These are unfortunate times to grow up loving sweet stuff. The World Health Organization just popped a lot of our (candy) bubbles when it recently released a study stating only 5 percent of our calories should come from sugar. That's waaay easier to say than do if you're like me and your number one favorite snack in the world is chocolate-covered strawberries dipped in (heavily sweetened) vanilla yogurt. No fair.

But a fact is a fact. And rather than fight it and risk all of the health consequences involved with overdosing on sugar -- diabetes and obesity, for example -- we can embrace some of the sweet alternatives out there. Lucky for us, one of these sugar substitutes is healthy, not saccharine-sweet, and can be used in more delish recipes than you would believe. I speak of everyone's latest and greatest favorite sweetener: agave.

If you've yet to hear about agave, prepare yourself. Known as the "nectar of the gods," this natural sweetener is derived from the Mexican Agave Cactus, which is famously known to also provide sweet sap for tequila. Agave kind of looks like honey but isn't as thick and dissolves quicker. It's a bit sweeter than sugar, which should be a consideration when incorporating it into desserts and other recipes.

So, what's the big deal about agave, you ask? It has a much lower calorie count than regular sugar -- you can actually shave 300 calories or more per cup by making the switch. It's lower on the glycemic index, which is great news for diabetics who must seriously regulate their sugar intake. And it contains small amounts of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. As with all other artificial sweeteners, no one is suggesting you go agave crazy and treat it like a vegetable, but it definitely seems to be a solid alternative to cane sugar if you are watching your weight or have diabetes but still love to bake sweet treats.

Speaking of treats, here are a few ideas for how you can cook or bake using agave:

Chile-rubbed agave chicken: Mmmm, there are few things more delightful on the tongue than the holy union of sweet and spicy.

Agave BBQ sauce: Perfect on every meat you can think of, from chicken to ribs and steak.

Agave berry breakfast syrup: Not being able to smother a stack of pancakes with yummy syrup is depressing -- this recipe puts the fun back in breakfast.

Agave brownies: You can have your cake -- er, brownies -- and eat 'em too, now that you can substitute sugar with agave.

Creamy tomato basil agave soup: A bit of agave in an otherwise savory soup brings out the rest of its interesting flavors.

Have you used agave yet? What do you make with it?