Agave or sugar?
What is Agave? The agave family originates primarily from Mexico, it also native to the southern USA, Caribbean, Central America, Columbia and Venezuela. The name comes from the Greek word agavos, which means noble. The plant consists of fleshy leaves with large spikes coming off the edges. Although the plant looks like a cactus, it is actually related to the aloe family.
Up until now, agave plants were mostly used as a popular addition to gardens within Australia and Native Americans have long used agave for twine, rope, medicine, food and beverages. Are you familiar with the alcoholic beverage tequila? In Mexico, tequila is actually made from the sap of the agave tequilana plant! Recently, however, agave syrup has made an appearance on the shelves of health food stores and in trendy cafes. It is used as a sweetener and often a replacement for sugar. The taste is comparable to honey, however less viscous than honey, with hints of caramel. This makes it a delicious addition to dishes such as oats or granola. The syrup is extracted from the blue agave plant due to its higher carbohydrate content and therefore sweeter taste. The question is – is it better for you than sugar and other syrups?
63 calories per tablespoon (20ml).
61 calories per tablespoon (16ml)
85 calories per tablespoon (25ml)
72 calories per tablespoon (20ml)
16g per tablespoon.
So what is the difference?
The main difference is that agave is much higher in fructose than other syrups and sugars. Refined sugar is made up of roughly 50% glucose and 50% fructose where as agave is 75% fructose and the remainder glucose . Thereby giving it a much lower GI, which helps to keep blood sugar levels stable. As seen above, agave also has slightly fewer calories and carbohydrates than other sugars and syrups. Agave has very minimal amounts of any minerals or antioxidants . However, it can be a great substitute for vegans who cannot consume honey.
Due to the fructose content, agave may be a problem for individuals with IBS or those following a diet low in fructose containing foods. Some people may also have trouble with the absorption of fructose and for these individuals bloating, gas and discomfort may result.
The verdict about agave nectar – good or bad?
The benefits of agave opposed to other sugars and sweeteners are not profound. Whilst the caloric value and GI are lower than other sugars and syrups, if you are only using a small amount i.e. 1 tablespoon, there will be no significant difference to your dietary intake or health if you make the swap from sugar to agave.
Combining higher GI alternatives (honey, sugar) with lower GI foods will lower the glycaemic load of any one meal without having to substitute in agave. Additionally, agave has fewer other important nutrients that honey and maple syrup contain, such as antioxidants.
With all the information that is currently available it is important to recognise there is no outstanding health benefits offered by any syrup or sugar and preference is better given to the better tasting or cheaper options. As with any sugar and sweetener, it is most important to remember that moderation is key!
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist. If you have diet related questions or if you want healthy eating advice, contact your local doctor who will arrange for you to see a dietitian and nutritionist. We‘ll provide you with a straightforward, efficient and very effective treatment plan targeted to your concerns.
- Saxelby C. Agave – Is It Better Than Sugar?. Food Watch. 9 Dec 2013.