Especially when trying to lose weight calories and sugar are a hot issue. Skipping sugar entirely is probably the best way to eat healthier, but this can be especially hard if you have a sweet tooth. We already figured that artificial sweeteners are not a decent option, as several studies have linked them with health issues reaching from cancer and diabetes to nausea1. And this is the moment in which the natural sweetener stevia jumps in!
What is stevia exactly?
Stevia is a non-calorie, natural sweetener derived from the South American plant “Stevia Rebaudiana”2. It contains rebaudiosides and steviol glycosides, which make it up to 150 times sweeter than sugar3. Stevia extract has originally been used by native South Americans to reduce weight, treat wound infections and inflammation or swellings and to even treat depression4. Especially in the last few years the plant became more popular in the developed countries, nevertheless its legal status as food additive and supplement varies from country to country. Japan for example has used the sweetener for decades, whereas the United States approved its legal usage in 2008 after having banned it in the 1990s and the European Union legalized it in 2011.5 The sweet leaf can be bought in many different forms. The one we know from the shelves in the supermarket is the white extract powder, but it is also available as dried stevia leaves, stevia liquid extract, granulate form or small packets. However, this natural sweetener is a better option than sugar, whether you are diabetic or just looking for a healthier lifestyle. So let´s find out what the plant offers.
What are the benefits of stevia?
1. Supports weight loss and counteracts diabetes and cancer Several studies have revealed that stevia can support blood sugar and weight loss.6 And not only this, the journal “Nutrition and Cancer” published a study that connected stevia to breast cancer reduction.7 Other recent studies reveal that It also “may help improve cholesterol levels and blood pressure”8.
2. No calories What about the calories? Believe it or not, It does not have any calories! And the good thing about it is that in contradiction to sugar or artificial sweeteners that harm your body, it is not addictive9. Less cravings for sugar mean less sugar consumption which in turn can lead to a healthier body.
3. Healthy teeth It is widely known that sugar is bad for your teeth. But also sugar alcohols which can be found for example in chewing gums or tooth paste are not good for you, as they can lead to bloating, gas and can be harmful for diabetics. Stevia does not have any of them.
4. It is save for diabetics Diabetics have to control their carbohydrate intake. In order to measure it, the Glycemic Index was developed. Anything under 50 is considered to be relatively safe. Sugar has a GI of 80, whereas Stevia has a GI of 0. Could it be any better?10
What about the downsides?
1. Taste Stevia is sweet, but it does not exactly taste like the sugar we are used to. In fact, it may have a tiny bitter aftertaste. If you find products that are based on rebaudiosides, the bitter aftertaste will not be existent.11
2. Not every stevia is created equal Unfortunately in many cases there is not much left from the real stevia leaf, which has been used for centuries. Nowadays sweeteners such as “truvia” contain stevia in a highly processed way and combine it with chemical and genetically modified erythritol. It is better to stay away from these kind of sweeteners. Look for “whole leaf stevia” if you want to consume the real, natural plant.12
3. Manufacturers´ tricks Many products containing stevia also contain real sugar or artificial sweeteners, mainly because of its aftertaste and price. Tereos PureCircle stated that out of 604 new products launched worldwide in 2010 containing stevia, at least 60 percent still contained sugar. Stevia on the label sounds good, but have a closer look at it and try to find the products that do not use any other unnatural sweeteners.13 Nevertheless, it might be better than going for the entire sugary version. Nevertheless, two 2010 studies found no health concerns with stevia or its sweetening extracts.14
Conclusion If you want to be safe, then follow the WHO's Joint Experts Committee on Food Additives and stick to the maximum of 4 miligrams per kilogram of body weight. This amount of steviol glycoside is safe and approved, based on long-term studies, an acceptable daily intake of steviol glycoside of up to 4 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Give stevia a try, it is definitely better than sugar for you!
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