The health conscious crowd is typically against cane sugar, as its nutritive properties are far outweighed by its glycemic* and caloric load. Mainstream synthetic sweeteners, such as Splenda® and Sweet N Low® are also given the boot, because of the immense amount of processing they undergo.
So where do we turn for sweeteners that are good for us? There are natural alternatives that offer the real taste of “sweet” and some real health benefits. From Agave Nectar to Stevia to Honey, in this 3-part series, The Skinny on Sweeteners, we’ll help you make your personal choice in keeping in sweet.
Glycemic Index and Load
Glycemic Load is the measurement of the impact that a food has on our blood sugar. Foods that have carbohydrates that turn quickly into sugar (such as cane sugar) in turn triggers the release of insulin and increasing our blood sugar. Foods with a low glycemic load or index have carbohydrates that are complex (i.e., not easily turned into sugar). Usually these foods have good fiber content or have a complexity to them that makes it not as easily convertible.
From a health perspective, consistently high blood sugar levels are linked to ailments such as type II diabetes, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, obesity, and more.
To find out what the glycemic load is of any given food, multiply its glycemic index by the number of non-fiber carbohydrates in a single serving, then divide the result by 100. The following is a guide to a food’s glycemic load:
- 20 or more = high glycemic load
- 10 to 19 = medium glycemic load
- less than 10 = low glycemic load
Agave Nectar – a brief history
Agave Nectar has a distinguished history in the native Americas. Native peoples have used this sweetener throughout history as both a tasty treat and as a medicine.
The Aztecs were known to mix agave nectar and salt to dress wounds and to treat skin infections. Agave nectar is indeed a proven remedial, as it works against pyogenic (pus producing) bacteria. The addition of salt boosts its anti-microbial essence. Agave nectar was also used as a treatment for intestinal bacteria.
Agave Nectar – nutritional benefits
Low Glycemic Load: A serving of Agave Nectar (2 Tbs) has 32 carbohydrates. With a glycemic index of 30, the glycemic load is a mere 9.6 (32 x 30 / 100).
This low glycemic value means that agave nectar offers sweetness without the cost of raising your blood sugar. Agave Nectar is a fantastic alternative sweetener for diabetics or anyone else who may be watching their blood sugar levels. Agave nectar is naturally sweetened by a compound called inulin, which is more complex than regular sugar.
Sweetness: Agave Nectar is about 1.5 times sweeter than regular sugar. As a result, less agave nectar is needed to sweeten the same. As far as calories are concerned, agave nectar and sugar boast about the same numbers, but with the reduction of the amount needed to sweeten, calorie counters should save a few using agave nectar.
Minerals: Agave Nectar has small amounts of calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Unlike sugar, which has no nutrients, Agave Nectar is a sweetener that adds some oompf to your daily values. These minerals support bone density, blood cells, and overall health.
Organic: The agave plant is a natural food straight from the desert. Many agave nectar brands will carry the organic label. Choose organic when you can for better taste and better bio-availability.
Raw: Agave nectar is comes in a raw version as well. This makes it a delightful addition to raw desserts and smoothies. The health benefits of agave are available across the board whether you choose a raw version or not.
Proponents of agave nectar tout the health-promoting qualities of this sweetener. From immune support to blood building support to a method of weight loss, agave nectar is a viable alternative sweetener for the health conscious person.
Agave Nectar, Almonds and Banana Smoothie
- 1 ripe banana, frozen (peeled, chopped)
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 Tbs almond butter
- 1 Tbs agave nectar
- 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
Mix everything up in a blender and enjoy!