What is Agave Syrup?
If you've been to the grocery store lately, you've probably noticed something called "agave syrup" stocking the shelves alongside molasses and other sweeteners. This tropical treat may seem exotic, but it has long been used in Mexico and other parts of Latin America as part of a traditional diet. Its introduction to the American market is more recent, and closely related to a rising interest in natural and diabetic friendly foods.
Why is Agave Syrup Thought to be Beneficial to Diabetics?
People with diabetes are unable to control their blood glucose, or sugar levels, naturally. Instead, they manage blood sugar with a combination of diet, medicine, and exercise. A diabetic-friendly diet-one that will help maintain stable blood sugar levels--plays a key role in the good health of a person with diabetes. To create a manageable diet, diabetics need to know to what extent different foods can affect their blood sugar.
To help people with diabetes choose foods wisely, researchers created the Glycemic Index, or GI. The GI ranks every food according to how aggressively it affects glucose levels. If something has a high Glycemic Index, that means it raises glucose levels significantly, and should be avoided by diabetics unless they are purposely attempting to raise their blood sugar. Agave nectar products have a lower GI than most other sweeteners, which makes them extremely attractive to diabetics who want to keep their glucose levels low.
Why Might Agave and Diabetics Be a Bad Idea?
While it is true that many types of agave syrup have a low GI, the natural food market is still significantly unregulated in the United States. Not all agave nectar and syrup companies use the same methods, or the same parts of the agave plant, in their manufacturing. As a result, some types of agave syrup may have a much higher or lower GI than other brands, despite bearing virtually the same labels. Unsuspecting diabetics can therefore easily end up with blood sugars much different than expected simply by changing brands.
In addition, low GI is no guarantee that a food is good for diabetics. Corn syrup is just one example of a food that has a low GI, but is otherwise clearly not healthy. Concentrated fructose, which is found in many brands of agave nectar and syrup, is similar to corn syrup in this regard. It may have a low GI, but excessive intake is associated with clogged arteries, elevated levels of uric acid, and increased body fat all things that are dangerous to the health of diabetics. Because of these and other issues, the Glycemic Research Institute and Federal Drug Administration have both expressed serious concerns about agave syrup is being labeled and sold as beneficial to diabetics.
Agave and Diabetics: What's the Bottom Line?
For diabetics, the bottom line is that agave nectar and syrup should be treated much like any other sweetener: they can be enjoyed, but should be used in moderation, and with the understanding that high consumption could cause health problems. Additionally, always carefully read the labels of any agave nectar or syrup before purchasing these products. Choose only those that are minimally refined and have the lowest GI possible.
If you have any questions about agave and diabetics, consult with your doctor or nutritionist before making this sweetener a regular part of your meal plan.