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These days, as people become aware of the health risks of eating too much processed food and back to basics diets like paleo enjoy ever increasing popularity, more and more health conscious people are seeking out natural alternatives.

Agave syrup is a sweetener which is harvested from the agave plant, a succulent which is primarily found in Mexico, but also grows throughout the South Western United States and tropical South America. Rich in fructose, agave is promoted as a low-glycaemic alternative to conventional refined sugar. Low GI foods are often promoted as an aid to weight loss, and agave nectar is no exception.

Despite the fact that agave is flying off the shelves, there has, very surprisingly, been next to no research conducted into the effectiveness of agave syrup as a weight loss aid, so a team of nutritional researchers have decided to rectify this by performing some very preliminary research into the effectiveness of this natural sweetener.

In this small study, eighteen mice were split into two groups and were allowed unlimited access to food. The food each group received was identical in every aspect, except for the carbohydrate content – the diet of the control group contained 20% sucrose, while the test group's diet contained 20% agave syrup. After 34 days, the group assessed a number of biological parameters associated with metabolism, including overall weight gain, total body fat percentage, fasting blood glucose, fasting insulin levels, and blood lipids.

The total amount of weight gained by the agave group was almost half of the increase seen by the group fed on a sucrose diet, and the body fat percentages showed that the sucrose group had accumulated almost twice as much fat. In addition, the fasting glucose and insulin levels were much lower in the agave group.

These results suggest that compared with conventional refined sugar, agave nectar may be of benefit in weight control, and a positive influence on healthy glucose metabolism.

Agave syrup is quite controversial because some people assoctiate high fructose intake with metabolic disease. It is obvious that a great deal more research needs to be carried out over the long term, particularly research which is focused on human populations, but this is a very encouraging first step in a path that is certain to be well trodden in the future.

Hooshmand S, Holloway B, Nemoseck T, Cole S, Petrisko Y, Hong MY, Kern M. Effects of Agave Nectar Versus Sucrose on Weight Gain, Adiposity, Blood Glucose, Insulin, and Lipid Responses in Mice. J Med Food. 2014 Jul 10.

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