Agave nectar is a real sugar, as opposed to an artificial or non-nutritive sweetener. It has properties similar to many sugars with one important exception: its glycemic index is significantly lower. This makes it a healthier alternative to many processed AND natural sweeteners, including:
-white granulated sugar
-demerara or turbinado sugar
-maple sugar crystals
-dehydrated cane juice
Weight Management Friendly
Agave nectar's low glycemic index makes it suitable for some individuals on low-carb or slow-carb diets (the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet) and for a variety of weight loss/management programs. Granulated sugar has an average glycemic index in the high 60's, while agave generally scores under 30. Foods with a glycemic index lower than 55 are considered low glycemic foods. Foods lower on the scale are less likely to trigger the body's mechanisms for fat storage. While it's not a "free" food for indiscriminate consumption, many individuals on a diet or weight maintenance plan find that agave is a healthier substitute for sugar, and that moderate use of agave nectar can help them enjoy foods that otherwise might be off limits.
Diabetics are usually advised to monitor sugar intake in their diet and, like those trying to lose weight, watch the glycemic index of the foods they eat. Agave nectar DOES have calories and carbohydrates that must be taken into consideration, and responses to sweeteners vary from one individual to the next. However, because agave has a lower glycemic index than refined sugars, its carbohydrates are less likely to raise the blood sugar quickly. Again - agave is not a "free" food but, under proper medical monitoring, using it as a substitute for sugar may broaden dietary options for many diabetics.
No Bone Char!?
Some granulated and brown sugar - especially brands made from sugar cane - are filtered using bone char (animal-bone-based charcoal). Agave nectar is completely vegan, meaning that it's appropriate for those whose diet and lifestyle choices exclude all animal products.
Using Agave as a Substitute for Sugar
Though agave nectar is more calorie-dense than brown or white sugar, it is about 40% sweeter, so the amount of agave can be reduced. It may take some adjustment of recipes to substitute agave nectar for granulated sugars, but it's much easier than using an artificial sweetener to substitute for sugar. Artificial sweeteners provide sweetness, but few of the functional properties of real sugars. Agave provides the same variety of functions (including browning, moisture retention, softening and food preservation) as processed sugars.