If you have diabetes, you know that you don't have to eliminate sugar from your diet completely -- but you do need to be smart about how much sugar you eat. Though most sugar breaks down in the body the same way, some less refined sugars, including agave and brown rice syrup, break down less quickly, causing less risk of blood sugar spikes and crashes. Of course, you should always follow your doctor's recommendations about safe sugar consumption if you have diabetes.
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Agave nectar is a sweetener extracted from a cactus indigenous to the southeastern United States and Mexico. Sold in health food stores, specialty shops and many supermarkets, it looks a lot like honey. Brown rice syrup also resembles honey, but it's harder to find in supermarkets; look for it in health food or specialty stores. As its name implies, brown rice syrup is made from brown rice -- the rice is soaked and cooked into a thick syrup.
Agave nectar has about the same quantity of calories and carbohydrates per serving as regular white sugar, so it counts the same in your food exchanges. Since agave is a little sweeter than sugar, though, you may eat less of it. Brown rice syrup has fewer calories per tablespoon than sugar, but it's also less sweet, so you might use more of it. Both agave nectar and brown rice syrup break down more slowly in the body than regular sugar, which is a plus for diabetics, but brown rice syrup's high glucose content means diabetics should limit their intake.
Agave nectar is super-sweet, and you'll probably find that one-quarter to one-eighth of your usual sugar dose will be plenty when you are using agave. The lighter the nectar in color, the more syrupy it tastes; dark, amber-colored agave nectar has a honey-like flavor. Brown rice syrup's flavor is milder, less sweet and with delicate caramel undertones.
Brown rice syrup has a pleasant taste on its own, stirred into coffee or drizzled over oatmeal or yogurt, but it's not ideal for baking as it tends to make tough rather than tender baked goods. If you do bake with it, stick to recipes that call for honey or maple syrup; if you substitute it for regular sugar, use 1 1/2 cups of brown rice syrup for every cup of sugar required. Agave nectar can be used anywhere you'd use regular sugar; start with a little and add more to get the right level of sweetness. In baking, substitute 2/3 cup of agave nectar for every cup of sugar called for, and reduce all the other liquids in your recipe by about one-quarter. You'll also probably need to lower your oven temperature and shorten your cooking time to accommodate agave's quicker heating. You may want to experiment to find the best method for your favorite recipes.