I have always thought agave was supposed to be "healthier" than sugar and have been using it, but I have seen things that contradict this recently and don't know whom to believe. Can you do a comparison of sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, and brown rice syrup?

Agave nectar was long thought to be a “better” type of sweetener. It gained a lot of popularity as being healthier for you because of its level of sweetness. It is much sweeter than the other sweeteners you mentioned and so one can theoretically use less of it to get the same taste. Unfortunately, like many other products, it kind of got a “health halo”. This means that when one considers a product to be healthy, one typically uses as much as she wants of the product thinking she is doing her body a favor. When, in actuality, using too much of this product can lead to excess calorie consumption and may cause rapid spikes in blood sugar.

Agave nectar is harvested from the agave plant. Agave is like the other sugars because they all are made up of either: glucose, fructose, or sucrose. They all are considered simple carbohydrates and they give us caloric energy. Since agave is so much sweeter than similar products, some researchers feel that one will use less of it, which can help stabilize blood sugar levels. In this respect, agave may be good for someone with diabetes because it may help them keep their glucose levels from going too high or low. Some experts feel that agave is superior to other sweeteners because it is all natural (unlike the refined and processed white sugar and brown rice syrup) and a few consumers like it because it is much less expensive to produce agave than the pricier maple syrup.

One of the possible downfalls of agave is that, unlike table sugar which is all sucrose, agave is mainly fructose. Studies suggest that blood fructose may have a negative impact on health. Although controversial, some studies link fructose to higher incidence of obesity, increased blood triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and lower “good” (HDL) cholesterol. My advice would be to use agave in small amounts, but try not to go overboard and certainly don’t think that it is considered a “healthy” dietary component. With agave (and all sugars), moderation and balance is the key.

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