It may not pave the way for a new "Margarita Diet,” but food scientists have determined a sweetener created from the plant used to make tequila can help combat obesity and lower blood glucose levels for the 26 million Americans and others worldwide who have Type 2 diabetes.
In a new study presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Dallas this week, Mexican researchers determined that agavins, a natural form of sugar found in the agave plant, are non-digestible and can act as a dietary fiber – so they would not raise blood glucose and may help people lose weight. They also increase a hormone known as GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) that slows the stomach from emptying, which stimulates production of insulin.
"We have found that since agavins reduce glucose levels and increase GLP-1, they also increase the amount of insulin," said Mercedes G. López, who is with Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados, Biotechnology and Biochemistry Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico. "Agavins are not expensive and they have no known side effects, except for those few people who cannot tolerate them."
In addition, agavins, like other fructans, are made of the sugar fructose – the best sugars to help support growth of healthful microbes in the mouth and intestines – and can help people feel fuller, so they eat less.
She added that agavins are better than artificial sweeteners, which are absorbed by the body and can cause side effects, like headaches.
"One slight downside, however, is that agavins are not quite as sweet as their artificial counterparts," she said.
For the study, researchers 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.
"This study represents the first attempt to evaluate agavins as sweeteners in spite of their lower sweetness compared to sugar,'" López said.
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