Agave: not safe for diabetics.....thoughts?

The Wall Street Journal

Agave Syrup May Not Be So Simple

By LAURA JOHANNES

Agave is not just for tequila anymore. The sap from the Mexican plant is now increasingly being sold as a natural sweetener called agave nectar. Companies that sell it say it saves calories and raises blood sugar less than conventional sugar. Doctors are skeptical that it is healthier, and a major testing lab issued a warning that it is not safe for diabetics.

Tim Foley
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Agave (pronounced ah gav ee), sometimes mistaken for a cactus because of its spiky, sword-shaped leaves, is a flowering plant in the lily family. Its nectar is popping up in beverages, baked goods and on restaurant menus; it is also gaining popularity as an all-purpose sweetener, often next to honey in supermarket aisles.

Marketing to Diabetics

Agave-nectar composition varies, but typically is primarily fructose. It has about the same amount of calories as sugar, or slightly more, but companies say its sweeter flavor allows you to cut the amount, saving calories. Agave's other claim to healthfulness is that it has a low glycemic index, meaning it breaks down more slowly creating less of a sugar rush. At least two companies have marketed their products as a good alternative for diabetics.

But the Glycemic Research Institute, a Washington, D.C., laboratory, issued a warning Friday that diabetics experienced "severe and dangerous side effects" during testing of an agave nectar. "The diabetics passed out on the floor and had to be taken to the hospital," says Ann de Wees Allen, chief of biomedical research at the lab. She declined to say how much of the product the diabetics consumed during the test, saying that would be disclosed after a complete analysis of the results.

The product tested was a maple-flavored version of the Volcanic Nectar brand agave, sold by Global Goods Inc., of Highland, Utah. Company President Brian Oaks said the product, which has never been sold, had a significant amount of maple syrup in it, which likely caused the problems. Dr. Allen says the nectar had an extremely small amount of maple syrup in it and is almost identical to the company's flagship agave product. Previous tests, in which diabetics consumed a small amount of Volcanic Nectar agave, had resulted in the lab awarding a "diabetic friendly" seal to the Volcanic Nectar product, which it has since rescinded.

The lab has stopped testing agave on humans amid safety concerns. Also, Dr. Allen says the lab refused to test four other agave products after a chemical analysis it commissioned from another lab found they were mixed with high-fructose corn syrup, which was not disclosed on the label. She declined to name the brands.

'Free-for-All Food'

If you're hoping to use agave to lose weight, nutritionists warn it has as many, or more, calories as sugar. "I worry that people may get confused and start thinking it is a free-for-all food," says Gillian Arathuzik, a dietician at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.

Agave is 1.4 to 1.6 times as sweet as sugar, says Sabra Van Dolsen, president of Colibree Co., an Aspen, Colo., company that sells Nekutli brand agave nectar. Calories vary from brand to brand, but are typically more than sugar. Nekutli, for example, has 60 calories per tablespoon. A tablespoon of white sugar has 45 calories.

Since agave is sweeter, you can use less, proponents say. Stephen Richards, chief executive of BetterBody Foods & Nutrition LLC of Salt Lake City and author of a self-published agave cookbook, says each cup of sugar can be replaced by one-half to two-thirds cup of agave.

The Flavor Issue

But depending on how refined the product is, agave can have little or no flavor—or taste like honey or maple syrup, according to the companies and our subjective tests. Unscientific testing by a Wall Street Journal reporter found agave to be pleasant in tea, but it imparted a brownish tinge and odd taste to lemonade.

When baking, oil can be reduced because agave is liquid, says Mr. Richards. Agave makes baked goods rise slightly faster, which can result in a "cakier" texture, he adds. In our test, blueberry bran muffins made with BetterBody's Xagave brand nectar were identical in flavor to a batch made with brown sugar, though the test muffins rose slightly more. The agave version was nine fewer calories a muffin, a 7% saving.

Write to Laura Johannes at laura.johannes@wsj.com

I realize this might be something posed more for type II patients...but still, ever have trouble coming up with the right amount of insulin because what you're injecting for wasn't properly accounted for? This stuff looks like it could pack more punch than white sugar, yet you would be inclined to inject less.

You are right about that... Very small amounts don't seem to affect me too much but it definitely does raise the bg!  It's too bad to because it is delicious!

Is it inappropriate that I'm laughing at the thing about the diabetics passing out on the floor? Very dramatic! How could that even happen? It's not like it would make you low. he, he, he. Funny quote.

Seriously though, I've never tried this, but will avoid it for sure now...

Sarah, you are not the only one who got the giggles from that.

 

"She declined to say how much of the product the diabetics consumed during the test, saying that would be disclosed after a complete analysis of the results."

This one made me giggle, too...

I would like to decline as well: I decline to say how much pizza I consumed during the period from ten o'clock to eleven o'clock a week ago. It was a lot, but I decline to say how much. It wasn't enough to make me swoon.

It is an interesting article, though. I tend to be a little freaked out by artificial sweeteners such as stevia. But I would decline to say how much aspartame and saccharine I have consumed during my lifetime.

 

 

[quote user="Crochet Nut"]I tend to be a little freaked out by artificial sweeteners such as stevia.[/quote]

 

Stevia is not artificial.  Stevia is an herb, you can't get much more natural than that!  I have grown it in my herb garden in the past.

I’m gonna leave my Agave Nectar right where it should be.. in my Margarita!

[quote user="Kate"]

[quote user="Crochet Nut"]I tend to be a little freaked out by artificial sweeteners such as stevia.[/quote]

 

Stevia is not artificial.  Stevia is an herb, you can't get much more natural than that!  I have grown it in my herb garden in the past.

[/quote]

But stevia is not approved as a sweetener, but as a supplement.

Also, just b/c something is natural doesn't mean it's safe to eat!! Many people get confused about this. There are poisonous plants that are all natural, bit it doesn't mean it's healthy to eat.

Ok... But I have been using it for years... I have never ever experienced any of the stomach discomfort or anything that I get from the chemical sweetners.  And to be perfectly honest,  I do consider cane sugar a poison.  I suppose everyones body is different, but I have had tremendous success with Stevia and it doesn't raise my BG at all.   When it comes to sweetners it is definitely my first choice.  Sucralose and aspertame totally creep me out.   Also, when you say that it is not "approved" as a sweetener, do you mean by the FDA?   Because I don't really trust them anyway....

i'm surprised they even bothered to say it has a low glycemic index. unless it somehow has fat or fiber in it, pure fructose is going to spike the blood glucose just like other sugars. i don't necessarily think it's something to avoid. my guess is that the "dangerous side effects" were from high blood sugars. i would assume if you bolused correctly for the amount of CHO, your blood sugars would react similar to if you used regular sugar.

i've used nectars at work. they are a natural alternative to white sugar, but they still have CHO and kcals. everyone already knows this, except for the people in the study... :o)

It seems like the research done here was sloppy...let's feed the product to people, show that no one gets sick, and put "perfectly safe" on the bottle.  The statement referring to not testing further due to health concerns mentions that the products included corn syrup, suggesting either the carb count found from the products did not include the carbs from the syrup, or they are implying corn syrup to be the cause.  Unfortunately, "plant extract" is commonly interpreted as "safe".  Nicotine is a plant extract, but we consider it deadly.  Vitamins have a toxic effect (except vitamin C) after a certain safe dosage that would be unlikely ingested in nature.  More information would be interesting, such as what the dosage was, ALL the side effects, and the percentages of cases developing each would be interesting.  While due to simple variance we would expect individuals to have differing reactions, a more global understanding would yield a better way to determine overall safety.

Kate, thank you for correcting me. I felt a little silly when I realized my error...but it's all good..stevia still makes me nervous because it came from something green and was somehow converted to a white powder...eh...it's an irrational fear; I fully acknowledge it as such. At the same time, I use the little pink packets! What kind of sense does that make? Not much...ah, well. I never liked Equal or Splenda...they both make me feel strange, somehow. I remember when there were these little white saccharine pills in little glass bottles that one used...I used to eat those (gross!) way back when...

[quote user="Crochet Nut"]

because it came from something green and was somehow converted to a white powder

[/quote]

that made me giggle... i like it

 I used this once and went VERY LOW.....about 45....