Stevia is a natural, zero-calorie sweetener found in more than 14,000 foods and beverages worldwide. Stevia is a calorie-free, very sweet-tasting plant extract that has gained popularity as a sugar substitute. Its popularity has grown in recent years thanks to its reputation as a more “natural” sweetener than the usual lab-made artificial sweeteners (it comes from leaf extract). You’ll find sweeteners widely available under many store brands for home use.
What is stevia and how is it made?
Stevia, or Stevia rebaudiana, is a plant native to South America. The people of this region have been consuming the leaves as a source of sweetness for hundreds of years. It became popular as a sweetener in Japan in the 1970s, but it wasn’t the best sweetener a decade ago. Today, the extract is very popular as a calorie-free sugar alternative.
Since stevia is added to thousands of products, you only need to read the ingredient label to find out if it contains stevia. However, stevia is known by many names, which sometimes makes it difficult to identify. Here’s who to look for:
Stevia of high purity
Stevia leaf extract
Steviol glycosides (E960)
Rebaudioside A (Reb A)
A closer look at how stevia is made
Unlike artificial sweeteners that are made in a lab, stevia comes from the leaves of the plant. But it has to be processed before it gets to your table or in your food – you’re unlikely to eat the leaf itself. The leaves are first picked, dried and soaked in hot water. The liquid is then drained and strained to extract the intensely sweet components of the leaf called steviol glycosides. It is then mixed with a number of additives such as dextrose or maltodextrin to soften the intense sweet taste so that it can easily be incorporated into food.
stevia vs. Sugar: How does it compare to food?
per teaspoon (4 grams) Here are the nutrition stats for table sugar:
Protein: 0 g
Lipids: 0 g
Carbohydrates: 4 g
Sugar: 4 g
As you can see, table sugar is a carbohydrate. What’s more, all of its carbohydrates (and all of its calories) come from sugar (and, for the record, other sweeteners like honey and maple syrup have similar calorie counts as traditional granulated sugar).
Here are the nutritional stats for stevia (per 1 gram packet):
Protein: 0 g
Lipids: 0 g
Carbohydrates: 1 g
Sugar: 1 g
Obviously, stevia and sugar are very different, not least because stevia adds nothing to your daily caloric intake. Other sugar substitutes (aspartame, saccharin, sucralose) are also almost completely calorie-free.
Is stevia effective in improving your health?
You’ll hear about the many health benefits associated with stevia, but it’s important to know that research into this extract is still new.
Many tout stevia’s positive effects on blood sugar levels, making it ideal for people with type 2 diabetes and those looking to lose weight, or use it to suggest that it’s better than other non-nutritive sweeteners. But randomized trials on stevia’s potential for weight loss and diabetes management have been largely mixed. Some studies show a lower blood sugar response after consuming stevia, while others report no change.
When it comes to other markers of health, such as blood pressure, the results are also often mixed. Two studies found no change, and another reported a decrease in blood pressure after stevia consumption compared to a placebo. In general, consider stevia as a possible sweetener, but don’t expect it to make a noticeable difference to your health.
Is stevia good for weight loss or weight maintenance?
It is not yet known whether stevia can help with weight loss. In theory, this is true if you use calorific sugar instead of traditional sugar. But the human body is complex, and studies have yet to prove that calorie-free sweeteners, including stevia, can help you lose weight. As with other zero-calorie sweeteners, you may eat more, thinking you’ve saved calories, or these sweeteners may have a unique effect on your appetite and cause you to eat more.
In one study, participants drank a drink sweetened with aspartame, sucrose (sugar), or stevia, and then ate lunch an hour later. People who drank a calorie-free drink (regardless of type) ate more at lunch than those who drank a sugary (sugar) drink.
What does this mean ? Energy is “saved” by replacing sucrose with NNS [édulcorants non nutritifs] was fully compensated by subsequent meals; Accordingly, no difference in total daily energy intake was found between treatments,” the authors wrote. However, previous studies have shown that when people drank a drink made with stevia or aspartame before a meal, they did not eat more than those who drank a sucrose (sugar) drink.
Another review published in 2017 looked at three randomized controlled trials of stevia. “None of them reported a difference in body weight change between the intervention group and the control group,” the authors noted.
Bottom Line: Research is mixed. Including stevia or other calorie-free sweeteners as part of a healthy diet may be your best bet if you’re trying to lose weight.
Is stevia suitable for diabetics?
Non-nutritive sweeteners may play a role in your diet if you have diabetes. When used as a sugar substitute, they can potentially help with glucose control. But it noted that research has not shown that these types of sweeteners actually help people reduce their calorie or carbohydrate intake in the real world.
Also, you may have heard that stevia is really good for blood sugar control. Early research in mice published in 2017 shows that stevia stimulates a specific protein channel that helps the pancreas release the right amount of insulin. But jumping to the conclusion that stevia is a cure for diabetes is not yet appropriate.
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How to use stevia to sweeten your dishes?
Want to cook or bake with Stevia? Add as a sweetener in coffee or tea? First, remember that stevia can be 350 times sweeter than table sugar. Conversion varies depending on whether you use a packet or liquid drops; 1 teaspoon of sugar equals half a packet of stevia or five drops of liquid stevia. For larger recipes (such as baking), ½ cup of sugar equals 12 packets of stevia or 1 teaspoon of liquid stevia. But if you regularly bake with stevia, buy a baking stevia-sugar mix (so it says on the package) that allows you to replace the sugar with stevia in a 1:1 ratio, making the baking process easier.
If you’re new to stevia, you can try it first in your coffee or tea, which can help you cut down on added sugar throughout the day. Stevia dissolves well in hot drinks. Add a portion of the stevia packet, mix, taste, and continue adding until desired sweetness is reached.
When it comes to cooking and baking, you can replace most or some of the added sugar with stevia and its blends because it remains stable when heated. Just remember to always read the label of the product you are using to get the correct conversion. It is also recommended to keep ¼ cup of granulated sugar in the recipe so that the food caramelizes or browns nicely. Include it in pancakes, cookies, muffins, pies, frozen desserts, salad dressings and sauces.