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Ask Tufts Experts February 2015 Issue

Q. Is it true that agave affects the body differently than other sugars?

A. Cassandra Becker, a dietetic intern at Tufts’ Frances Stern Nutrition Center, replies: “Diets containing very high amounts of fructose and sucrose (regular refined table sugar) have been shown to induce weight gain, increase cholesterol and triglycerides, promote glucose intolerance, and produce insulin resistance. Agave nectar, a fructose-rich liquid sweetener derived from either the Agave tequilana or Agave salmiana plant, is marketed to diabetics as a low-glycemic alternative to refined sugar. Unfortunately, research supporting the beneficial health benefits of agave nectar is limited and very few scientific studies have researched the effects of agave in humans.

“The studies that have looked at agave suggest that substituting agave nectar for refined sugars may favorably affect cardiovascular health and that agave syrup may contain beneficial antioxidant nutrients, trace elements or phytochemicals that are not present in highly refined sweeteners. In one recent study examining the metabolic effects of agave on a mice model, weight gain, fat-pad weights, plasma glucose and insulin levels were significantly lower for agave nectar-fed mice compared to table sugar-fed mice. However, no statistically significant differences were seen in total cholesterol or triglycerides. These results of this animal study suggest that in comparison to regular refined sugar, agave nectar may have a positive influence on weight gain and glucose control. But more research with a larger sample of animals and/or with human subjects is necessary to determine more affirmative effects of agave on the body.”

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