Agave Nectar: Benefits, risks, and alternatives

Agave Nectar
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Some supporters of organic food propose that people with diabetes could swap table sugar and other traditional sweeteners for agave syrup. Nonetheless, agave syrup is a high-fructose sweetener that provides more calories than table sugar.

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Table sugar contains sucrose, which is detrimental to those who have conditions like diabetes. Fructose is a different sugar that has been linked to liver damage, which might have adverse effects on blood glucose control. Regulating blood sugar levels is important for managing diabetes.

People living with diabetes should forgo sugars totally if possible. Although agave syrup is natural and good for vegan, it is not a good alternative sweetener for people with diabetes.

Agave and diabetes

Agave refers to a group of plants that thrive in warm climates, like the southwestern United States and Mexico.

Some people utilize blue agave as a sweetener, and it is high in carbohydrates. The agave nectar can also be extracted from the agave plant, and this nectar contains large amounts of a sugar called fructose.

Some members of the alternative health community have turned to agave as a possible alternative sweetener. Support for agave is from its role as a vegan-friendly sweetener because it has a low glycemic index (GI), which is between 10 and 19 depending on the product.

The more the GI of a food item, the faster it spikes blood sugar level after consumption. Agave has a smaller GI than most other sweeteners, which means that it is less inclined to increase blood sugar levels.

GI, nonetheless, is not the only way to determine the impact of a particular food for people with diabetes and other health concerns.

A study conducted in 2015 used four groups of participants who were following four different diets to follow: The researchers divided the participants following high-carb and low-carb diets into an additional group eating only carbs with a high GI ranking and another eating only low-GI carbs.

Those eating high-GI foods saw a reduction in insulin sensitivity and an increase in LDL cholesterol in the group that ate more carbohydrates when compared to the low-GI group.

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In the low-carb participants, however, the GI order of the foods did not make a difference to insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, or any of the risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, although they report a reduction of triglycerides by a small amount.

Triglycerides are fats that reserve excess calories. They can be dangerous when combined with high cholesterol levels.

For people already observing a diabetes-friendly diet plan, the study found that low-GI foods yielded no improvements in cardiovascular risk factors in the blood. The findings recommend that cutting down on one’s overall carb consumption supports a healthy diabetes diet.

Agave has a high amount of fructose than table sugar and other sweeteners. The body secretes less insulin in response to fructose which means that blood sugar may remain higher after eating agave than other sugars.

A 2014 study on mice indicates that agave syrup can be a healthy alternative to tablsugar. Mice who ate agave nectar had lower blood sugar levels in comparison with mice that consumed table sugar. They also added less weight.

Nonetheless, not all data collected from research on mice can apply to humans. The study only compared agave to table sugar, which is unhealthy for people with diabetes. Agave may be slightly better than table sugar for people who have the condition, but it is not also a healthful substitute for the diet.

Also, agave is still a type of sugar. As with high-fructose corn syrup, table sugar, and other sweeteners, people with diabetes should avoid it.

People who are following a healthy diet to regulate blood sugar levels should lower their sugar intake instead of switching from one type of sugar to another.

A high-calorie alternative sweetener to table sugar for people with diabetes and other health concerns would want to use agave syrup instead of table sugar, and there is another reason to avoid substituting with it.

Agave has a high caloric level that is more than table sugar. It contains 21 calories per teaspoon, in relation to table sugar’s 16 calories per teaspoon.

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Supporters of agave emphasize its enhanced sweetness when described in relation to table sugar, thereby allowing people to use smaller portions to achieve the same flavor. However, this likely benefit is small when assessing agave syrup’s adverse health impact.

Other risks

Some people assume that agave syrup is better than table sugar, but it has more calories and fructose. Agave has more health risks to people with diabetes apart from its high fructose content.

Some studies have looked at high-fructose sweeteners. Fructose usually elicits worse consequences than another type of sugar like sucrose, which is common in table sugar.

The liver breaks down glucose, so consuming in excess amounts can lead to liver damage. People with diabetes already suffer a heightened risk of liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), making agave too risky for those with the condition.

In a study carried out in 2017 on mice discovered fructose could cause liver damage, including fatty liver disease and liver cell death. This study also discovered a relation between fructose consumption and inflammation, which is behind a number of illnesses.

Another study in 2017 also linked eating fructose to fatty liver disease. The study explained that the occurrence of fatty liver disease with no connections to alcohol consumption has progressed over the past decade.

According to a 2013 review of animal studies, high levels of fructose consumption might influence metabolic problems. This means that fructose may contribute to weight gain, unhealthy levels of fat around the waist, and oxidation stress.

A study conducted in 2015 cautions that fructose might facilitate the development of high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and other cardiovascular risk factors.

However, the study cautions that this applies when people base 20 percent or more of caloric intake on foods that contain fructose.

This suggests that fructose-based sweeteners may be acceptable in moderation but also that people with diabetes should generally avoid them.

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Alternative sweeteners for diabetes

Honey is a feasible alternative to agave syrup. Persons with diabetes should not use all added sweeteners, as well as sugar-rich, processed foods.

Lifestyle and dietary changes can be effective methods for managing diabetes. Even though abstaining or considerably reducing sugar intake might need discipline, it offers many health benefits, especially for those trying to control the blood sugar levels.

Those who want to eat a sweet treat should select their sweeteners carefully. Since artificial sweeteners contain zero or small amounts of calories, doctors once believed that they might be a safe alternative to traditional sugar, but recent research goes against this recommendation.

A study in 2015 discovered that artificial sweeteners interfere with the bacterias that live in the gut, which can accelerate insulin resistance.

Although honey and maple syrup may be safer natural alternatives for people with diabetes, both still increase blood sugar when absorbed into the body.

Whole fruits like watermelon, apples, oranges, berries etc are better choices for adding sweetness and flavor to foods, as they furnish the body with sugars alongside fiber, antioxidants, water and other nutrients that can benefit health. Incorporating magnesium into one’s diet can be helpful in managing type II diabetes.

Try adding dried berries or fresh into oatmeal, with unsweetened applesauce to plain Greek yogurt, or incorporating frozen bananas with cocoa powder to replace ice cream.

References & Citation;

Agave Nectar
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Jennifer Aigbini
I am a language enthusiast, studying Linguistics at the University of Benin, in Nigeria.
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