Sugar & Sweeteners

By patch12 Latest Reply 2011-05-30 08:33:39 -0500
Started 2011-03-22 09:11:07 -0500

With most foods and drinks, the sweeter it is, the higher in carbs. That's why it's important to understand the ins and outs of naturally occurring sugars, added sugars, and artifcial sweeteners. Naturally occurring sugars exist in fruits and vegetables, and all dairy products. (You've heard of lactose? It's a sugar!) Added sugars include table sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, molasses, etc. And last, there are artificial sweeteners, which are either low in calories and carbs or calorie- and carb-free. These include aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose — the colored packets you see on the counters of coffee shops. If you know a little bit about all the different ways foods and drinks are sweetened, you will have a head start on making smart decisions about what fits into your healthy eating plan and what doesn't.

Agave is a healthy sweetener.
More false than true. The major health benefit is that you may use less agave than sugar to get the same sweetness. But that's about where the health-buck stops. People who've heard all the bad press about high-fructose corn syrup — and avoid it like the plague — need to realize that agave nectar is a high-fructose syrup (at least 75% fructose). Many health experts believe high-fructose foods are not good for you. "Perhaps most worrisome is that excessive fructose may increase the risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes," says Richard Johnson, MD, author of The Sugar Fix: The High-Fructose Fallout That is Making You Fat and Sick (2008). It also triggers a combination of unhealthy effects that can eventually lead to a host of troubles, including heart disease and stroke, according to Johnson and others.

Bottom line: If you've got a serious sweet tooth, a little agave syrup now and then may help you control calories and blood sugar spikes. But that's as far as it goes — and the trade-offs aren't great. Sorry about that.

Agave is all natural.
True, sort of. But "all natural" doesn't mean "not processed." Agave comes from the desert-dwelling succulent Agave tequilana, which is also the source of tequila. However, turning the plant's juicy sap into a syrupy nectar you can drizzle on yogurt or stir into tea takes some doing. Some manufacturers heat the sap; others use enzymes to convert it into table-ready syrup.

Is it better to use agave syrup sweetener rather than sugar in my coffee?
— Eva, via e-mail
A: Agave is a pretty sweet deal. Because it's four times sweeter than sugar, you need far less of it. Just 1/4 teaspoon (4 calories) will taste like 1 teaspoon of sugar (16 calories) in coffee or tea. Agave's sweetness comes from fructose, which your body sends to your liver for extra processing before shipping it to your bloodstream. Glucose goes straight to your bloodstream and va-va-voom! Up zooms your blood sugar. Still, agave is a refined sweetener (you didn't think they just squeezed it out of agave cactus, did you?) and fructose may increase your risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. So, as with all sugar, go easy.

2 replies

Copperchef 2011-05-30 08:33:39 -0500 Report

I agree with you that like all things sweet, moderation is the key. However, there are two types of agave syrup; the first is the hydrolyzed type that you have mentioned but there is another one on the market. The second type is an Aspergillus niger processed variety that only allows a maximum heating of the agave juice to 118 degrees farhenheit because the mold spores that make the fructose cannot tolerate heat.
This also makes for a lower glycemic index number, but it does cost more than the standard and it is harder to find. Although a number of vegan stores do carry the product.
I have used the product as an alternative to honey in baking and use extracts to obtain the desired flavors. This product is considered GRAS by the FDA, while there is no rating on the other. Also, the Aspergillus niger variety is darker in color than the heated variety.
The main problem with hydrolyzed fructose is the triglyceride trigger factor. If you suffer from high tryglicerides, you should avoid them. The liver reprocesses fructose and that leads to other liver and health problems.
While agave syrup has a glycemic of 15, brown rice syrup has an index of 25. I prefer the brown rice syrup as I know it's background is maltose based.

realsis77 2011-03-22 11:55:39 -0500 Report

Thanks for sharing this. Very interesting! Yes we all must beware of sugars its not our friend as diabetics! Take care and God bless!