Monica Reinagel, board-certified Nutritionist, "Agave nectar: A healthier option?"
Agave is definitely the "sweetener of the moment". It's one of the Top 10 Flavors of 2009 and the number of agave products has tripled in recent years. Lately, it's looking like the perfect sweetener.
It's supposed to be better for you than sugar & certainly better than all those nasty artificial sweeteners.
It's supposed to be "good" for diabetics.
It's supposed to be a low-glycemic food that won't spike your blood sugar.
And I admit it! I fell for all the hype. I knew it certainly wasn't low-cal--all you have to do is look at the label.
But I liked the story: It's a low glycemic organic sweetener that comes from cacti and it won't cause spikes in your blood sugar. Sounded good to me. I bought a bottle at Trader Joe's & started using it in place of sugar, Splenda, or saccharine. Truth be told--since January I've ditched most sweeteners, so my agave bottle hasn't gotten much use lately.
So What's The Real Story About Agave?
- Forgot about the "cactus story"! The agave plant is related to lillies & amarylisses.
- Forget the low-cal story! A calorie is a calorie & agave syrup is 20 calories per teaspoonful, which is similar to honey or maple syrup. Sugar is 16 calories per teaspoonful. It is much sweeter than sugar, so you'll probably use less of it.
- Forget the "no blood sugar spike story"! Theoretically, agave "may not" cause a spike in blood sugar, but that all depends upon how it is processed--and how much of ends up as fructose. It may contain up to 90% fructose, or as little as 55% fructose. Fructose doesn't cause blood sugar to spike because it is not absorbed into the bloodstream but processed in the liver.
- Roger Clemens says the "diabetic advantage" is pure supposition. To date, the scientific literature has only a few studies about agave--most of them were done on rats--and there are no clinical studies on its safety for diabetics.
- Too much fructose isn't great for us anyway. It may raise triglycerides and high amounts aren't terrific for the liver.
What About Taste? Does Agave Beat Out The Others?
- Some say it has a delicate taste--a subtle sweetness. But it's all a matter of personal taste. I prefer maple syrup over the agave taste--but I'm not a big fan of honey, either. So don't go by me.
- It's REALLY REALLY SWEET! Like up to 3 times as sweet as sugar--so you definitely want to use less. Which in the end would give you a lower calorie load.
- It works well to sweeten tea and some cold drinks--but forget about using it for coffee. I have used it sometimes to sweeten Green Smoothies--but not lately. Since I've ditched the sugar, I prefer a less-sweet taste. And I can't imagine using agave for chocolate brownies or chocolate cake. It would be like baking with honey. I don't think so!
To Learn More:
Agave syrup's benefits are in debate: Is it too sweet? Los Angeles Times March 30, 2009
Agave nectar: A healthier option? April 17, 2009