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Agave Sweetener and Diabetes

author image Melodie Anne
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.
Agave Sweetener and Diabetes
A spoonful of agave syrup on a marble countertop. Photo Credit Pat_Hastings/iStock/Getty Images

If you have diabetes, sugar and sweeteners are something you generally need to avoid. Agave nectar is a bit different, though -- it is low on the glycemic index and doesn’t have as much of an effect on your blood sugar as other sweeteners. Use measuring spoons to determine your portion. You still don’t want to have too many extra calories.

How the GI Works

The glycemic index, known as the GI, rates foods depending on how they affect your blood sugar levels. Typically, only carbohydrate-containing foods have a GI score, since carbs convert into sugar and directly affect glucose in your blood. High-glycemic foods have a rating of over 70. These foods are likely to make your blood sugar go up fast and then drop it right back down. Medium-GI foods have a score of 55 to 70 and have less of an effect on blood sugar. Foods with a rank under 55 have the least effect on blood sugar, causing it to rise gradually and then slowly bringing it down over time.

Effects of Agave

Agave nectar is one of the lowest glycemic sweeteners you’ll find. Depending on the variety, agave nectar has a glycemic index of 10 to 19. Because of its low rating, agave alone probably won’t spike your blood sugar. Other components of your food or beverage could have negative impacts, however. The glycemic index rates individual foods, rather than combining foods. So if you stir agave nectar into your morning cup of tea, then have some white toast with jam for breakfast, your blood sugar could still surge because white bread and jam have higher GI ratings.

Comparing to Other Sweeteners

Plain white table sugar, known as sucrose, is much higher on the GI than agave. On average, white sugar scores at 65, although depending on the origin of the sugar, some varieties rate as high as 84. Honey is generally low to moderate on the glycemic index. Usually honey ranks between 35 and 58, depending on the amount of fructose in that particular batch. Pure maple syrup is moderate, with a score of 54. But maple-flavored syrup is high on the scale, rating at 68. These other sweeteners are more likely to elevate your blood glucose.

Don’t Go Overboard

While agave nectar is indeed low on the glycemic index, it is high in calories, which can quickly add up. One tablespoon of agave sweetener has nearly 65 calories. As a comparison, white granulated sugar has 50 calories per tablespoon. If you stir agave in with your beverage, add some to oatmeal, then drizzle it over yogurt, you may be consuming more calories than you intended -- nearly an extra 200 calories just from the agave sweetener in this case. Getting too many calories eventually leads to weight gain, making it even more difficult to manage your diabetes. Rather than pouring directly from the bottle, squeeze some into a measuring spoon first, to avoid going overboard on calories.

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