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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

Pesticide residue is enough to say no way!

Anonymous

03/22/2010 - 11:06pm

Agave syrup it's delicious, taste it with fruits and cereals

Anonymous

04/13/2010 - 2:56pm

Agave is a brilliantly marketed product that is actually HIGHLY processed, and contains as much as or more fructose than High Fructose Corn Syrup -giving it all the MANY health risks that go along with that seriously detrimental product. It is mostly made from the root of the agave plant and has little or no similarity to the actual straight natural sap that it is posing as. A much better alternative sweetener is stevia, or maple syrup, or rice syrup.

Anonymous

05/18/2010 - 8:41am

I love agave nectar, it's helped me lose 14 pounds in 7 weeks. I feel energetic and balanced.

Anonymous

09/23/2010 - 1:01am

Agave syrup is good on oatmeal!

Anonymous

11/02/2010 - 7:46pm

Agave is as bad as High Fructose Corn Syrup for you health. It has far too high a concentration of fructose. Free fructose gets converted to fat/triglycerides. I know it tastes great (so do the many things that have HFCS), but it really is not a healthy option. Real honey would be better, or my favorite, Stevia.

Anonymous

02/05/2012 - 12:15pm

well which is it? agave or stevia?

Anonymous

01/29/2013 - 6:19pm

Correction for everyone that has generalized agave as being worse than high fructose corn syrup. This is half true. Most agaves are worse than HFCS. however, if you compare CLEAR agave, it is almost half the fructose level than others. So not all agave is created equal and shouldn't be generalize or this may mislead people. A gentleman who owns a raw food company, uses agave in his products AND he's diabetic. Clear agave is not the same and wont spike peoples blood sugar levels AND is not harmful for diabetics.

Anonymous

02/06/2013 - 3:13pm

Despite what any current reports say, I tend to draw from my own experience. I have found that white sugar and HFCS leave me wanting. Wanting more of it and other foods. If I eat enough of them (which isn't hard, since they are in many products), I become addicted to them and have actual withdrawal symptoms. For me, honey and agave do not have that effect. I will continue to use them both since I personally have had no negative experiences with them. To each his own!

Anonymous

03/12/2013 - 11:50am

there is no such agave study listed in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition's web site. I searched for it and found nothing.

Anonymous

04/18/2013 - 2:48am

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