A new sweetener made from the tequila plant could help reduce blood glucose levels in diabetics and contribute to weight loss in obese people.
A researcher has outlined the potential benefits of agavins, the natural sugar found in the agave plant, which is non-digestible and may act as a dietary fiber rather than a sugar that raises blood glucose.
The findings were presented at the 247th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society gathering, happening through Thursday, March 20 at the Dallas Convention Center and surrounding hotels. The meeting involves thousands of scientists and some 10,000 reports on new scientific advances and similar topics.
"We have found that since agavins reduce glucose levels and increase GLP-1, they also increase the amount of insulin," said Mercedes G. López, Ph.D. of the Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados, Biotechnology and Biochemistry Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico.
GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) is a hormone "that slows the stomach from emptying," which subsequently begins insulin production.
"This study represents the first attempt to evaluate agavins as sweeteners in spite of their lower sweetness compared to sugar,'" she said.
Lopez and her team analyzed a group of mice fed a standard diet and added agavins to their daily water. The mice were weighed every day and had their glucose blood levels checked weekly. The majority of the mice that drank agavins ate less, lost weight and had lower blood glucose levels compared to sweeteners such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, aspartame and agave syrup.
"Agavins are not expensive and they have no known side effects, except for those few people who cannot tolerate them," Lopez continued, adding that much like other fructans, agavins are comprised of fructose. Fructose contributes to healthy microbe growth in the mouth and intestines. Because fructans are linked together in long, branched chains, they can't affect blood sugar the way high fructose corn syrup does. Agavins are occasionally confused with agave nectar or agave syrup, both of which are health-food store shelf staples. However, these products feature individually broken-down fructans, making them similar to high-fructose corn syrup.
Lopez also notes that agavins are better than artificial sweeteners, as the latter are absorbed by the body, resulting in side effects such as headaches. Artificial sweeteners have also been linked to weight gain among other adverse health effects, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
"One slight downside, however, is that agavins are not quite as sweet as their artificial counterparts," she said.