Forty miles northwest of Guadalajara, in the arid highlands of western Mexico, lies the town of Tequila. In the hills surrounding the town, the subdued blue of the Agave tequilana plant colors the countryside. The region’s farmers grow and harvest acre upon acre of the plant.
They discard the plant’s succulent, spiky leaves, despite their beauty, and focus instead on the pineapple-like heart of the plant, which has created a lot of buzz recently, not only for its best-known derivative, tequila, but also for its sweet, health-promoting nectar.
Increasing numbers of health connoisseurs have discovered that Agave nectar is an ideal substitute for sugar and artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet and Splenda.
Its appeal stems not only from its super sweetness–varieties of Agave nectar range anywhere from 25 to 45 percent sweeter than sugar–but also from its low ranking on the glycemic index (a chart that measures how much and how quickly a food raises blood sugar). Since the fructose in Agave gets broken down into glucose more slowly in your stomach, it doesn’t spike your blood sugar or insulin levels as much. That means you avoid a sugar crash-and the fatigue and hunger that go along with it.
The low-glycemic nature of Agave also helps protect you from diabetes-related problems like insulin resistance and insulin deficiency, both partly caused by dramatic swings in glucose levels.
Isabel H. Clark, RHN, a Washington, DC-based holistic nutrition counselor and founder of Clark Wellness (www.clarkwellness.net), uses Agave nectar instead of honey for this very reason. “Depending on the brand, honey can range from about 62 to 83 on the glycemic index, and Agave usually scores 11 to 19. That’s a big difference,” she says.
Vegans, too, consider Agave the perfect substitute for honey. You can easily mix it into any warm or cold drink, or substitute it for sugar or honey in many baking recipes.
“Agave works well as a 1-to-1 substitute in any recipe that calls for honey,” says Clark. “When using Agave in baked goods calling for sugar, such as cakes or cookies, keep in mind that Agave is a syrup, not a dry sweetener.” Adjust for that by using less liquid in the recipe (on average, about 1/4 cup less, though that varies depending on the recipe).
Also, take into account the extra sweetness of the nectar. You may need only 1/3 to 1/2 cup Agave for every cup of sugar.
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