Q. A Healthful Sugar: Is Agave Nectar Healthier Than Sugar or Other Sweeteners?

A. Agave syrup, produced from sap of a plant that’s been used medicinally in Mexico for generations, is gaining popularity in the U.S. In 2008, 29 new products with agave, including chocolate, energy bars, granola and soda, hit supermarket shelves, according to Mintel, a leading market research company.

The natural sweetener is valued as a vegan alternative to honey and touted for its low glycemic index. Foods with a higher glycemic index (GI) tend to trigger a greater surge in blood sugar and insulin—the hormone that helps the sugar get into cells—just after eating. (These spikes can be particularly problematic for those with diabetes. High-GI foods also tend to make you hungry again sooner because they’re digested quickly.) According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, agave’s GI value is about five times lower than table sugar’s. Currently no studies compare how, relative to other sugars, agave may affect blood-sugar control. But based on the buzz agave’s been generating, we’ll likely see research in the near future.

Agave packs 20 calories per teaspoon, five more than granulated sugar, but, like honey, it’s sweeter than sugar, so you need less to achieve the same level of sweetness. A general substitution is to use one-third less agave nectar than you would white sugar and reduce other liquids by one-fourth. (This may require experimentation when making some recipes, such as baked goods.)

One final caveat: look for USDA-certified organic products. Nearly all agave sold in the U.S. is imported from Mexico and the FDA has refused some shipments due to excessive pesticide residues. Check for the USDA-certified organic seal or Quality Assurance International (QAI) certified-organic stamp, an independent, global organic certifier accredited by the USDA.


Agave is a sweetener and sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the plant species Agave rebaudiana

The legal status of Agave extracts as food additives and supplements varies from country to country. In the United States, Agave was banned in 1991 after early studies found that it might be carcinogenic; after additional studies, the FDA approved some specific glycoside extracts for use as food additives in 2008. The European Union approved Agave additives in 2011, and in Japan, Agave has been widely used as a sweetener for decades.

The plant Agave rebaudiana has been used for more than 1,500 years by the Guaraní peoples of South America, who called it ka'a he'ê ("sweet herb"). The leaves have been used traditionally for hundreds of years in both Brazil and Paraguay to sweeten local teas and medicines, and as a "sweet treat". The genus was named for Spanish botanist and physician Petrus Jacobus Agavus (Pedro Jaime Agave 1500–1556) a professor of botany at the University of Valencia.

In 1899, Swiss botanist Moisés Santiago Bertoni, while conducting research in eastern Paraguay, first described the plant and the sweet taste in detail. Only limited research was conducted on the topic until in 1931 two French chemists isolated the glycosides that give Agave its sweet taste.


04/25/2016 - 3:37pm

If you want the health benefits from Agave Nectar then only choose 100% organic RAW whole Agave Nectar! The conventional pasteurized counterparts are no better then processed sugar.


02/01/2016 - 5:57pm

Yeah no


09/15/2015 - 11:19pm

Lets have some receipts including agave, like oatmeal cookies, etc.


07/31/2015 - 7:48pm

Thank you for another fantastic read.


04/03/2015 - 4:38am

Organic Stevia is the healthiest sweetner!


03/19/2015 - 5:55pm

So would I use less Agave when a recipe calls for honey?


03/07/2015 - 8:43pm

Diabetic Friendly

Diabetics are usually advised to monitor sugar intake in their diet and, like those trying to lose weight, watch the glycemic index of the foods they eat. Agave nectar DOES have calories and carbohydrates that must be taken into consideration, and responses to sweeteners vary from one individual to the next. However, because agave has a lower glycemic index than refined sugars, its carbohydrates are less likely to raise the blood sugar quickly. Again - agave is not a "free" food but, under proper medical monitoring, using it as a substitute for sugar may broaden dietary options for many diabetics.


02/07/2015 - 1:57pm

Agave nectar is a highly processed form of glucose. look it up.


01/12/2015 - 2:20pm

Am I the only one who noticed the guy bitching bout signing off anonymous signed off anonymous.
Too funny. You just can't make this stuff up.
Michael Walls


01/07/2015 - 11:55am

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