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Is Agave Syrup a Better Sweetener Alternative?

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A reader of Scientific American Consumer Health's Health After 50 newsletter asks: "Is agave syrup safe to use as a sugar substitute?" Mindy Haar, PHD, RD, CDN, Director, Program Development, Clinical Nutrition & Health Sciences, New York Institute of Technology, Westbury, NY, answers.

Agave (pronounced ah-GAH-vay) syrup was the darling of the food world a few years ago, when several high-profile health gurus trumpeted it as a more healthful alternative to sugar and honey because it supposedly doesn’t cause the same kinds of spikes in blood sugar. This made it seem especially good for people with diabetes; however, no studies seem to support this claim.

Agave is simply a form of processed sugar. Derived from the same Mexican plant as tequila, agave syrup has more calories than table sugar (20 versus 16 per tablespoon), but it’s sweeter than sugar so you can use less. But, unlike sugar, agave has a high concentration of fructose—even more than that in high fructose corn syrup. Some studies suggest that large amounts of fructose can promote insulin resistance (and increase diabetes risk), boost triglycerides and have adverse effects on cholesterol levels and possibly the liver. This has led experts to reverse their position on the once-trendy agave syrup.

Agave syrup isn’t even as “natural” as marketers want you to think. The plant’s juice typically undergoes processing similar to that used to make high-fructose corn syrup from cornstarch; some agave products may also be diluted with corn syrup. If you’ve been relying on agave syrup to sweeten your meals and snacks, consider small amounts of honey, maple syrup or noncaloric stevia instead. 


Posted in Diabetes on March 27, 2016

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Health After 50 Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the editors cannot be answered in this space.

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I think your article points to a bigger problem that we, as consumers, are faced with - unsubstantiated reports! I am growing very weary of claims and then counter claims on the health benefits of some foods, exercises, practices - you name it. If your trying to kick a caffeine habit, for example, just wait a few more months and caffeine will be reported as the new super food.

I don't mean to shoot the messenger here. In fact, I am more likely to believe what I read here than from other sources of so-called health reporting. But I have to admit, I really don't know what (or who) to believe anymore. I just purchased three different types of organic blue agave to use as a sweetener in my tea. Guess what? I'm planning to use it!

I'm still waiting for the report that claims fried foods are actually good for you!

Posted by: rcfrauton | April 4, 2016 7:51 AM

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