Many people are wondering about the origins, potential side effects, and safety of stevia, a sugar alternative that is gaining popularity despite the decline of other non-sugar sweeteners.
Many in the health-conscious nutrition world were ecstatic when stevia first became available in the United States in 2008 because of its possible health benefits.
At last, a sugar replacement that was “natural” and had no calories but was 300 times sweeter than sugar reached the market. The expectation was that stevia would help with diabetes management and weight reduction without compromising flavor. Some of this has really materialized.
One possible explanation for stevia’s continued popularity might be the correlation between the natural food trend toward plant-based diets and the epidemic of diabetes. A Nielsen poll found that stevia product sales increased 16% between 2017 and 2018, despite a general fall in the usage of artificial sweeteners.
Stevia, what is it?
This sugar replacement is rebaudioside A, reb-A, or rebian, and it comes from the Stevia rebaudiana plant in South America. As a sweetener, the plant is rich in steviol glycosides. Truevia, SweetLeaf Sweetener, and PureVia are some of the stevia brands available. Drinks, gum, baked products, candies, yogurt, and packets for use in beverages are just a few places you could find stevia. You can also use it while baking at home.
Will stevia do any harm?
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved stevia as a GRAS ingredient. Because the Food and Drug Administration has not authorized the use of stevia leaf or crude stevia extracts in food, this does not apply to them.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) spearheaded the effort to have the FDA revoke stevia’s GRAS designation due to early concerns that the sweetener might raise the risk of cancer or reproductive issues based on animal research. However, stevia is already safe, even by CSPI standards, after more than a decade on the market, but the organization is still pushing for more testing to confirm its safety.
Stevia: Investigating Possible Health Advantages
A key component of diabetes care is maintaining a steady blood sugar level, and some meals have a more noticeable impact on this than others. Leah Kaufman, MS, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in the weight management program at NYU Langone in New York City, says that stevia does not increase blood sugar. She states that those with diabetes might benefit from using stevia as a sugar substitute since it is safe and effective.
More good may come from stevia than just reducing sugar intake, according to some research. A 2017 study published in Nature Communications by scientists from Belgium’s University of Leuven showed that stevia activates a protein necessary for taste perception and implicated in the secretion of insulin after a meal. Your pancreas secretes the hormone insulin, which helps control blood sugar levels. (Diabetics, get this list of 21 delicious dishes.)
Both the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association have come to the conclusion that moderate usage of stevia, without subsequent calorie overconsumption, may be good for diabetics. Kaufman states that the recommended daily dosage, as set by the European Food Safety Authority and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives, is no more than 12 mg. This amounts to 40 packets for a 150-pound individual.
Because it has no calories, stevia is a great alternative to conventional sucrose. “People who are opting to use stevia instead of sugar might get some benefits from it, but it won’t make them lose weight for sure,” Kaufman warns.
Actually, at least one tiny piece of research from 2016 found that people ate more at lunch when they drank a sugar-free drink first thing in the morning, sweetened with stevia.
Dr. David Levitsky of Cornell University’s Division of Nutritional Sciences confirms that substituting stevia for sugar does, in fact, lead to calorie reduction.
“In theory, this could result in weight loss in the long run, but it’s really challenging to demonstrate in scientific trials,” he remarks. This is one method for weight loss, but it won’t cause you to shed a hundred pounds. The best way to lose weight is not to replace sugar with stevia, but to cut down on fat, watch portion sizes, and eat only when hungry.
Can you describe the flavor of stevia?
Is there a sugary aftertaste? No, he points out. “No sugar substitute has ever been developed with the same exact flavor profile as sugar.”
Many individuals who value eating foods that are naturally occurring see stevia as an advantage since it is derived from a plant, he adds.
You don’t need much stevia since it’s so sugary. To make it seem and feel more like sugar, it’s sometimes combined with a thicker “carrier” ingredient like erythritol or dextrose, a maize sugar.
“Some people may experience negative gastrointestinal effects and digestive problems due to the mixing of Reb-A or erythritol, a sugar alcohol, with the stevia you can buy at the store,” Kaufman cautions. Too much sugar alcohol, which is included in many sugar-free gums and sweets (though not always with stevia), may lead to diarrhea.
She stresses the need of reading labels to determine precisely what is in sugar substitutes.