As you probably know from the very particular way you take your coffee, not all sweeteners are created equal. For fewer calories, many choose these sugar alternatives and put up with an artificial flavor or a funky aftertaste.
Stevia, an FDA-approved sweetener, attempts to be the answer. It’s becoming increasingly popular, blending in between the pink, blue and yellow packets at coffee shops, even making its way into brand name soda products.
What Is Stevia Really?
Stevia is actually a plant. The sugar substitute is extracted from the stevia plant. A species called Stevia rebaudiana is naturally grown in Brazil and Paraguay, where it has been used for hundreds of years to sweeten foods and treat burns and stomach discomfort. The plant gets its sweetness from naturally occurring glycosides, which are extracted from the stevia leaves through a process that starts by placing the plant in hot water.
Fast facts on stevia:
Stevia is primarily grown in Brazil, Paraguay, Japan, and China.
The natural sweetener tastes 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar.
Stevia can be classified as “zero-calorie,” because the calories per serving are so low.
It has shown potential health benefits as a healthful sugar alternative for people with diabetes.
Stevia have been approved for use in the United States (U.S.) and do not appear to pose any health risks when used in moderation.
Stevia is a lot sweeter than sugar.
Even though its calorie-free, the plant extract can taste 200 times sweeter than the same amount of granulated table sugar. A little goes a long way.
Stevia can replace sugar in baking
You can lighten up cookies, cakes and even cocktails with stevia. But, since stevia is so much sweeter than sugar, recipes will require less of it, along with a bulking agent to make up for lost ingredient volume. The amount of stevia you use will depend on both the recipe and the brand. One and one-fourth teaspoons of Truvia can replace one tablespoon of sugar, while Stevia In The Raw makes a granulated product that does have an equal conversion rate.
…but it doesn’t caramelize.
Stevia won’t brown the way sugar does, so in this case, with stevia, you cannot have your creme brûlée and eat it too.
Health Benefits of Stevia
In 2012, Nutrition and Cancer highlighted a groundbreaking study that, for the first time ever, connected stevia consumption to breast cancer reduction. It was observed that stevioside enhances cancer apoptosis (cell death) and decreases certain stress pathways in the body that contribute to cancer growth. The journal Food Chemistry published a study out of Croatia showing that when stevia is added to natural colon cancer killing mixtures, such as blackberry leaf, antioxidant levels soar. Together, these studies show stevia’s potential as a natural cancer treatment.
Sweet News for Diabetics
Using stevia instead of white sugar can be extremely helpful to diabetics who need to avoid conventional sugar as much as possible on a diabetic diet plan. But they also shouldn’t have artificial chemical sweeteners. Human and animal studies have demonstrated that artificial sweeteners can raise your blood sugar levels even more than if you consumed the real stuff (table sugar).
Helps Weight Loss
Consuming added sugars has been shown to contribute an average of 16 percent of the total calories in the American diet. This high sugar intake has been linked to weight gain and adverse effects on blood sugar, two things that can have serious negative impacts on health.
Stevia is a plant-based, zero-calorie sweetener. If you choose to replace health-hazardous table sugar with a high-quality stevia extract and use it in moderation, it helps you decrease not only your overall daily sugar intake, but also your caloric intake. By keeping your sugar and calorie intake in a healthy range, you can help fend off obesity as well as many health problems linked with obesity, like diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Improves Cholesterol Levels
Results of a 2009 study showed that stevia extract had “positive and encouraging effects” on overall cholesterol profiles. It’s important to note that researchers also found that there were no adverse stevia side effects on the health status of the subjects involved in this stevia study. Researchers concluded that stevia extract effectively decreases elevated serum cholesterol levels, including triglycerides and LDL (“bad cholesterol”) ,while increasing good HDL cholesterol. You could say stevia results in the best of both worlds when it comes to cholesterol numbers.
Foods and beverages containing stevia can play an important role in decreasing calories from unwanted sweeteners in the diets of children. There are now thousands of products on the market containing naturally-sourced stevia, ranging from salad dressings to snack bars. This availability allows children to consume sweet foods and drinks without the added calories while transitioning to a lower sugar diet.
Packaged stevia isn’t necessarily “all natural.”
Yes, stevia is a plant from the earth, but in order for the sugar substitute to survive on the grocery store shelf or in your pantry, many companies include additional ingredients. A packet of Truvia, a popular stevia brand, contains erythritol, a sugar alcohol, and “natural flavors”, along with the stevia leaf extract. Pyure, another stevia product, contains dextrose, a starch-derived glucose which is often extracted from corn, wheat or rice.
Side effects and risks
High-purity stevia extract is approved for consumption by the FDA and a number of other regulatory bodies.Safety studies have marked stevia extract as free of side effects.
While purified steviol glycosides can be added to foods and are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration, the same is less true of whole leaf stevia. However, the stevia plant itself may be grown at home, and the leaves can be used in a variety of ways.
It was originally thought that stevia poses a danger to kidney health. A study on rats carried out since then suggests that stevia leaves in supplement form may instead possess qualities that protect the kidneys and reduce the impact of diabetes.
Current research also suggests that it is safe to consume the recommended amount of sugar substitute or less while pregnant.
Some stevia products also contain sugar alcohol. People with sensitivity to sugar alcohol may experience bloating, abdominal cramps, nausea, and diarrhea, though one type of sugar alcohol, erythritol, poses less risk of symptoms than others.
As long as stevia is highly-purified and used in moderation, it will not cause side effects and can be consumed worry-free