My clients often ask me about sweeteners and sugar substitutes, so I thought I’d write an article about my favorite sweetener- stevia.
Before I jump into things, I’d like to make a general statement about all artificial sweeteners. Research has determined that artificial sweeteners are safe. Sugar substitutes are not known to cause cancer. Evidence even shows that they don’t cause people to overeat, and they don’t cause an increase in insulin. There may be some downsides or side effects depending on the person’s individual needs or concerns, but generally, they are not harmful.
This being said, I usually choose the most natural option because that’s my personal preference. It turns out, there are additional benefits to this option as well!
Keep reading to find out what they are!
What is Stevia?
Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni is a plant actually related to the sunflower! It’s rich in antioxidants and originated in Paraguay over 200 years ago.1 It’s been used for years as a sweetener in beverages and even for medicinal purposes.1
The sweetness is isolated through extraction, filtration, and dehydration for commercial products.1
Actually, I just purchased a Stevia plant! From your garden, you can use fresh leaves to infuse drinks, make a syrup, or you can dry the leaves and pulverize them into a powder.4 I’ll let you know when I try it 🙂
What Does the Research Say?
Stevia has been a part of over 200 scientific studies. All of these studies indicate that it is safe for the general public, including children and pregnant/nursing women.1 The Acceptable Daily Intake was determined to be over 40 packets per day.1
Beyond its safety, it has also been researched for its benefits. One study determined that the sweetener improves insulin resistance.2 They compared insulin and blood glucose levels in those who ate stevia compared with those who ate aspartame and those who ate sugar. The levels of both insulin and blood glucose were lowest in the stevia group. This shows that it has some benefit against insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.2
Benefits of the Plant
Stevia is still being studied, but here is a list of benefits currently known!
Rich in Antioxidants
The actual plant has been found to have many antioxidants, however, the actual sweeteners have not yet been tested.3
One study tested 3 different antibiotics for fighting the bacteria that causes Lyme’s disease against components of the stevia plant. They found that the components of the plant were effective antibacterials. However, this was just a preliminary study and it can’t be applied to clinical practice at this time.3
Improved glycogen storage
Athletes who consumed stevia before long-term exercise had 35% higher glycogen storage compared to those who did not in unpublished studies. This indicates that stevia is beneficial for exercise performance, although m ore studies need to be done.3
Blood Sugar Control
Studies show that stevia also improves insulin sensitivity.1,2,3 One study found that compared to aspartame, post-meal insulin levels were significantly lower for the stevia group.2 This shows that components of this sweetener improve the body’s reaction to insulin in a positive way, which helps to manage or prevent diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Studies show that replacing sugar with stevia lowers total caloric intake. They also found that people did not overeat as a result.1,2
Producing stevia is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than the production of sugar. The carbon footprint is 64-82% less than cane sugar and the water footprint is 92% less.1
I personally love this as a sweetener. My favorite brand is Sweet Leaf, and I use the powder packets for my coffee and tea. I also use their liquid version for cold drinks! I love it in my iced coffee and I make an amazing lemonade with it over the summer. See below for my recipe!
You can also use it for baking, although I have never tried.
Sugar or Stevia?
So you may also be asking yourself- isn’t sugar also natural? Yes it is! Usually, if I have the choice of sugar or stevia, I choose stevia, and I always keep my pantry well stocked of it. I prefer it because it helps manage blood sugar. But if it’s not an option, I’ll often choose sugar instead of a different sugar substitute.
Here’s why I typically choose Stevia over sugar:
- Blood sugar control = less sugar cravings
- Blood sugar control = less blood sugar crashes (less time spent Hangry!)
- I can use less stevia than I would sugar because it’s 200x sweeter!
My husband makes fun of me because I leave half-used packets. He thinks I’m being frugal 😂and I guess I am! Why throw out perfectly good stevia??
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- Stevia’s Splendor – Today’s Dietitian Magazine. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2019, from https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0617p18.shtml
- Anton SD, Martin CK, Han H, et al. Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite. 2010;55(1):37-43. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2010.03.009.
- Stevia Update: The Science Behind the Sweetener – Today’s Dietitian Magazine. Today’s Dietitian. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0419p14.shtml. Accessed May 22, 2019.
- Curinga K. How to Use Stevia Leaves. Healthy Eating | SF Gate. https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/use-stevia-leaves-6944.html. Published December 12, 2018. Accessed May 22, 2019.