New data from studies in mice suggests that a sweetener made from agavins found in the agave plant - which is also used to make tequila - could help to lower blood glucose levels for those who have type 2 diabetes and may also help them and the obese lose weight.
The Mexican study, which was supported by Mondelez International and Agavaceae Produce, suggests that the main reason such a sweetener could be valuable is that agavins are non-digestible and can act as a dietary fibre, which would not raise blood glucose.
“We have found that since agavins reduce glucose levels and increase GLP-1, they also increase the amount of insulin,” explained lead researcher Mercedes López, from the Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados - speaking at the recent 247th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
“Agavins are not expensive and they have no known side effects, except for those few people who cannot tolerate them," she added.
López also noted that agavins can help increase satiety, meaning that people feel fuller for longer and could help them eat less.
“One slight downside, however, is that agavins are not quite as sweet as their artificial counterparts,” she said.
The team fed a group of mice a standard diet and added agavins to their daily water. They weighed the mice daily and checked their glucose blood levels weekly.
Most mice that drank agavins ate less, lost weight, and their blood glucose levels decreased when compared to other sweeteners such glucose, fructose, sucrose, agave syrup, and aspartame, said the team.
“This study represents the first attempt to evaluate agavins as sweeteners in spite of their lower sweetness compared to sugar,” said López.
Fructose vs fructans
The team noted that agavins are a type of sugar that contain fructoses. However, unlike high-fructose corn syrup - a sugar that has been subject to much debate recently, and is full of fructose that can increase blood sugar levels - López pointed out that agavins are fructans, which are fructose sugars linked together in long, branched chains.
She explained that due to their long and branched chains, the human body cannot use fructans, and therefore they do not affect blood sugar.
In addition, agavins, like other fructans, which are made of the sugar fructose, are the best sugars to help support growth of healthful microbes in the mouth and intestines, she said.
Agavins and agave syrup
The lead researcher also noted that agavins are also sometimes confused with agave nectar or agave syrup, which appears on many health-food store shelves.
These products contain fructans that have been broken down into individual fructoses, so they are much more similar to high-fructose corn syrup, she explained.