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Dispelling the agave nectar myth

By Tanya Davis | Published Thursday, April 21, 2011

Over the past few months, I have had several inquiries concerning agave nectar and whether or not it is a safe alternative to table sugar for persons with diabetes. According to information from the American Diabetes Association and AgriLife Extension Health Specialists, facts about agave nectar are as follows.

Agave nectar is a natural nutritive sweetener, meaning it is not calorie-free like some other non-nutritive sweeteners. Each tablespoon of agave nectar contains approximately 16 grams of carbohydrates and 64 calories.

Many persons with diabetes control their blood glucose by counting carbohydrates using meal exchanges. One “exchange” or “carbohydrate choice” is equal to 15 grams of carbohydrates. Therefore, one tablespoon (or three teaspoons) of agave nectar is equal to one carbohydrate choice.

The glycemic index (a measure of the effect that foods have on blood sugar levels) of agave nectar is lower than other nutritive sweeteners. Therefore, agave nectar will not raise blood sugar levels as rapidly as table sugar. However, it will still raise blood sugar levels.

It should be used in moderation.

The primary sweetening agent in agave nectar is fructose, which has the same number of calories as table sugar, but tastes sweeter. Because fructose tastes sweeter than table sugar, less agave nectar can be used to make food just as sweet as it does with table sugar.

Recipes that call for table sugar can be modified by using agave nectar, but a smaller amount would need to be used. Also, the liquid in the recipe would need to be reduced because agave nectar is a liquid.

The consensus among health professionals is that agave nectar should be treated like a sugar for persons with diabetes. If agave nectar is chosen as a sweetener by persons with diabetes, it should count as a carbohydrate choice in a meal: one tablespoon = 15 grams of carbohydrates = one carbohydrate choice.

Although the American Botanical Council recommends that pregnant women not use agave nectar, it is considered safe for use in moderation by the general public. And for those who may not have noticed, it is available in our local grocery stores.

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