With so much attention on the adverse effects of increased sugar consumption, it is only natural that we are all looking for a healthier alternative without giving up our affection for a sweet treat.
While zero-calorie artificial sweeteners were once a preferred alternative, many people have found it’s a better choice to sweeten their foods with natural sweeteners that are chemical-free. Though there are plenty of natural alternative sweeteners, we will focus on maple syrup and agave. Which one is the best choice as a natural sweetener? Keep reading to find out!
What is Maple Syrup?
Maple syrup comes from the sap or the circulating liquid of maple trees. One of the qualities people like about maple syrup is there is that it comes from nature and endures minimal processing- if you can even really call it that. A hole is drilled into the tree to extract the maple syrup from the maple tree, so the sap flows into a container. The sap is then boiled to evaporate the water. What’s left is the thick, sweet syrup which is filtered to remove any particles or impurities before being bottled for consumption.
Benefits of Maple Syrup?
Athletes sometimes use maple syrup to help them boost their workouts – but does it provide any lasting health benefits? Compared to granulated white sugar and high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup contains more nutrients like magnesium and calcium.
However, while these micronutrients help to make maple syrup a more nutrient-dense sweetener option, the levels of these nutrients are rather small amounts. This means that you would have to consume large amounts to experience any benefits, which would result in consuming more sugars overall.
When comparing a tablespoon of pure maple syrup to granulated sugar, they are fairly similar. Maple syrup contains 52 calories, while sugar holds 48 calories. Both pack 13 grams of carbs, and maple syrup contains 12 grams of sugar, while granulated sugar contains 12 grams. However, it is important to point out that maple syrup has more nutrients and antioxidants than regular sugar.
What Is The Best Way To Use Maple Syrup?
Maple syrup is best used to compliment both sweet and savory dishes as it has a rich and deep flavor. To use it as a sugar substitute in baking, use only one-third of the amount of table sugar you normally use. It is important to point out that maple syrup is much different than pancake syrup. However, both are commonly used to top off waffles and pancakes – pancake syrup has a makeup similar to that of typical white table sugar.
What is Agave?
Agave is derived from an agave, which is a succulent plant that originated in Mexico and is now grown throughout many different parts of the world. Agriculturally agave is a zero-waste plant and is used for many things. A few of the most common things the agave plant is used to produce are tequila, ropes and cloth, and agave nectar. Agave nectar is what we will focus on further, sorry tequila lovers. Agave nectar is a sweetener commonly used in food and drinks as a substitute for sugar or honey.
Agave is much sweeter than table sugar – so you’ll need much less to make your foods and drinks taste sweeter. Agave nectar is an unprocessed form of this sweetener. You’ll also find agave syrup which is a more refined version.
Although agave has more properties of a whole food than sugar, it does share a similar amount of calories and carbohydrates. Agave’s sugar complex contains much more fructose (the body’s preferred source of sugar) than granulated sugar. Your body processes liquid sugars differently than granulated sugars.
Because of its higher fructose content, using agave typically does not strongly affect blood sugar levels, which is why it has a low glycemic index rating. Fructose reaches your liver before dispensing into your bloodstream, which means no blood sugar spike and crash.
This can be a great alternative for those with diabetes and other insulin-related issues, but that could also come with other problems, such as too much fructose for your liver to handle- which gets turned into fat. So as always, it’s best to consult with your doctor first before making any dietary changes, especially when dealing with a health issue.
What Is The Best Way To Use Agave Syrup?
Agave syrup is as sweet as raw honey and a great option for sweetening drinks and foods such as baked goods, yogurt, and oatmeal. When using agave syrup, you need much less than you would table sugar because it has a sweeter taste.
Is Maple Syrup or Agave Better Than Sugar?
If, by better, we are talking about healthier, then the answer is not so simple. When it comes to weight loss or weight management goals, both maple syrup and agave have similar amounts of calories, sugars, and carbohydrates. However, these natural sweeteners’ main advantage is that maple syrup and agave have a much sweeter taste than sugar, requiring you to use much less to achieve the same level of sweetness. So, ideally, if you are using less maple syrup or agave to sweeten your food or drink, that would result in consuming fewer calories.
Of course, health is subjective to each and every individual. What you need to maintain and improve your body’s health may be different from someone else’s. Both maple syrup and agave have their own health benefits that are not shared with granulated sugar. As these substances are each derived from a more natural source, they sustain a higher number of vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. So, simply stated, yes! Even though both agave and maple syrup aren’t exactly “health foods” and don’t have very high amounts of nutrients, they are less refined and contain more health benefits than sugar.
Agave Vs Maple Syrup: Which is Better For You?
Even though agave can be an alternative for those with diabetes and insulin resistance, maple syrup wins in a head-to-head battle with agave. Agave nectars and syrups are much more processed than maple syrup. Maple syrup contains more of its nutritional value because it is fairly unprocessed as it is only boiled and filtered for cleanliness and clarity.
However, agave syrup is processed in a way that is much more similar to unhealthy forms of sugar. It is boiled down for about two days until it is a concentrated syrup that contains about 90 percent fructose. Its lengthy, multi-filtration process causes it to lose many of its nutritional properties.
Additionally, the jury is still out on whether fructose significantly contributes to diseases and conditions caused by high amounts of sugar consumption. However, because agave has is very high in fructose, it has the potential to cause more health-related issues than maple syrup when consumed in larger amounts.
With these factors in mind, maple syrup becomes the clear winner as it is more natural and holds onto more of its nutritional benefits than agave. While the goal is never to consume more or excess sugar, it is much easier to cut back on your sugar intake with a natural and healthier choice such as maple syrup that is sweeter than regular sugar and doesn’t require you to use as much.
Karla Kueber is a Certified Evidence Based EFT Practioner and Health Coach, with a double Masters Degree in Education. She works with people to overcome emotional eating, curb cravings, and overcome resistance to eating new healthy foods. You can learn more about ending the food struggle here.