For the last 40 years, sugar has gotten a really bad rap. I can remember when I was six years old, my father reading this book called “The Sugar Blues.” All I remember is he said I couldn’t drink Nestle’s Quick chocolate milk, eat Fruity Pebbles, or have candy anymore. I was beyond devastated! How could a six-year old in 1978 be denied SUGAR? Pixie sticks and freeze pops were the highlight of my summer days!Well father knows best and he didn’t stop there. I could only eat non-sugared cereals which meant either Chex or Rice Krispies. I also could not put sugar on the cereal to sweeten it, only honey. Let me tell you that is an acquired taste. The honey never quite melted and often stuck to the cereal. Sigh. Instead of the chocolate milk, my dad came up with the “honey milk” creation. That was the way it was until I was 18. I didn’t eat white sugar or sugared cereals again until I went away to college.
Some of you may think my father went to the extreme and I did too, at the time. However, now that I am in the health field I believe he was on to something by being strict about what I was eating . I was rarely sick as a child. I was always energized, never lethargic. And I had really good skin as a teenager. (SUGAR=ACNE). Within the last few years many studies have surfaced about white sugar and the negative impact it has on the body. So I have begun to resort back to my old eating habits I had as a child and try to limit my white sugar intake. Of course my father, still a proponent of no “white sugar,” turned me on to agave.
I began using it in hot tea, on toast, in oatmeal and in baked goods. This new (but old) sugar substitute has become very popular but I wonder is it actually better than sugar or is it just as bad? I decided to do some research and look at the pros and cons of agave, as well as if it is truly healthier than sugar.
What is agave?
Agave nectar is a real sugar, as opposed to an artificial or non-nutritive sweetener. It has properties similar to many sugars with one important exception: its glycemic index is significantly lower. This makes it a healthier alternative to many processed AND natural sweeteners. Because agave is 1.5 times sweeter than sugar; you will not need as much.
Agave or Sugar?
Looking at the chart below, you can see that they measure up about the same to each other nutritionally. But what you are not able to see, is how they affect your body. Agave gets high marks for being low on the glycemic index (GI) rating, which means it won’t cause a spike in your blood sugar levels the way sugar does. High-GI foods like white sugar tend to make us feel hungry sooner since they are digested quickly. Therefore foods made with agave nectar may keep you feeling fuller longer than foods made with white sugar which translates to eating less.
|One tbsp sugar||One tbsp. agave nectar|
It is really important to read the labels and buy raw agave nectar when possible. A lot of brands of agave nectar are highly refined, containing almost 100 percent fructose, which is a higher percentage than that found in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Fructose is a sweetener known to raise triglycerides, promote belly fat, and contribute to fatty liver, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Some distributors of agave nectar have been labeling HFCS as agave nectar, so the FDA recommends looking for labels that say “hydrolyzed insulin syrup,” which they say means it is real agave. Sugar, on the other hand, is low in fructose, and high in glucose. It is easily absorbed into the bloodstream, which gives you a rush of energy. As this energy begins to wear off you find yourself craving more, but fructose will help to balance your energy levels, as well as your appetite.
Cons of Agave
If you are pregnant you should use agave with caution, as some species of agave contain anordin and dinordin steroids, which can lead to a miscarriage.
Even though agave does not spike blood sugar levels, it does make its way into the bloodstream as triglycerides. These can cause the arteries to harden, and eventually may cause heart attacks and strokes. So if you have any kind of heart problems you may want to stick with sugar.
While FDA says that hydrolyzed insulin syrup means real sugar, it has been said that its true name is “hydrolyzed high fructose insulin syrup.” And we all are familiar with the ongoing studies around the negative impact high fructose has on our bodies.
Just like sugar, agave nectar is an addictive sweetener, and you should always use it sparingly and in moderation.
I am not sure if this is what I wanted to hear about agave, but definitely information I needed to know. Some say organic raw brown sugar or organic white sugar is still a better option than agave syrup, or artificial sweeteners. What do you think?