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Is Agave Nectar a Healthier Alternative to Sugar?

Even most children can tell you that excess sugar isn't healthy, unless of course they are bargaining for just one more piece of Halloween candy! A high sugar diet may lead to cavities and obesity and in turn, influence diabetes and heart disease. This may have you thinking about alternative ways to sweeten foods, such as agave nectar.

Agave nectar isn't truly a nectar, but rather a syrup produced by the fibrous core of the agave plant. It's processed by breaking down these fibrous carbohydrates into simple sugars, primarily fructose. There's been much dispute regarding the role of fructose in the diet, as some professionals have blamed fructose and high fructose corn syrup for our nation's obesity epidemic. While it's tough to say that it's had a causative effect on obesity, agave nectar does in fact contain more calories and grams of sugar than table sugar (sucrose). However, because it's 1.5 times sweeter than sugar, you can use less of it.

Unfortunately, agave nectar has been promoted as being a healthier alternative to table sugar. That's because it has a low glycemic index (a measure of the effect that a food has on blood glucose levels). Agave nectar will not raise blood glucose levels as rapidly as table sugar, but even the American Diabetes Association says that agave is still sugar; it will still raise blood glucose levels and is far from a healthy choice. Whether sugar, agave, honey, maple syrup or others, simply use less!

Cinnamon Plum Quinoa (Printable PDF)

1 cup water

1 cup non-fat milk

1 cup rinsed quinoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 plums, sliced

½ cup water

¼ cup agave nectar

¼ cup chopped pecans

Optional: milk and vanilla yogurt for serving

Combine water, milk, quinoa, vanilla and cinnamon in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and stir. While quinoa is cooking combine plums, water and agave nectar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until plums are soft and juicy, about 5 minutes. To serve, scoop quinoa in a bowl. If desired, add milk. Spoon plums with syrup and pecans over quinoa. Dollop with vanilla yogurt, if desired.

Yield: 5 servings (⅔ cup each)

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 340 calories, 8 grams fat, 25 milligrams sodium, 63 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fiber, 8 grams protein