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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

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

Anonymous

08/23/2014 - 5:12pm

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

Anonymous

05/20/2014 - 11:53am

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 - 3:01pm

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 - 7:22pm

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 - 7:05am

For me Agave works great, it is not a magic pill that has no calories or effects on your sugar levels. For me it is the best natural alternative to sugar and I am a diabetic. I do take into consideration everyone I put on my mouth and count the amount of insulin I will need. Other sugars and honeys make my glucose go crazy, but Agave its more subtle. I am no willing to take all the non caloric sugars because those make me eat more at the end and add all those chemicals. Be realistic what is all percent good for you if you don't grow your fruits, vegetables and animals. Think about balance.

Anonymous

01/28/2014 - 2:38pm

eat live love enjoy life to the fullnest love those around you ask the Lord what is best for you and your family to be more active and reach that goal and move on.sugar agave stevia whatever be happy......Love

Anonymous

10/22/2013 - 11:59pm

Stevia have after taste..Agave taste better...but should not be using a lot...too. But better than artificial sweetner like splinder, equate, etc...The sugar and honey is safer than the artificial sweetner...as long as not use more than 3 teaspoons daily for routine drinks...Avoid the icing, fudge like candy like all the refinary concentrate sugar or syrup will be prudent if one has diabetes mellitus..I would say

Anonymous

10/13/2013 - 11:42pm

How come all of these reviews are signed by "Anonymous"? I don't even read reviews like that. If you can't sign your name to your own writings then stop wasting everyone's time. Use fruit to sweeten your food. No fuss, no muss :)

Anonymous

09/20/2013 - 11:03am

There are so many negative claims in the comments that are false or exaggerations that one scarcely decide what to address and what to leave up to commentators to investigate on their own. The only fault with the original post is that whereas it is true that "the FDA has refused some shipments due to excessive pesticide residues", their records show there were only two instances and those were years ago.

Levulose is just another name for fructose which is the same in fruit as it is in agave syrup. No one uses the term levulose which is completed outdated and misleading. The body recognizes and processes fructose no matter what the source. If you read otherwise, it was probably at the web site of the Weston A Price Foundation where you can find all manner of false notions about agave syrup.

And how about this one: "Because fructose is digested in your liver, it is immediately turned into triglycerides or stored body fat. Since it doesn’t get converted to blood glucose like other sugars, it doesn’t raise or crash your blood sugar levels. Hence the claim that it is safe for diabetics," to which the commentator adds, "But it isn't." The truth is that in humans, around 50% of ingested fructose is converted to glucose and the amount it contributes to triglycerides (fats) is about 3%, which is scarcely significant. That's why it takes a very high amount (at least 104 grams per day) to even modestly increase body weight.

To the assertion that "fructose makes you want to eat more", human clinical trials have not established that to be the case, and there have been quite a number of them. That's also true for glucose, by the way. All told, they do not show that glucose is more satiating than fructose or that HFCS is less satiating than regular sugar. Interestingly enough, however, studies have more consistently shown that a low glycemic index diet results in the consumption of less food, which would suggest that fructose or a low GI sweetener like agave syrup (consistently demonstrated in a number of human clinical trials) would contribute to the overall low glycemic index of the diet if it replaced high GI sweeteners such as HFCS and regular sugar.

And then there's the ongoing myth that agave syrup is made from starch by a process similar to that for making HFCS. What starch? The part of the plant used to make agave syrup contains less than 1% starch, whereas the content of starch in corn is over 60%. The process for agave syrup is very different from that for HFCS and if anyone is using enzymes, they would be the rare exception. The claim that agave syrup is made by a "Chemical process" is highly deceptive and fostered by the likes of Dr. Mercola and the Weston A Price Foundation. The sap is extruded from the heads of the plant, which are in fact the short stems, and heated to remove moisture. No other part of the plant is used; not the leaves and not the root or "root bulb". In the process, the content of fructans in the sap or "juice" release their bonds of glucose and fructose to leave the syrup. No chemicals are added and the syrup is certified organic.

What else? How about agave syrups contain at least 70% fructose. In the form in which the syrups are sold, they contain anywhere from around 50% to close to 70% fructose, although I saw one with about 74%. Dr. Mercola claims that they can contain up to 97%. Here's the problem. If a syrup was 97% fructose, it would be less than 3% water. At that amount, how would it pour? What the high figures refer to are dry weights, with all the water removed. By that method of analysis, a syrup containing 97% fructose by dry weight would contain around 74% by wet wet, which is the form you find at the store. In the most extensive survey to date, the wet weight contents of fructose in agave syrups, and there were 19 of them, was around 54% to 70% and the average content was about 64%. Others not included in the survey do contain around 50% fructose by wet weight, as shown by the certificates of analysis from independent labs. If you want more glucose, then HFCS or regular sugar would be your best bet. The most glucose in syrups surveyed was about 11.4% and the least 3.6%. From regular sugar, you get 50% glucose and from HFCS it's 41% or 53%.

Anonymous

08/07/2013 - 8:42am

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