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Question: Is it healthier to use agave syrup instead of sugar?

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Well-known for its use in making tequila, the unprocessed juice from the agave plant has also been used in Mexico as an ingredient in food. The more processed agave nectar (or syrup) has just recently gained fascination in the United States for some of its widely promoted beneficial properties.

In taste, agave syrup is comparable to honey, and like honey, it ranges in color and flavor from light to dark, but the liquid is thinner. Marketed as a healthy alternative to other sweeteners, it is commonly used to replace liquid sugars in cooking and to sweeten beverages.

So is agave syrup really healthier? A fructose sweetener, it has about the same amount of calories per teaspoon as white sugar. It is sweeter than table sugar and honey, so you can save some calories by using less. Because of its high fructose content, it is touted as a sweetener with a low glycemic index. But be aware that this may not be true across all agave products. Agave’s fructose content varies, depending on the source of the nectar and how highly processed the syrup is. Also, since agave syrup is primarily fructose, consume too much and you run the risk of increasing blood triglycerides.

Bottom line? Sugar is sugar is sugar. Agave syrup still contains calories, so as with any caloric sweetener, use it moderately and exqamine product labels to know what you are getting.

You can pose your own question to our contributing editor Jennie McCary, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and wellness manager for Albuquerque Public School District. She focuses on childhood obesity prevention and employee wellness. McCary is New Mexico’s 2009 Outstanding Dietitian of the Year. Please send your questions, along with your name and city/state/country, to editor Sandy Webster at [email protected]

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