Is Agave Nectar Healthier Than Sugar?
What Is Agave?
Agave syrup, produced from sap of a plant that's been used medicinally in Mexico for generations and fermented to make tequila, has found its way into the health and wellness world. Touted as an all-natural, diabetic-friendly sweetener, agave nectar has found its way into a variety of "healthy" products such as granola and energy bars. In addition to prepackaged foods sweetened with agave, you can even buy agave nectar by the bottle just as you would honey. And since agave is so widely available, it's time to dive in to how you can use it and if it's good for you.
What Is Agave Used For?
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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. But unlike honey, it's vegan, so it's a great alternative for vegan baking. You'll also find it commonly used to sweeten marinades and drinks.
When using agave, try using use one-third less agave nectar than you would white sugar and reduce other liquids by one-fourth. But, depending on your palate, don't be afraid to mess with the ratio to get your preferred level of sweetness down pat!
Is Agave Good for You?
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.
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But although all-natural agave sweetener may be healthier for you than regular sugar, most of the agave you can buy in stores is highly processed. Therefore, it's not atypical that a bottle of agave has more high fructose corn syrup in it than any other commercial sweetener—including high fructose corn syrup itself.
And even if you find a minimally processed variety, it still counts as an added sugar. So if you don find yourself swapping out other sugars for agave, be mindful that consuming too much added sugar can result in adverse health effects, including obesity and diabetes. Everything in moderation!
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.