Are stevia and agave syrup healthier sweeteners than sugar?
This summary is based on the article published in the Globe and Mail (July 15, 2013): Are stevia and agave syrup healthier sweeteners than sugar?
What’s the difference between agave syrup and stevia? Are they healthier than sugar?
Response by Leslie Beck
Agave syrup (agave nectar) and stevia are often perceived as more natural, or less highly processed, than table sugar and artificial sweeteners. Yet, both are derived from multistep processing methods.
Agave syrup comes from the same plant that produces tequila, the blue agave plant that grows primarily in Mexico. The core of the plant contains aguamiel, the sweet substance used to produce agave syrup. While processing methods can vary, most involve enzymes, chemicals and heat to convert aguamiel into agave syrup. Organic manufacturers use low heat and no chemicals.
Agave syrup has either a dark or light amber colour and it’s slightly thinner in consistency than honey. It contains 60 calories per tablespoon – versus 48 for table sugar – but because it is about 1.5 times sweeter than sugar, you can use less of it.
Yet, according to many experts, agave’s high fructose concentration makes it an unhealthy sweetener. Research has linked high- fructose sweeteners to obesity, diabetes, high triglycerides, metabolic syndrome and fatty liver.
Stevia leaves and extracts are sold as sweeteners in natural food stores. They have not been approved for use as food additives in Canada and the United States because animal studies have suggested stevia could cause genetic mutations and male infertility.
In the sense that stevia doesn’t add calories, affect blood sugar or insulin levels, or contribute to dental cavities, I suppose it is a better choice than sugar. Even so, it’s a highly refined extract that perpetuates the desire for sweet-tasting foods and drinks.
My recommendation: Train your taste buds to adjust to a less sweet taste by gradually cutting back on sugars, stevia or artificial sweeteners. Eventually, you’ll be surprised to learn that your cup of coffee or tea, glass of water, or bowl of cereal tastes just fine without adding sweetener.
Leslie Beck is a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical.
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