Why Use Agave Instead of Sugar?

Known in Mexico as “aguamiel” or honey water, agave nectar is a natural sweetener made from the blue agave plant.  Most people who managed to survive their early-20’s would probably agree that agave is almost synonymous with tequila, as tequila, too, is made from the same plant.  So, when I first started seeing agave nectar on the shelves of Trader Joe’s, all I could think was “Sweetener made with tequila?  Weird.”  I tried to switch to stevia, but didn’t like the taste.  Assuming agave would be the same, I continued to pass agave nectar over despite it being the newest thing in health foods.  Then a few months ago, I was in New Frontiers, waiting for a shot of freshly juiced wheatgrass, and decided to grab a cup of coffee, too.  My sweetener choices:  raw sugar and agave nectar.  Just for fun, I figured I’d see what this agave business was all about. 

And … it was good!

It was so good, in fact, that I decided to go on a quest to find out what’s so great about agave (besides the taste, of course), and why it should replace sugar.  And here’s what I found:

Agave nectar is made from the “pina” (root) sap of the agave plant.  It is then filtered, and heated at a very low temperature  in order to break the carbohydrates down into sugars (much like our own body does).  Since agave nectar is not heated over 118°, most health food enthusiasts would qualify it as a raw food.  And because it is not processed and does not contain additional preservatives or fillers, it is considered a clean food, as well.

Agave nectar has approximately 15g of sugars per tablespoon. Naturalist physician Dr. Andrew Weil states on his website that even though table sugar, fructose and honey all have around the same amount of sugars per tablespoon, what separates agave nectar from the rest is the glycemic load. Some people might not give the glycemic index much thought, but if for any reason, managing your blood sugar level is important to you (diabetics, athletes, etc), it is important as it’s a way of rating how quickly a food is digested and turns into sugar in the body when consumed. Foods with high glycemic loads turn into sugar quickly and spike blood sugar levels. Foods with low glycemic loads raise blood sugar levels much slower, which is safer for diabetics.  The beauty of agave nectar is it is lower on the glycemic index than all other sweeteners – so not only is it a raw, clean and whole food, it is a great alternative to sugar!  Now I know why the Aztecs prized agave nectar as a gift from the gods – in terms of maintaining good health, it just might be!