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Mexican Cactus Provides a Healthy, Low-Glycemic Sweetener
Since the 1990s, the natural sweetener agave has made a huge impact on the North American health food market. Called “aguamiel” or “honey water” in Mexico, agave nectar is touted as a low-glycemic natural sweet that is safe for diabetics, raw foodists, and anyone seeking a more natural lifestyle.
What is Agave?
Agave is a flowering cactus native to Mexico and parts of the Southern United States. There are several species of agave; the most commonly known is blue agave or Agave tequilana, the species used to make tequila.
Wild agave is common in the high altitudes of Jalisco, Mexico, but the plant is widely cultivated as a decorative cactus as well as for food use.
Agave nectar or syrup is an increasingly common ingredient in health food store snack bars, cakes, cereal, beverages, and even sauces.
The syrup is produced from the sap of the agave plant. In its naturally occurring form, the sap is high in inulin, a long-chain carbohydrate that is only slightly sweet. The sap must be boiled to remove water (similar to the processing of maple syrup) and then either heated or catalyzed with an enzyme to break the long-chain sugars down to fructose – the sweet taste expected of agave syrup.
Agave is Low-Glycemic
Because the naturally occurring sugars in agave are stored as inulin, not starch, these sugars break down to mainly fructose and relatively little glucose. As a result, the agave syrup is low-glycemic: it has less impact on blood sugar than white sugar or most other sweeteners.
Sources cite agave as being anywhere from 92% fructose and 8% glucose to 56% fructose and 20% glucose.
Pros and Cons of Agave Nectar as Sweetener
Agave nectar is considered a healthy natural sweetener because:
- It is low-glycemic, having little impact on blood sugar, and is therefore ideal for diabetics and those on a limited carbohydrate diet
- Agave is natural, and has no chemical additives
- It has a mild, honey-like flavor with no aftertaste
- Agave is completely vegan (unlike honey)
- It is possible to use much less agave than sugar to make food just as sweet
- Raw agave nectar is available from many brands and can be used in raw recipes and by raw foodists
- Agave syrup naturally contains calcium, magnesium, potassium and/or iron
Agave should be carefully selected and used in moderation because:
- It is still a sweetener and can be just as addictive as sugar and other normal sweets
- In large quantities, fructose can be harmful to the liver
- Some agave brands have historically used corn syrup to cut costs, so look into contents carefully
- Raw varieties may be labeled inaccurately: Agave is always processed to break it down (or “hydrolyze” it) to its component sugars, so know that either heat or an enzyme catalyst has been applied
Agave is a mild-tasting natural sweetener that has made inroads into health foods in the past decade and a half. Used in moderation, it is considered one of the healthiest natural sugars available today.
Adams, Mike, “Agave Nectar: A Rebuttal to Misinformed Attacks on the Natural Sweetener.” NaturalNews.com.
Nagel, Rami, “Agave Nectar, the High Fructose Health Food Fraud.” NaturalNews.com.