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In the battle for a natural sweetener, maple syrup and agave syrup are both held as top contenders. But which is the best option or has the better health benefits? While it’s universally understood, both are better than white sugar. When comparing maple syrup vs agave it’s best to review their source and beneficial effects. These factors can help you choose the sugar substitute that’s best for you.
Table sugar, artificial sweeteners, and high fructose corn syrup are common sweeteners that are often associated with common health issues like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more. It’s not surprising that people are looking for a healthier choice to satisfy their sweet tooth.
With alternative sweeteners becoming more popular, the hunt for a more natural sugar persists. Maple syrup and agave syrup both offer a sweeter alternative to white sugar without any chemicals. Regular sugar is highly processed with all nutrients removed. Pure maple syrup and agave nectar are minimally processed with many beneficial nutrients still intact. While both are better options than white sugar, they do have distinguishing properties that may help you choose which one is best for you.
Simple sugars like maple syrup and agave nectar are composed of fructose, glucose, and water. Other natural sweeteners include:
- brown sugar
- brown rice syrup
- blackstrap molasses
- coconut sugar
- date syrup
While these sweeteners offer a similar sweetness to sugar, the level of sweetness varies. Maple syrup contains about 67% fructose, 29% glucose, and 3% sucrose. In comparison, agave nectar is comprised of about 55% fructose, 45% glucose, and trace amounts of sucrose.
Liquid sweeteners and syrups are absorbed quickly into the body giving an immediate boost in energy. Because they are easily digested, they can cause sudden blood sugar spikes and drops in blood sugar. Some manufacturers add chemicals to stabilize their syrup and prolong shelf life. This is where comparing the source is essential when deciding on the better choice.
Maple Syrup vs Agave Nectar: The Source
Real maple syrup comes from maple tree sap. The maple tree holds a long-standing history in North America as a valuable source of food, medicine, and livelihood. This dark syrup is produced in the early spring months when temperatures reach approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The sap is boiled until it caramelizes and forms a thick liquid that solidifies as it cools. Maple syrup contains trace minerals like zinc, potassium, iron, manganese, calcium, and phosphorous1.
Real maple syrup is minimally processed with many nutrients intact. It contains glucose, fructose, and sucrose for quick energy without sugar spikes. Any maple syrup product that is overly processed is loaded with chemical additives isn’t good for your health2.
Maple syrup with a dark amber color is healthier than light-colored maple syrup. This is because the lighter-colored syrup is generally made from sap that has been boiled for longer periods. The longer it’s boiled, the more nutrients are removed and the darker it becomes. Light-colored syrups may still contain high amounts of natural fructose which is why it’s called “the more superior alternative to high fructose corn syrup”. While darker syrups are sweeter, the lighter-colored syrups contain more minerals3.
Organic agave nectar is made from the blue agave plant that is grown in the volcanic soils of Mexico. This succulent plant has been used for centuries by the native people of this region to make tequila, honey, and syrup. The sap of the agave plant is extracted and heated to convert its complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. Once the sap has cooled, it is filtered to be concentrated into a thick syrup.1
Organic agave nectar can be commonly heavily processed with some nutrients intact. It contains fructose, glucose, and sucrose for quick energy without sugar spikes2. Any agave nectar product that is overly processed is loaded with chemical additives isn’t good for your health.
Due to growing demand, some manufacturers have replaced the traditional blue agave with genetically modified organisms to mass-produce a cheaper version. This lower grade syrup is made from the root of the agave plant which contains higher amounts of inulin. Inulin is a difficult carbohydrate that is difficult to digest and metabolize3.
The liquid sweetener market has become crowded with many brands on the shelf each claiming to be healthier than the next. While maple syrup is recognized for its mineral content, some manufacturers have stripped the sap of nutrients to produce a lighter-colored syrup. Agave nectar is recognized for its fructose content but some manufacturers have added chemicals to intensify the flavor and prolong shelf life4.
The Verdict: When it comes to the source, maple syrup wins. It is generally less processed, contains beneficial minerals, and is sweeter. Mainstream agave nectar is typically more processed with lower mineral content, weaker flavor, and higher levels
No matter what sweetener you choose, it is important to validate the source in the maple syrup vs agave battle.
Maple Syrup vs Agave Nectar: Nutritional Value
When it comes down to choosing a sweetener for nutritional purposes it’s important to examine how much fructose, grams of sugar, vitamins, and minerals it contains.
- Organic: 1 tablespoon contains 52 calories, 12 grams of sugar, and 7% DV vitamin A.
The vitamins and minerals found in maple syrup include B2, B5, B6, niacin, biotin, and folic acid. The nutritional benefits of these vitamins are great for those who want to improve brain and skin health.
B vitamins support brain and nervous system function, metabolism, and energy levels. Niacin helps break down fat in the body and improve circulation while Biotin works to improve hair, skin, and nails. Folic acid is essential for women who are pregnant or have a family history of neural tube defects because it helps the unborn baby develop healthy tissues.
The lower glycemic index of maple syrup makes it a good choice for those with diabetes and blood sugar regulation issues. This index measures the amount of sugar released into your bloodstream after eating. Insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, and diabetes are all potential concerns of high sugar consumption.
Organic: 1 tablespoon contains 46 calories, 10 grams of sugar, and 7% DV calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
The vitamins and minerals C and B, potassium, calcium, and selenium. The nutritional benefits of these vitamins are ideal for those who want to improve blood sugar levels, cardiovascular health, and build healthy skin.
Vitamin C has immune-boosting properties that help strengthen the body against infection while Vitamin B reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Potassium helps maintain a healthy heart and blood pressure while calcium, magnesium, and selenium support strong bones.
Agave nectar is high in fructose, which raises the blood sugar levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) in your bloodstream. Agave nectar is better for those who want to lose weight as it does not cause the sugar spikes associated with maple syrup.
The Verdict: When it comes to nutritional value, it depends on your dietary needs. Maple syrup is better for those who want to improve heart health, circulation, and blood sugar levels. Agave nectar is better for weight loss because it does not cause blood sugar to spike.
Maple Syrup vs Agave Nectar: Effects on Blood Sugar, Digestion, and Weight Gain
Inulin, a difficult carbohydrate found in the root of the agave plant is a culprit in the spike of blood sugar after consuming conventional agave. Inulin has a high fiber content, which slows down the absorption rate of fructose in the body to reduce these adverse effects.
The high sugar levels in maple syrup can create energy imbalances and blood sugar regulation problems including hypoglycemia, blood sugar crashes, and insulin resistance. Maple syrup is sweeter than both agave nectar and honey, which explains why it is less processed and contains more beneficial nutrients.
The body processes maple syrup in a slower manner, which means that it is more likely to be used as fuel for the body.
Organic agave nectar, on the other hand, contains all of the enzymes and nutrients that are beneficial in producing a substance that is in line with the digestive system.
Organic agave nectar contains the enzyme invertase which breaks down sucrose into glucose and fructose. Glucose is easier for the body to process, which means that it is more likely to be used as fuel.
When it comes to the sweetness factor, it’s important to be aware of how agave nectar is produced as it affects how it will affect your body. Agave nectar is also sweeter than honey, but because of the manufacturing process, many believe that it is not as healthy.
The Verdict: Although organic agave nectar may be highly refined it still contains beneficial enzymes and nutrients. It is a better choice than maple syrup when it comes to digestion, blood sugar regulation, and weight gain.
In the end, both are a good alternative to cane sugar. However, excess sugar consumption is harmful to the body and it’s important to be mindful of how your body processes sugar. Our choice is maple syrup because it is commonly less processed.
Any type of sugar should be consumed in small amounts and in moderation. When the sweet tooth strikes, it’s best to know your options (whole fruits) so you can better understand how different sugars will affect your body.