The healthfulness of many foods is often debated — from coffee to certain kinds of fats. One day, studies say they are good for you, while the next day, another bit of research may proclaim they’re the equivalent of the food devil. Sometimes, we’re just not sure. For many people, the answer is moderation — perhaps they’ll switch back and forth from coffee and tea instead of a cup of coffee every single day. When it comes to sweeteners, we can be pretty sure that artificial sweeteners like aspartame are bad for us by this point — and sugar, as a whole, should be consumed in moderation. But then we have stuff like agave — a highly debated substance that seems a bit inconclusive.
Green Monster Alexandra Evans notes: “On the one hand, we can note that agave is a natural sweetener that is produced from the agave cactus, a plant native to Mexico. The sweetener is produced at low temperatures to protect its natural enzymes. Agave is low on the glycemic index chart, which has made it a go-to sweetener for those with blood sugar problems. It’s been touted in the health community as good-for-you, especially when compared to the dreaded high fructose corn syrup.”
But then, there is evidence that agave is processed pretty heavily, making it not-so-great in the minds of many health-minded people. Dr. Joseph Mercola writes, “Depending on the source and processing method used, agave syrup can, therefore, contain as little as 55 percent fructose, the same amount found in high-fructose corn syrup — in which case the syrup would offer no advantage.”
What’s more, it might even be worse than high fructose corn syrup in this respect: “most agave syrup has a higher fructose content than any commercial sweetener — ranging from 55 to 97 percent, depending on the brand, which is far higher than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which averages 55 percent. This makes agave actually worse than HFCS,” wrote Dr. Mercola. Um, yikes? Might be time to consider cutting down on agave everything.
Now, at the same time, this doesn’t mean you have to throw out your bottle of agave immediately, but you may begin to consider some alternatives for use in your baking and cooking if agave is your go-to. Agave can be tough to replicate, though, as it comes in syrup form — so you can’t really just add sugar to replace it. Consider some of these alternatives:
If you’re in the mood for some DIY syrup action, whip up a batch of fruit syrup by blending dates, raisins, or figs with a little bit of fresh water until you create a syrup. Some people mix all three for a flavorful, truly natural sweetener mix! Experiment a bit and find your perfect blend or try this easy recipe for Vegan Pineapple Honey.
2. Coconut Nectar
Coconut nectar, which you can buy in most any natural food store, is a great alternative to agave because it has the syrup consistency, adds a light touch of sweetness, and yet does not have the highly-processed attributes of agave. As Raw Vegan Living explains: “Coconut nectar comes from the coconut tree. The process is a bit similar to maple syrup. The only difference is that maple syrup is highly processed. The coconut tree is tapped and produces a nutrient-rich “sap” that exudes from the coconut blossom. The sap is an abundant source of minerals, 17 amino acids, vitamin C, broad-spectrum B vitamins, and a neutral pH. The sap is not processed, which is the number one reason it is better than most of these raw sweeteners.”
If you’re looking for ideas on how to use coconut nectar, check out this flourless Blueberry Coconut Cake or these No-Bake Mini Banoffee Pies, which are both sweetened with coconut nectar. Or, try these Tropical Banana Maca Coconut Bars for a healthy snack.
3. Unsulphured Blackstrap Molasses
If you’re looking for a sweetener that’s thick and distinct in flavor, here’s your new go-to. And it may actually be good for you. According to World’s Healthiest Foods, “Blackstrap molasses is a sweetener that is actually good for you. Unlike refined white sugar and corn syrup, which are stripped of virtually all nutrients except simple carbohydrates, or artificial sweeteners like saccharine or aspartame, which not only provide no useful nutrients but have been shown to cause health problems in sensitive individuals, blackstrap molasses is a healthful sweetener that contains significant amounts of a variety of minerals that promote your health.” Just look for the unsulphured kind, which will be even cleaner.
If you’re trying to use less agave, what’s your favorite go-to?
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