What is Agave ?
Agaves are succulents with a large rosette of thick, fleshy leaves, with most species ending in a sharp terminal spine, native to the hot and arid regions of Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Some agave species are also native to tropical areas of South America. The most well known is Agave tequilana, because it’s used in the production of tequila. Most agave sweeteners come from the blue agave plant. Agave nectar, also called agave syrup, a sweetener derived from Agave sap, is used as an alternative to sugar in cooking, and can be added to breakfast cereals as a binding agent. Agave nectar is a highly processed type of sugar from the Agave tequiliana (tequila) plant.
Agave syrup is about 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose) and it has about 60 calories per tablespoon or 60 calories per 12 grams, compared to 40 calories for the same amount of table sugar. So to save on calories, you’d need to use less, which should be possible, since agave is sweeter.
Just like sugar (sucrose), agave offers no miraculous health benefits, it simply adds sweetness.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting sweeteners to no more than 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men per day, on average. That includes all sources, whether it’s agave, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or anything else.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 10% of your calories per day. Some ways to reduce your intake of added sugars include:
- Drink water instead of regular soda, “vitamin-type” water, sports drinks, coffee drinks, and energy drinks.
- Eat less candy and sweet desserts such as ice cream, cookies, and cakes.
Sweetening with agave nectar is simple if you’re swirling it into coffee. Things get more complicated when you start baking with the syrup. To adjust a recipe, replace each cup of sugar with two-thirds to three-quarters cup of agave nectar, then reduce all other liquids in the recipe by a quarter. Lower your oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent burning, and shorten the cooking time on cookies by 3 to 5 minutes and cakes by 7 to 10 minutes 2).
Sweetener Comparisons, per 1/4 cup
Cal. 260, Carb. 70 g
Cal. 240, Carb. 64 g
Cal. 195, Carb. 50 g
|Sweet Savings: Sugar blends have about the same calories and carbohydrate by volume as sugar, but you use only half the amount in recipes. Honey and agave nectar have more calories by volume than sugar, but you’ll probably need to use less of these sweeteners, too, yielding some calorie savings.|
|*Average of aspartame (Equal Classic Spoonful), saccharin (Sugar Twin Granulated White), stevia (Stevia in the Raw), and sucralose (Splenda Granulated)|
Agave and Diabetes 4)
Have you heard that agave is a better sweetener for people with diabetes ? In theory, it’s high in fructose and low on the glycemic index, making it a better option than refined sugar. But there’s not a lot of research to back that up, and one of the studies was done in lab animals, not people.
Agave nectar is not healthier than honey, sugar, high fructose corn syrup or any other type of sweetener.
The American Diabetes Association lists agave as a sweetener to limit, along with regular table sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, and all other sugars 5).
The American Diabetes Association nutrition guidelines state that you do not need to avoid all sugar and foods with sugar if you have diabetes. You can eat limited amounts of these foods in place of other carbohydrates.
If you have diabetes:
- Sugars affect blood glucose control the same as other carbohydrates when eaten at meals or snacks. It is still a good idea to limit foods and drinks with sugar, and to check your blood sugar levels carefully.
- Foods that contain sugar alcohols may have fewer calories, but be sure to read the labels for the carbohydrate content of these foods. Also, check your blood sugar levels.
References [ + ]
|1, 4.||↵||Evert AB, Boucher JL, Cypress M, Dunbar SA, et al. Nutrition therapy recommendations for the management of adults with diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2013 Nov;36(11):3821-42. PMID: 24107659 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24107659.|
|2.||↵||American Diabetes Association. Size Up Your Sweetener Options July 2009. http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2009/jul/size-up-your-sweetener-options.html|
|3.||↵||American Diabetes Association. Baking With Sugar Substitutes: Tips and Recipes. October 2012. http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2012/oct/baking-with-sugar-substitutes-tips-and-recipes.html|
|5.||↵||Gardner C, Wylie-Rosett J, Gidding SS, Steffen LM, et al. Nonnutritive sweeteners: current use and health perspectives: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2012 Aug;35(8):1798-808. PMID: 22778165 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22778165.|