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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 8, 2010

Agave not proven healthier than sugar

By Amy Tousman

Q. Is agave nectar healthier than sugar?

A. Agave nectar seems to be everywhere lately. You can find it in health food stores, Foodland and even Costco. Agave nectar or syrup is a natural sweetener that many people believe is healthier than regular sugar. This is open to debate.

Many people mistakenly believe agave is lower in calories and carbohydrates than sugar. The fact is that it has 16 calories per teaspoon, just like table sugar. It also has the same amount of carbohydrates as table sugar. Even so, it is sweeter than sugar, so less is needed to sweeten your food.

Another myth about agave is that is natural and unprocessed. It is natural, but so is table sugar. Agave nectar is made from the sap of agave plants. To make the nectar, juice is collected from the plant, then filtered and heated to break down the carbohydrates into sugar. To retain its sweetness, it is processed into fructose units. It is less processed than high fructose corn syrup, but more processed than honey.

Agave nectar has been widely promoted for its low glycemic index. GI is a ranking of how fast carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI are thought to raise blood sugar levels more quickly than foods with a low GI ranking. Agave nectar does indeed have a lower GI than sugar or honey. In theory this sounds great, but in reality, many things influence blood sugar levels besides a food's GI.

Agave may offer some additional benefits to people with diabetes. There is some preliminary research showing that agave may stimulate certain intestinal hormones that increase the amount of insulin released by the pancreas in response to food. This could potentially lower blood sugar in some diabetics.

Light agave nectar has a mild flavor and can be used for sweetening beverages and baked goods. Dark agave nectar has a stronger flavor and works well as a replacement for syrup on pancakes or waffles.

When substituting agave for sugar in baked goods, replace each cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of agave. Also decrease the liquids in your recipe by about a quarter.

Agave is considered to be an added sugar. It may have a less dramatic effect on blood sugar than table sugar, but still should be used in moderation.