Stevia, a sugar substitute derived from the South American Stevia rebaudiana plant, has gained immense popularity in recent years. It was touted as a “natural” sugar substitute with zero calories and up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar, making it an ideal choice for those looking to lose weight and manage diabetes. While other non-sugar sweeteners have lost favor, stevia has remained a popular choice among consumers.
Stevia can be found in various food and beverage products, including drinks, desserts, gum, baked goods, candy, yogurt, and packets for use in beverages or baking at home. Stevia brand names include PureVia, Truvia, and SweetLeaf Sweetener.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers stevia a “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” ingredient, although this only applies to steviol glycosides used as sweeteners, not stevia leaf or crude stevia extracts, which don’t have FDA approval for use in food.
Initial concerns about stevia increasing the risk of cancer or reproductive problems based on animal studies led the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to call for the FDA to hold back GRAS status. However, after over 10 years on the market, stevia is now considered safe, even by CSPI standards. Despite this, the group still calls for more testing to further establish its safety.
Exploring the Health Benefits of Stevia
Stevia, a natural sweetener derived from the South American Stevia rebaudiana plant, has been gaining popularity due to its potential health benefits. With zero calories and up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, stevia has been touted as a safe sugar substitute that can aid in weight loss efforts and help manage diabetes.
According to Leah Kaufman, MS, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in New York City, stevia is a good and safe sugar alternative for patients with diabetes because it does not raise blood sugar levels.
In fact, a 2017 study in Nature Communications showed that stevia stimulates a protein essential for taste perception and is involved in the release of insulin after a meal. Insulin, produced by the pancreas, regulates blood sugar levels.
The American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association agree that stevia can be beneficial for people with diabetes if used in moderation and not compensated by eating extra calories at a later time.
However, it is important to note that stevia should be used in moderation. The European Food Safe Authority and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives established an acceptable daily intake range of no more than 12 mg daily, which is the equivalent of 40 packets for a 150-pound person.
Additionally, while stevia can be a good substitute for regular-caloric sucrose, it may not necessarily lead to weight loss. A small 2016 study showed that participants who had a drink sweetened with stevia instead of sugar in the morning compensated by eating more at lunch.
Therefore, reducing fat, monitoring portion size, and eating only when hungry is far more effective for weight loss than substituting stevia for sugar.
Stevia: An Overview of its Taste and Composition
Stevia is not exactly like sugar in taste, according to experts. “You will never get a sugar substitute that tastes exactly like sugar,” says David Levitsky, Ph.D., professor at Cornell University.
Stevia is derived from a plant, which is a benefit for those who prefer natural foods. It is extremely sweet, so only small amounts are required.
To give it a more sugar-like texture and appearance, stevia is often combined with a bulkier carrier agent, such as erythritol or dextrose, notes Levitsky.
Consumers should be mindful of what they are buying, as some stevia products may contain sugar alcohols like erythritol, which may cause digestive issues for some individuals.
It is essential to read the labels carefully before purchasing any sugar substitutes.