Agave Nectar has been used for centuries as a flavoring, though native populations have also been aware of its health benefits and used it medicinally. The Aztecs used a mixture of agave nectar and salt as a dressing for wounds and a balm for skin infections, and agave’s use as a folk remedy persists today.
Agave Nectar Health Benefits
Modern medical study has confirmed agave’s remedial properties. Agave nectar applied to the skin has been found effective against pyogenic (pus producing) bacteria such as Staph aureus. The tradition of adding salt to the nectar has been found to further boost its anti-microbial property. Agave nectar has also been proven effective against enteric (intestinal) bacteria.
Modern Health Food
Especially in the last century, the western diet has become increasingly dominated by refined sweeteners such as granulated sugar and corn syrup. The problem with these substances is their high glycemic index and glycemic load – both measures of the relative impact that foods have on our blood sugar. Foods that raise blood sugar quickly trigger the release of the hormone insulin. Excessive releases of insulin and, more specifically, chronically high blood sugar and insulin levels are linked to Metabolic Syndrome (also called Syndrome X), which is a complex of health disorders. Associated ailments include insulin resistance and type II diabetes, abdominal weight gain and obesity, problems with blood lipids (raised triglycerides and cholesterol) and high blood pressure.
Unlike processed sugars, agave syrup has a low glycemic index. This means that it breaks down more slowly, producing a more gradual effect on blood sugar. This avoids the insulin rush caused by rapid increases in blood sugar levels. This is of importance to people with diabetes, who can use agave syrup to help manage their condition. Even in non-diabetics, chronic high blood sugar and insulin levels are associated with Metabolic Syndrome, a disease linked with insulin resistance, type II diabetes and abdominal weight gain. Agave, in common with ginseng, also contains saponins, compounds which have an anti-inflammatory effect. Saponins are also anti-microbial, and the Aztecs treated their wounds with a mixture of agave nectar and salt. Another substance present in agave syrup is insulin. This is a type of fiber and is associated with increasing satiety (the feeling of fullness) and causing a decrease in appetite. This supports people who are trying to lose weight.
Today, the blue agave is perhaps most popular as an ingredient in baking goods—it is the star of the show in healthy sweetening alternatives. But why is it a good idea to use the agave nectar as an alternative to sugar? Blue agave boasts of a considerably low glycemic index (gi), making it a favorable option for those who are dealing with obesity, diabetes, thyroid disorder, and/or heart disease. Blue agave is said to carry a gi of 11, clearly a long way down from the gi of regular agave, which is 39. The glycemic index refers to the ratio for measuring the capacity of carbohydrates to raise your blood sugar levels. If the gi is low, food could be digested properly and all the nutrients absorbed slowly but surely. As a result, the production of insulin goes smoother, ensuring that your body receives all the energy the food you ate offers.
Its sweetness comes primarily from a complex form of fructose called inulin. Fructose is the sugar that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables. The carbohydrate in agave nectar has a low glycemic index, which provides sweetness without the unpleasant “sugar rush” and unhealthful blood sugar spike caused by many other sugars. Agave nectar is a delicious natural sweetener that can be used moderately – by dieters, some diabetics, and health conscious cooks – to replace high-glycemic and refined sugars.