Sugar is probably the unhealthiest thing in the modern diet, something I have written about before in my article Too Much Sugar. Sugar is added to almost all processed foods – even the savory and salty ones – because it tastes good and is also mildly addictive. This is very good news for food manufacturers but bad news for consumers.
Eating too much sugar is linked to a host of medical conditions and also a leading cause of weight gain and obesity. Subsequently, many people are cutting down on sugar and are looking for safer, healthier sugar alternatives. One such sugar alternative is stevia. Join my 20 No-Sugar days Challenge !
What is Stevia ?
Stevia is a plant that is naturally sweet but much lower in calories than sugar. It’s made from a leaf related to popular garden flowers like asters and chrysanthemums and is available in liquid and powder form. Grown mainly in south America and Asia, Stevia has been used for many generations and is deemed to be a safe alternative to sugar. Unlike many sugar alternatives, stevia is a natural rather than a chemical sweetener.
Stevia is not actually calorie free but because you need to use so little of it, it might as well be! Stevia leaves are three-times as sweet as sugar but concentrated stevia powder and liquid are approximately 200 to 300 hundred times sweeter so you only need to use a tiny amount.
Stevia is safe to use in cooking and while some people detect a mild artificial flavor in products sweetened with stevia, most people cannot taste any difference between foods sweetened with stevia and foods sweetened with regular sugar.
Is Stevia safe ?
Pure stevia, called stevioside, is deemed to be safe and approved by the FDA. Most good quality stevia products are made using stevioside. In contrast, stevia leaves are not FDA approved and while you may find them in your health food store, are not deemed safe.
Stevia might be a new food in the west but has been used for hundreds of years elsewhere in the world. This would not be the case if it were unsafe.
Stevia side effects
The main issue with stevia is that it often has a bitter aftertaste which some people find unpalatable. This is often tempered by using sugar alcohols which mask this problem. Sugar alcohols are known to cause stomach upsets in sensitive individuals so while stevia may get the blame for upset stomachs, it’s actually the sugar alcohols that are the issue.
Stevia has also been reported to cause a drop in blood pressure in some users. Not a problem if your BP is high but if you already have low blood pressure this could leave you feeling dizzy or fatigued. Some people are also allergic to stevia.
In general, stevia is deemed safe for human consumption and is an effective calorie-free alternative to sugar. Stevia is approved for use by diabetics and may help sufferers control their blood glucose levels more easily.
Stevia vs. Truvia
Truvia is a trademarked sweetener manufactured by Cargill Inc. Included in the ingredients are erythritol, stevia leaf extract, and natural flavors. Food labels list ingredients by weight, greatest to least, and a serving of Truvia (3.5 grams) contains three grams of erythritol and less than 0.5 grams of stevia.
Where stevia is a natural sugar alternative, Truvia is not and contains things like sugar alcohols and flavors. Truvia is often used in diet foods and drinks but cannot be considered a natural sugar alternative. Remember, it’s the sugar alcohols that are most likely to cause unwanted side effects commonly associated with stevia use.
Where can I buy stevia?
A friend of mine recommended this Natural Stevia Powder, available on Amazon.com.
Is Stevia for you ?
Personally, I’m not a big stevia fan because foods that are sweetened with stevia are foods you generally shouldn’t be eating that many off – cookies and soda for example. Just because a cookie contains stevia and not sugar doesn’t make it healthy!
However, I understand the benefit of a calorie-free sweetener and stevia is probably the best choice for this. It’s natural and safe providing you buy a good quality stevia product free from sugar alcohols. By all means use stevia but don’t abuse it.