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Agave syrup is one of the best sugar substitutes available, and it's a great option for vegans who want to choose a more natural sugar. A natural sweetener, agave nectar has a lower glycemic index than regular white sugar, so it will not cause your blood sugar levels to rise and fall dramatically.
Cutting refined sugars from your diet?
A great option is agave nectar. It has the same consistency as light corn syrup, dissolves well, and has a very low glycemic index, so it's healthier than refined sugar. Although it has the same number of calories as regular sugar, it tastes much sweeter, so you can use about 25% less and still have the same sweetness.
Does this sound like one of the Corn Refiner's Association commercials for high-fructose corn syrup yet? Well, this is different. Agave nectar is legitimately natural.
Agave nectar is made by extracting the juice from inside the agave plant, a plant that has been used as a food source for thousands of years in Mexico. Your favorite bottle of expensive tequila comes from the same plant.
After the juice is taken from the agave plant, it is processed into nectar, filtered, and heated to break down the carbohydrates into sugars. The end result is a complex sugar that is nearly 90% fructose. The color varies in shade from clear to brown, depending on the length of the heating and the type of agave plant used.
When looking for a natural, unrefined sugar, an important indicator is the Glycemic Index (GI) rating. The GI rating shows how quickly blood sugar will rise in your body after eating that food. The higher the GI, the faster it is absorbed into your blood stream, and the more of a spike and subsequent drop in blood sugar the body will have. Those drops in blood sugar are what cause us to feel light-headed and shaky after eating.
So, you want a sugar that has a low glycemic rating.
According to Western Commerce Corp., a producer of agave syrup, the glycemic index on standard agave nectar is 11, which is very low. For comparison: high fructose corn syrup has an index of 62 and maltodextrin has a 105 (according to UCLA Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center's study in 2002.) That means the body absorbs agave nectar very slowly, causing very few peaks and valleys in the body's blood sugar levels.
You can find agave nectar in almost every grocery store nowadays, and especially in health food stores. Most brands are vegan, gluten-free, and kosher, so they should fit with any dietary restrictions. There are several different species of agave, and each one gives the nectar a slightly different flavor, so you might want to try a few brands before settling on a favorite. There are also a few grades of agave syrup; the darker the color of the nectar, the more intense the flavor.