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Stevia: The Other White Sweetener

steviaDuring your weekly shopping trip, you see a food sample booth just ahead of you. Curious what they have to try, you make your way over. Oooh, coffee! With how little sleep you got last night, that sounds great. So, you pour yourself a small cup and as you are about to grab the sugar, you notice a small bottle of stevia extract next to it. You’re a sugar person, but should you give it a try? You’ve heard that stevia is a natural sweetener that has been used for centuries in South America and extensively for over 30 years in Japan. You’re curious enough to try it, but is it a better choice than sugar?

What is stevia?
Stevia (scientific name stevia rebaudiana) is a small herb that is native to South America, grown for its sweet leaves. Stevia’s sweetness comes from the extracts of its leaves. (which contain different glycosides, specifically stevioside) It is up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. However, when consumed in high concentrations, stevia can taste bitter.

Is stevia healthy?
Unlike table sugar, stevia has no carbohydrates, no calories and a glycemic index of zero. Because of its nutritional profile, it has become a great alternative to sugar for those suffering from diabetes or who are on a carbohydrate controlled diet. Also, a diet containing foods that have a low glycemic index is a known contributor to healthy longevity because it reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity

Is stevia safe?
The answer is, it seems to be. It has been used for centuries in South America and for over 30 years in Japan with no harmful consequences noted. However, some controversy still remains. The results of some studies, have shown mixed results in terms of toxicology and the adverse effects of stevia constituents. While reports emerged that found steviol and stevioside to be weak mutagens, the bulk of studies have shown an absence of harmful effects. However, because of the mixed results, more studies appear to be warranted to make a decisive conclusion on the safety of stevia, especially in high doses.

Stevia is a relatively new food sweetener in the United States. In 2011, the FDA approved certain stevia extracts in food products. Prior to that, it was only allowed to be sold as a dietary supplement. However, the FDA still bans the use of whole leaf stevia or crude stevia extract because they have not yet approved those forms as a food additive due to concerns about their safety.

Where can I find stevia?
Stevia can be purchased in a white powdered form or as a liquid extract in major grocery stores. As a sweetener, it can be used in beverages and in baked goods. In Japan, you can find it in chewing gum, ice cream, yogurts, candies, pickled products, and soy sauce, to name a few. Because of its zero calorie, zero carbohydrate profile; it has become a key ingredient in new diet beverage products used by Coke (Truvia) and Pepsi (PurVia).

The bottom line:
If you have diabetes or need to lose weight and are able to tolerate the taste of stevia, it appears to be a reasonable alternative to sugar when used in moderate consumption. So the next time you are sampling coffee at the store and stevia is an option, pour a little stevia and tell me what you think!

Sources: Oxford Journals, Science Direct

Comments (2)

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  1. Kim says:

    I suffer from diabetes and I use Stevia in my coffee, although it’s not the same as regular sugar.

  2. Isabel van Sunder says:

    It is good to know that you have a choice to using sugar.

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