconut oil?

Cornett: There are a lot of mixed views on coconut oil. The drawback is that coconut oil is up to 90% saturated fat, which is associated with increased LDL cholesterol and higher risk of heart disease.

The benefit is that it’s high in medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs. MCTs have a shorter chemical structure than other fats, so the body absorbs them quickly and that theoretically promotes fullness and prevents the storage of that oil as fat.

However, most supermarket coconut oil contains very few MCTs and is actually mostly lauric acid, which is metabolized slowly. That means most of us who buy coconut oil that hasn’t been specially produced aren’t getting the supposed health benefits.

It’s perfectly fine to cook with coconut oil from time to time if you like the flavor. It has a high smoke point, which makes it good for high-heat preparations like a stir fry.

Are there any health benefits of bone broth?

Cornett: Bone broth can be a good source of protein, and a tasty snack or meal filler. It can also be higher in fat, which you can gauge by its consistency at room temperature (the more solid it is, the more fat it likely has). Nutritional value varies widely depending on the brand or maker, so read the label.

The suggested health benefits of bone broth include weight loss, reducing inflammation, boosting immunity, and improving digestion and wound healing. However, evidence is lacking for several of those claims (improving digestive health, boosting immunity). If you choose to add bone broth to your diet, consider adding some non-starchy vegetables to boost the nutritional value.

WellTuned complete guide to bone broth

More from Cornett on WellTuned:

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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Filed under: Food & Recipes


Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).