Stevia – What you need to know about the Zero Calorie Natural Sweetener

stevia
The fame and use of Stevia saw a meteoric rise due to an increased consumer interest in a healthy and natural alternative for sugar, which is not only virtually devoid of nutritional benefits, but also implicated in numerous degenerative diseases.

What is Stevia?

Stevia Rebaudiana is an herb from the sunflower family. It has been used by natives in South and Central America for hundreds of years as a natural sweetener. Used in the ancient medicine of the region, stevia also proved beneficial in the treatment of burns, colic, stomach related problems and in some cases as a contraceptive.

Stevia is now a trendy, non-caloric sweetener, which doesn’t affect either blood glucose or insulin levels. Isn’t that something?

Two glycosides are mainly responsible for making stevia leaves sweet – stevioside and rebaudioside.  Stevioside is sweet but also has a bitter aftertaste which you might complain about after ingesting raw stevia. More processed stevia contains only rebaudioside which is sweeter and less bitter.

Some Quick Facts – Why is it creating such a buzz?

  1. Sweetness – The Stevia extract can be upto 300 times sweeter than sucrose or refined sugar. Different forms, quality and processing affect its level of sweetness. In contrast to table sugar, a little stevia goes a loooooong way and has a long stable shelf life.
  2. No calories – Stevia in itself contains no calories or carbohydrates. But to reduce the bitter aftertaste, most brands have additional ingredients to make it more palatable. These additives introduce some calories to the Stevia product. Don’t worry, the highest recorded calorie content in available stevia blends is 1g per packet.
  3. Doesn’t feed candida – It helps in the restoration of the gut flora and acts as a natural remedy for candidiasis. Since the yeast which causes candida symptoms feeds on sugar, replacing sugar in the diet with a non-sugar compound like stevia brings relief to the digestive tract. Use good quality stevia in any form to sweeten food.
  4. Glycemic index of zero – Studies suggest that stevia doesn’t affect blood glucose levels or insulin, rather some forms may actually lower your sugar levels. This makes it a sweetener of choice for those who suffer from sugar metabolism issues, like diabetes.
  5. Available in different forms –
  • A white extract powder (most popular)
  • Dried stevia leaves
  • Stevia liquid extract
  • Small pellets
  • Granular form in small packets

Substituting stevia for sugar

Substituting sugar with stevia is a good way to decrease the intake of high-calorie-no-good sugar. Stevia is the ingredient of choice in hundreds of food items in the U.S. including energy bars, drink mixes, candies, soft drinks and some teas. In Japan, stevia is an essential ingredient in the sugarless versions of Wrigley’s chewing gum and Diet Coke.

Different stevia products have different concentrations, flavors and degrees of sweetness, so substituting stevia for sugar will require some trial and error. You can also bake with stevia but unlike sugar it does not caramelize. So preparing Meringues or creme brûlée may not be possible.

Health Benefits

  • Inhibits candidiasis. Also read how spirulina can help in battling candida overgrowth, here.
  • Beneficial in weight management as a no-carb, no-calorie substitute
  • Anti-bacterial properties help fight against gingivitis, cavities and plaque
  • Potentially helpful in relieving heartburn and indigestion
  • Shown to aid in calcium formation
  • Helpful in diabetes treatment as it may stabilize blood sugar levels, increase insulin resistance and may even promote insulin production by promoting pancreas health. Read more about the diabetes superfood to lower your blood sugar, here.

Is it approved in the U.S.?

In 2008, the FDA declared that stevia and other artificial sweeteners were safe and do not appear to pose any health risks when used in moderation.

The National Cancer Institute confirms this by saying that there’s no scientific proof to support earlier concerns that the artificial sweetener may cause cancer.

Studies and researches clearly support the safety of stevia sweeteners in foods and beverages and an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of four mg/kg body weight has been established.

Considerations and Potential Risks

  • Bitter Aftertaste – Some stevia products have a lingering bitter aftertaste unlike the clean sweetness of sugar. You will need to experiment and find out what brand suits you best.
  • Cost – Stevia is relatively more expensive than sugar. But since it is excessively sweet, you need to add only a small amount to get the same sweetness as sugar, giving you good value for your money.
  • Pregnancy or Breastfeeding – More research is needed to establish the safety of stevia in pregnant and nursing women. To avoid any potential complication, it is recommended to avoid using stevia
  • Allergic Reactions – In rare cases, stevia is known to cause allergy symptoms like shortness of breath, hives, dizziness, wheezing or weakness. Individuals allergic to ragweed and related plants should also avoid it and seek medical attention in case of consumption.
  • Health Risks – Blood Pressure or diabetic patients should use stevia “with caution” since it may interact with medications and drop blood sugar levels or lower blood pressure.

All stevia products are not created equal. So pay attention to the label and go for the extract that has the least additives, best taste and highest quality.

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