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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.

COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

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.

Anonymous

02/07/2015 - 12:57pm

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

Anonymous

01/12/2015 - 1:20pm

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

Anonymous

01/07/2015 - 10:55am

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

Anonymous

01/04/2015 - 1:51pm

I am allergic to aguave what is a substitution?

Anonymous

09/15/2014 - 2:21pm

wow . . this is confusing. I think I'll stick with agave in my ice tea and drop cookies.

Anonymous

08/23/2014 - 4:12pm

Are we talking Down syndrome now? I'm confused.

Anonymous

05/20/2014 - 10:53am

I have a child with down syndrome and you all trying to show each other up with your smarter than the last guys comment helped me not at all, so thanks not at all.
not anonymous
Randy

Anonymous

05/19/2014 - 2:01pm

you don't "need" as much agave syrup for the same sweetening power of cane sugar. I have found that less than half the amount is fine for sweetening.

Anonymous

03/15/2014 - 6:22pm

I try to eat food as close to it's natural state as possible, so agave works. I refuse to believe that organic agave is just as bad for me as refined white sugar. It's good to just revert back to plain old common sense...

Anonymous

01/31/2014 - 6:05am

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