This blog is titled, “The Joy of Fitness.” For me that means finding ways to achieve optimum wellness that also make me happy. It’s often a balancing act. One of the things I often have to balance is my sweet tooth. In the world where some folks crave salty and others crave sweet, I’m always in the sweet camp. If you are too perhaps you have been on a lifelong search for the sweetener that has no calories and good taste. Once a friend told me excitedly that he had found a great alternative to sugar and he was adding it to everything. What was this fantastic product? Malt. He put it in his cereals and in his drinks and it was delicious, he said with joy. I didn’t know how to tell him because I knew it was going to break his heart, but being a good friend I felt I had to be the one to let him down carefully. Malt, I explained does taste delicious. However, that’s because it’s sugar. The truth is that the perfect no calorie sweetener doesn’t exist. But new contenders pop up regularly.
Agave nectar is pretty popular as a sugar alternative. I just saw an interview with Giada De Laurentiis, wildly popular cooking star and author. The interviewer asked her what her current ingredient obsession is and she replied, “Agave nectar.” She said that she was trying to find sugar alternatives for her daughter, Jade and that agave was it. The interviewer asked her what she puts it on and she replied, simply, “Everything.” I took a double take. Everything? It’s a sweetener. Why would you put that on everything?
So, what’s the deal with agave nectar? Is it a good alternative to sugar? Yes and no. It is most definitely not the nirvana of sweeteners and it’s not a great no calorie alternative. Here’s what it is. Agave nectar comes from the agave plant.
The agave plant is a succulent. Even if you’ve never encountered the plant or the nectar, you’ve probably heard of at least one thing made from the plant. It’s tequila. The nectar has a consistency and a taste similar to honey. It has more calories than sugar. Agave nectar has about 60 calories in a tablespoon, sugar has about 46. So, a diet food, it’s not. That’s the downside. There is an upside though. It’s lower on the glycemic index (see previous post for an explanation) than sugar so it doesn’t spike your blood sugar levels as quickly. A quick spike in blood sugar results in a quick drop and that makes you hungrier and it also makes you feel tired. So, eating or drinking something sweetened with agave will satisfy you for a longer time than eating something made with sugar. Also, agave is about one and a half times sweeter than sugar so you can use less and get a lot of sweetness. But, sugar is pretty much non nutritive and agave is the same. So, it’s surely not an additive you should be putting on everything. You can use it to sweeten drinks easily and you can use it to replace sugars (using about 1/3 less because it’s sweeter) in baked goods if you cut back on other liquids in the recipe to compensate. You may find it more satisfying to your sweet tooth since it is so sweet. But, like sugar it’s best used in moderation. I’m not into deprivation but moderation in all things (including moderation) enables you to enjoy the things you love without blowing your desire to eat healthy choices.
The search for the perfect no calorie sweetener continues, alas. In the next post, I’ll write about Stevia. This one has no calories and while it’s far from perfect, it may be just the thing you need to make delicious summer drinks that will satisfy your sweet craving without adding a lot of calories.