NORMAN — Q: Many of my “health nut” friends have started using agave nectar instead of sugar in their cooking and baking. They tell me it’s a healthier alternative to regular sugar and claim its all-natural, but is this true? Is there really such thing as a healthy sugar?
A: It’s good to hear you’re being skeptical. With obesity, diabetes and heart disease rates on the rise worldwide, many consumers have started to become more health conscious when it comes to diet. This trend toward preventative health measures through healthful eating is inherently great news because healthier people mean reduced health care costs.
But, as many of us know already, it also can be very easy to get caught up in the fads and trends that continuously pop up and mislead us when it comes to healthful eating. Because following the latest craze actually may end up doing more harm than good when it comes to health, it is important to remain an informed consumer.
One such trend that appears to have generated quite a bit of buzz more recently among health-conscious consumers is the use of agave nectar (also called agave syrup) as an alternative sweetener to other refined sugars.
Derived from the sap of the agave plant (the same plant used to make tequila), agave nectar has been used for centuries, including by the Aztecs, for its believed medicinal properties.
However, agave nectar is now gaining popularity among many health-aware consumers in light of the increasingly bad raps now tailing refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup, which have subsequently pushed many to seek out a healthier, more natural (meaning minimal or no processing) sweetener.
While Agave nectars and syrups are often marketed as “natural,” this sweetener is actually processed just like any other sugar. Because the United States Department of Agriculture does not regulate or legally define the term “natural,” many manufactures often include the term on labels as a marketing ploy to increase sales and enhance the product’s “healthy” image.