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Is Agave the Perfect Alternative Sweetener for Diabetics?

Is Agave the Perfect Alternative Sweetener for Diabetics?

That's no cactus. The agave plant, where many people get their tequila and agave syrup from, may also be the secret to a healthier diabetic.

Normally, putting tequila in your morning coffee would be frowned upon as a socially-unacceptable habit. The American Chemical Society; however, has announced that a Mexican research group has found that natural sweeteners found in agave, one of tequila’s main ingredients, may actually be a healthy and safe alternative for diabetics and people trying to lose weight. Usage of the plant is reported to possibly lower the blood glucose level of 26 million Americans affected by diabetes.

How is this possible?

According to Mercedes G. López, a researcher at Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados, Biotechnology and Biochemistry in Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico, agavins found in the agave plant are actually non-digestible and act as dietary fiber without raising glucose levels or causing side effects like artificial sweeteners are known to.

Check Out The Daily Meal's story on What Diabetics Should Eat For Dinner

“We have found that since agavins reduce glucose levels and increase GLP-1, they also increase the amount of insulin,” said Dr. Mercedes G. Lopez in a statement. “They are not expensive and have no known side effects.”

Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi.


How to Substitute Agave For Sugar

When cooking with agave nectar—and especially when substituting agave nectar for other sweeteners—it's helpful to remember that agave nectar is basically high fructose corn syrup that comes from a cactus rather than from corn.

That means it has the same calories, sweetness, and consistency as high fructose corn syrup. Once you understand that, it makes substituting it in your cakes, cookies and other desserts a lot more straightforward.


Agave Nectar vs. Table Sugar

The differences between agave nectar and table sugar are negligible when it comes to calories, carbs and total grams of sugar. They diverge in terms of type of sugar and where each ranks of the glycemic index. It is these two factors that make agave nectar a questionable alternative to sugar.

Fructose

Fructose is a simple sugar (monosaccharide) found naturally in fruits and vegetables. It is relatively low on the glycemic index. However, when fructose is highly processed—as is the case with agave nectar—it can become problematic if consumed in excessive amounts.  

Fructose is metabolized in the liver, which turns excess fructose into triglycerides—a type of fat—some of which can become trapped and lead to any of a number of chronic medical conditions. For example, large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup have been linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.  

What's more, although agave is one and a half times sweeter than table sugar—meaning you may be able to use less of it—some researchers believe it's easy to eat too much fructose as it seems to bypass the body's satiety signals  . Agave contains more fructose than high-fructose corn syrup, table sugar, and fruit.

Food Fructose Percentage
Agave Nectar 90%
High Fructose Corn Syrup 55%
Table Sugar 50%
Whole, Fresh Fruit 5 to 6%

Glycemic Index

Foods and beverages that are low on the glycemic index, typically defined as those with a score of less than 55, are less likely than higher-ranking foods and beverages to cause spikes in blood sugar levels.

Agave's ranking of 20 to 30 certainly places it in the category of low glycemic foods. However, there is some controversy regarding the usefulness of the GI for controlling blood sugar.   This is because the index doesn't account for portion sizes of foods. What's more, many of the factors that determine a food's GI score (how the food is prepared, for example, or the laboratory in which it is measured) can be inconsistent.

In other words, the fact that agave nectar is a highly processed sweetener containing a high percentage of fructose, paired with the possible inaccuracy of the Gi for determining a foods true potential affects on glucose levels, makes it a less viable alternative sweetener for people with diabetes than it appears to be at first glance.


And Finally…

Both stevia and agave present plant-based alternatives to refined sugar. Neither alternative is completely without problems or concerns. Learning as much as possible about the properties and potential dangers of these sweeteners will help you decide whether you want to include either in your diet. While you explore new possible sources of sweetness, you may also wish to examine your overall use of sugar. Many Americans suffer weight and health problems related to excessive sugar consumption, whatever the source.


What are the best sweeteners for people with diabetes?

Low-calorie sweeteners, or sugar substitutes, can allow people with diabetes to enjoy sweet foods and drinks that do not affect their blood sugar levels. A range of sweeteners is available, each of which has different pros and cons.

People with diabetes must take special care to avoid blood sugar spikes. Controlling blood sugar is important for avoiding the more severe complications of diabetes, including nerve damage and cardiovascular disease.

Choosing alternative sweeteners is one way of maintaining sweetness in food and drink. However, not all alternative sweeteners are good options for people with diabetes. Agave syrup, for example, provides more calories than table sugar .

In this article, we look at seven of the best low-calorie sweeteners for people with diabetes.

Share on Pinterest Stevia is a popular alternative to sugar.

Stevia is a natural sweetener that comes from the Stevia rebaudiana plant.

To make stevia, manufacturers extract chemical compounds called steviol glycosides from the leaves of the plant.

This highly-processed and purified product is around 300 times sweeter than sucrose, or table sugar, and it is available under different brand names, including Truvia, SweetLeaf, and Sun Crystals.

Stevia has several pros and cons that people with diabetes will need to weigh up. This sweetener is calorie-free and does not raise blood sugar levels. However, it is often more expensive than other sugar substitutes on the market.

Stevia also has a bitter aftertaste that many people may find unpleasant. For this reason, some manufacturers add other sugars and ingredients to balance the taste. This can reduce the nutritional benefit of pure stevia.

Some people report nausea, bloating, and stomach upset after consuming stevia.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classify sweeteners made from high-purity steviol glycosides to be “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS. However, they do not consider stevia leaf or crude stevia extracts to be safe. It is illegal to sell them or import them into the U.S.

According to the FDA , the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of stevia is 4 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of a person’s body weight. Accordingly, a person who weighs 60 kg, or 132 pounds (lb), can safely consume 9 packets of the tabletop sweetener version of stevia.


And the Best Sweetener of All Is… Fresh Fruit!

Whole fruits, mashed or pureed, are another natural sweetener option.

And they have the distinct advantage of actually being good for you.

Many people find that they can satisfy a sweet craving with frozen grapes or berries, a mandarin, a mango, or a banana.

Natural sugars in fruits can calm a sweet tooth. And they come with fiber and many other beneficial nutrients. Mashed bananas or applesauce can also add sweetness to baked goods.


Types of Sweeteners

Sweeteners can be divided into two camps: nutritive and non-nutritive. Artificial sweeteners have no nutritional value, while sugar alcohols and natural sweeteners such as honey boast some nutritional benefit.

Artificial Sweeteners

You've probably seen artificial sweeteners in individual packets at your local diner, but they're also found in diet drinks, light yogurt, baked goods, ice cream, gum, cereal, cough drops, and candy, among other foods. Most artificial sweeteners are rgarded as "intense sweeteners" as they're several times sweeter than white table sugar (sucrose). Splenda, for example, is 600 times sweeter than sugar.  

The eight non-nutritive sweeteners approved by the FDA are:

  • Saccharin (Sweet'N Low, Sugar Twin)
  • Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
  • Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Steviol glycosides (Stevia)
  • Luo Han Guo fruit extracts
  • Neotame
  • Advantame

Note that neotame and advantame are approved as general food additives and are unavailable as tabletop sweeteners.  

Although sugar substitutes are manufactured chemical compounds that offer little to no nutritional value, many people find they can satisfy a sweet craving without raising glucose levels as they contain neither carbohydrates nor calories. In fact, some of non-nutritive sweeteners pass through the body without being digested.  

However, there is research to show that using sugar substitutes non-judiciously may be associated with diabetes and obesity in several ways. For one, they can change how the body metabolizes fat and energy.

Artificial sweeteners also may alter the gut microbiome—the beneficial bacteria the colonize the intestinal tract and can affect metabolism, immune health, growth, and brain neurotransmitter creation.  

One small study found that women with obesity who drank three diet sodas daily had altered gene expression, including new markers for inflammatory cytokines (cells that promote inflammation).  

Also, in studies both acesulfame potassium and saccharin have been found to negatively affect the microbiome of animals, who experienced decreased strains of bacteria and other changes in gut microbiota. If humans are similarly affected by these sweeteners, they could experience changes in metabolism and inflammation potentially leading to worsening of type 2 diabetes by inducing glucose intolerance. Saccharin may be particularly problematic.  

Sugar Alcohols

A number of so-called nutritive sweeteners such as isomalt, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol are found in many sugar-free gums and candies. Technically known as sugar alcohols, or polyols, they are extracted from natural fiber in fruits and vegetables.

Sugar alcohols can raise blood sugar though usually not enough to cause harm. Their impact on blood sugar can vary, ranging from a glycemic index of 13 for xylitol to nine for sorbitol. Others, like mannitol, border on zero.   Despite their relatively low impact on blood glucose, certain sugar alcohols (like xylitol and mannitol) may have a laxative effect if overused. These sweeteners are less commonly found in grocery stores but can be sourced from a major drugstore and health food retailers.

Natural Sweeteners

Natural sweeteners like Stevia and monk fruit have gained popularity in recent years and are considered safe for diabetics. These plant-based extracts may also be several hundred times sweeter than sugar, and Stevia, thaumatin, and Luo Han Guo (monk fruit) extracts have all been approved by the FDA as sugar substitutes.  


What kind of sugar substitutes are there?

People with diabetes should be aware that there are four different types of artificial sweeteners that you can buy in most grocery stores and online shops.

  • Saccharin (Sweet'N Low, Sugar Twin). You can utilize it in both hot and cold nourishments. Don't us this sweetener when you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal). You can utilize it in both cold and warm nourishments. It might lose some sweetness at high temperatures. Individuals who have a condition called phenylketonuria ought to not consume this product.
  • Acesulfame potassium or pro K (Sweet One, Swiss Sweet, Sunett). You can utilize it in both cold and hot nourishments and baked goods.
  • Sucralose (Splenda). You can utilize it in hot and cold nourishments. Many products frequently contain this artificial sweetener.

Not-so-good Sugar Alternatives for Dogs

There are lots of sugar substitutes that can be used in dog treats. Some, like the ones listed above have nutritional value and are better than pure sugar (sucrose).

Others are high in sucrose and have very little nutritional value. Still others are sugar-free but still have no nutritional value. Neither of these options are likely to be your first choice for adding to homemade dog treat recipes.

Dogs who have no issues with weight gain or obesity and who are otherwise healthy and active aren't likely to have any negative effects of eating treats with a little sugar, or sugar-free sweetener. But MODERATION is key.

The only sugar alternative you absolutely have to avoid is Xylitol due to it's extreme toxicity in dogs.

Brown Rice Syrup

Brown rice syrup is made from whole grain rice which is boiled and then processed using enzymes to produce sugars. 

Brown rice syrup has a toffee-ish flavor and is fairly sweet. It also has a high GI value due to the fact that it's pretty much pure glucose. Brown rice syrup also contains trace amounts of certain minerals but barely.

There is also a safety concern with brown rice syrup, and that concerns the fact that rice can contain measurable levels of arsenic which also can be found in rice syrups and other products. The full health impact of these levels of arsenic are not known yet, but arsenic can cause a host of health problems in people and pets, a it's a poison after all.

So, brown rice syrup will add sweetness to your recipes, but nothing else.

To substitute brown rice syrup for sugar in your recipes use about one-fourth extra syrup (ie for four tsp of sugar, and five tsp of brown rice syrup).

You may need to adjust the ingredients for consistency as mentioned earlier on this page.

Brown Rice Syrup has a Glycemic Index of 98

Cane Sugar ('Regular' Sugar)

Regular sugar (whether it's white or brown) is simply sucrose and has no nutritional value at all, and isn't healthy for anyone, or any dog.

It can contribute to obesity, heart disease, cancer, inflammation and auto-immune problems in our dogs.

There are several good, natural, nutritious sugar alternatives for dogs listed above if you want to add a touch of sweetness to your dog's treats.  

Sugar has a Glycemic Index of 68

Corn Syrup

There are two types of corn syrup, the 'regular' variety and 'high-fructose' corn syrup (HFCS).

Regular corn syrup is pure glucose. High-fructose corn syrup is the result of further processing which then produces a blend of glucose and fructose.

HFCS was originally produced as a low-cost alternative to sugar, it also has a lower glycemic index than regular corn syrup.

One concern over high fructose corn syrup is that it's more difficult for the liver to metabolize fructose than glucose or sucrose.

If the body intakes too much fructose it can lead to additional health issues (above and beyond the ones posed by sugar in general) such as fatty liver disease, kidney disease, accelerated aging and more.

Although a handful of treats containing high fructose corn syrup isn't likely to cause your dog any significant health issues, it's important to know that many dog foods already contain HFCS. This intake is then compounded if it's added to his treats. 

Check the ingredients label before you buy as some products simply labelled 'corn syrup' actually add HFCS but don't make that clear on the front.

If you want to use corn syrup as a sweetener in your dog treat recipes, I'd suggest using Karo syrup which contains no HFCS.

Corn syrup has a Glycemic Index of 100

High fructose Corn Syrup has a Glycemic Index of between 56 and 62

Aspertame, Saccharin and Sucralose

Although these sugar-free sweeteners aren't dangerous to dogs (unless they ingest huge amounts), it's not recommended that you give it to your pooch or add it to homemade goods intended for the canine family members.

These types of artificial sweeteners can sometimes cause loose stools or diarrhea in dogs, especially if they ingest more than a few milligrams.


Tequila Made With Agave Nectar

The fluid is first extracted from the Agave plant. The juice is then filtered and then heated to become fructose. Afterward, fructose is then concentrated into a caramel. Agave nectar needs different processing stages before consumption. Processed food can be less nutritious. Its natural health benefits are often lost in food preparation.

Another method of production uses enzymes derived from the Aspergillus fungus. It breaks the bonds that hold together the complex sugar molecules. Both procedures result in a 90% fructose concentration. Sweetened nectar has a lower glycemic index (GI) than most other sweeteners, sugar.

Several varieties of agave nectar come in fresh, black, amber, and green. The amber and dark usually have more flavor than red, and the raw will have the most (and be the darkest) flavor. If you’re using it to pour over pancakes, the light might be perfect. Fermentation in beers will lose most of its flavors so I would opt for the darker versions. You can also learn how to Speed Up Fermentation to get other more distinct beer flavors.

Raw has a much stronger flavor, like the amber. But, it will be a struggle for the flavor to make it through fermentation. The raw agave syrup has a more intense flavor.

How it is Used in Beer: Agave Syrup/Nectar

Agave syrup made of all simple sugars (glucose and fructose), so it is fermentable. You usually will use it in brewing to substitute corn syrup or honey. Since it is so fermentable, it is often processed into alcohol… leaving no agave flavor behind. All it does is dry the beer out and improve the alcohol content.

During the brewing process, you can add agave nectar many times. You can add it during the boiling process, but you’ll almost boil the entire agave flavor off. If adding to the boil, you can add it within the last few minutes in generous amounts. It is to ensure that the flavor’s imparted into the beer. But be careful of the effect on your ABV% when adding large amounts of agave.

You have to throw in the agave nectar (1.5 lbs) in the Iron Brewer recipe after you have transferred the wort to the carboy. It’s probably safe to assume that the syrup was sanitized… as it is pasteurized and stored in a clean container. Put the bottle in a saucepan of water. Heat the saucepan to over 160 degrees for a few minutes for sanitation and pour it into the fermenter. You may also opt to add it to secondary fermentation. Remember that adding sugar into secondary will cause extra fermentation.

Other ways agave could be used would be in place of priming sugar when bottling… or after kegging to back-sweeten the beer.

How much to Add?

In a five-gallon batch, add 23.5 oz (roughly 1.5 lbs) of agave nectar into the fermenter. Why this amount? This actually varies depending on the size of the vessel you will use for fermentation.

Using 1/2 lb or less to your beer won’t do much. Now, it will ferment out almost completely. So to get any agave flavor at all, you need to add in a good bit. If adding into the boil, you don’t want to add less than 2 pounds. For bottling purposes, you may need to consult a carbonation chart. Remember that agave is sweeter than sugar, so you may need less than you think!

Here are a few options you can try upon adding Agave Nectar to make tequila:

Most people use it as a low-glycemic-index sweetener. However, we prefer you to make “agave spirits” from it. But, due to the high fructose content, many types of yeast will have trouble fermenting it. We recommend using distiller 48-hour Turbo Yeast. The containers come filled with 46 oz. of organic raw agave syrup, so you will need 3-5 of them for a 5-6 gallon batch.

To make your agave nectar wash:

Simply mix 3 to 5 of the 46-oz containers of agave syrup with 4 to 5 gallons of water… (with a temperature of approximately 70-80 degrees) dump into your fermenter. And add your yeast.

How Many Agave Plants Does it Require To Make 1 Liter of Tequila?

  • A plant usually weights between 20 and 30 kilos.
  • It takes around 6-8 kilos to produce 1 liter of tequila, depending on the weather and type of soil used.
  • There are methods which can get more liters out of the plant… Although it reduces the quality of the product. The average plant can make 3 to 4 liters of 100% Agave Tequila.
  • Or you can experiment using Copper Alembic Pot Still.

The wash is as follows:

  • 46 ounces (2 x 23oz bottles of Madhava Agave Nectar)
  • 32 ounces (Karo corn syrup with real vanilla – on sale at Wal-Mart)
  • 1 cup of granulated white sugar
  • 1 3/4 gallons of tap water
  • 2 tablespoons of yeast (Fleischmens baking yeast) breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice

Heat 1 gallon of tap water in a pot to 155F and combine agave, Karo, sugar, and acid for 30-45 minutes. Pour into a 5-gallon drink cooler (fermenter.) Add 3/4 gallon of cold water to cool the wort down to 85F. Pitch yeast and add breadcrumbs. Expect it to take some age to bring out the tequila taste.

Agave Nectar Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition facts are provided by the USDA for 1 teaspoon (6.9 g) of agave syrup:

  • Carbs – An agave nectar teaspoon has around 5 grams of carbohydrate and a total of 20 calories. That is in some other way equal to table sugar, corn syrup, molasses, or rice.
  • Fats – Agave nectar contains only a fraction of sugar. It transforms a lot of the fructose it produces to triglycerides. This makes agave nectar riskier… especially if you have a pre-existing cardiovascular condition, metabolic syndrome, or insulin resistance. Also, added sugars are a source of extra calories. These can cause weight gain… which is an independent risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.
  • Protein – Agave nectar has marginal protein content (under 0.01 grams).
  • Vitamins and Minerals – Agave syrup contains small quantities of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins B and C, potassium, calcium, and selenium. But, the serving size is so small that certain micronutrients provide no value to the nectar.

The Brewing Art is created to help dedicated homebrewers. My aim is to help people enjoy life and be committed to brewing for a better drinking experience. I also help starting entrepreneurs in the beverage industry pursue their passion by providing advice and information about quality brews.