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The Sweet Side of Health: Exploring the Benefits of Stevia

Introduction:


In the quest for healthier alternatives to traditional sweeteners, stevia has emerged as a popular choice. Derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, stevia offers sweetness without the calories and potential health concerns associated with sugar. In this blog, we’ll delve into the various health benefits that stevia brings to the table.

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What is Stevia exactly?


Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, which is native to South America, particularly Paraguay and Brazil. The plant has been used for centuries by indigenous people in these regions to sweeten foods and beverages. Stevia’s sweetness comes from its natural compounds, primarily steviol glycosides, which are responsible for its sweet taste.


Key Details about Stevia


1. Plant Source:

Stevia rebaudiana is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and is also known as sweetleaf or sugarleaf. The plant grows as a small perennial shrub with green leaves that are harvested for their sweetening properties.


2. Sweetening Compounds:


The sweetness of Stevia is attributed to a group of compounds called steviol glycosides. These glycosides are present in the leaves and are responsible for the intense sweet taste of Stevia. The most common and well-known steviol glycoside is called “stevioside.”


3. Zero-Calorie Sweetener:


Stevia is incredibly sweet, often being described as much sweeter than sugar. Despite its sweetness, steviol glycosides are not metabolized by the body for energy, which means that Stevia is virtually calorie-free. This makes it an attractive alternative to sugar for those looking to reduce calorie intake.


4. Low Glycemic Impact:


Stevia does not significantly affect blood sugar levels, making it suitable for people with diabetes or those aiming to manage their blood sugar. Unlike sugar, which can cause rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar, Stevia has a minimal impact on glycemic response.


5. Extraction Process:


To create commercial Stevia sweeteners, the leaves are typically dried and then steeped in water to extract the sweet compounds. This extraction process involves separating the steviol glycosides from the plant material. The resulting liquid extract is then purified and concentrated to create the sweetener.


6. Various Forms:


Stevia is available in various forms, including liquid extracts, powdered extracts, and granulated forms that resemble sugar in texture. These different forms offer flexibility for use in cooking, baking, and beverages.

7. FDA Approval and Regulation:


In the United States, Stevia and its derivatives received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) ingredient. This means that Stevia can be used as a sweetener in a wide range of food and beverage products.


8. Global Popularity:


Stevia has gained popularity as a natural sweetener around the world, especially as consumers seek healthier alternatives to traditional sugars and artificial sweeteners. It is used in a variety of products, including beverages, desserts, yogurts, and even as a tabletop sweetener.


How is Stevia different from Sugar?

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1. Source:


Stevia: Stevia is derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. The sweet compounds in stevia, called steviol glycosides, are extracted from these leaves.

Sugar: Sugar, often referred to as sucrose, is typically extracted from sugarcane or sugar beets. It’s a carbohydrate made up of glucose and fructose molecules.


2. Caloric Content:


• Stevia: Stevia is virtually calorie-free because the body does not metabolize the steviol glycosides for energy.

• Sugar: Sugar is calorie-dense, providing approximately 4 calories per gram.


3. Sweetness Level:


• Stevia: Stevia is incredibly sweet, often reported to be much sweeter than sugar. This means you need only a tiny amount of stevia to achieve the same level of sweetness as a larger amount of sugar.

• Sugar: Sugar is less sweet in comparison and requires a larger quantity to achieve the same level of sweetness as stevia.


4. Impact on Blood Sugar:


• Stevia: Stevia has a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. It does not cause rapid spikes in blood glucose, making it suitable for people with diabetes or those watching their blood sugar.

• Sugar: Sugar can cause rapid increases in blood sugar levels, leading to potential spikes and crashes in energy levels.


5. Metabolism:


• Stevia: The body does not metabolize the steviol glycosides in stevia for energy, meaning they pass through the digestive system without being converted into calories.

• Sugar: Sugar is broken down by the body into glucose and fructose, which can be used for energy or stored as fat.


6. Cavity Formation:


• Stevia: Stevia is noncariogenic, meaning it doesn’t promote the growth of bacteria that cause cavities in the same way that sugar does.

• Sugar: Sugar is known to contribute to the formation of dental cavities when consumed in excess.


7. Aftertaste:


• Stevia: Some people find that certain forms of stevia can have a slight aftertaste, described as bitter or licorice-like.

• Sugar: Sugar does not typically have an aftertaste.


8. Cooking and Baking:


• Stevia: Stevia can be used in cooking and baking, but because it is much sweeter than sugar, adjustments need to be made to recipes to achieve the desired sweetness and texture.

• Sugar: Sugar is a common ingredient in cooking and baking and contributes to the texture and structure of baked goods.

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Some other cool facts about Stevia


1. Natural Origin:


Stevia is a naturally derived sweetener sourced from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. This natural origin appeals to those who prefer to use products that come directly from plants rather than being chemically synthesized.


2. Plant-Based and Vegan-Friendly:


Since stevia is derived from a plant, it is considered a vegan-friendly sweetener. It’s an excellent choice for individuals who follow a vegan lifestyle or are looking to reduce their consumption of animal-derived products.


3. Heat Stability:


Stevia is heat-stable, which means it can be used in both hot and cold beverages and recipes without losing its sweetness. This characteristic makes it versatile for cooking, baking, and adding to hot drinks like tea and coffee.


4. Available Forms:


Stevia comes in various forms, such as liquid drops, powdered extracts, and granulated forms. These different forms allow for easy incorporation into different types of recipes and beverages.


5. Labeling:


When looking at food labels, you might see stevia listed under various names, such as “stevia extract,” “steviol glycosides,” or specific brand names of stevia-based sweeteners.


6. Blending Potential:


Some food and beverage products combine stevia with other natural sweeteners or sugar alcohols to achieve a balanced flavor profile. This can help mitigate any potential aftertaste that pure stevia might have.


7. Regulatory Approval:


Stevia has been approved for use as a food additive in many countries around the world, including the United States, the European Union, and Japan. It’s important to choose products that have been approved by relevant food safety authorities.


8. No Fermentable Carbohydrates:


Stevia doesn’t contain fermentable carbohydrates, which are substances that can be fermented by bacteria in the mouth and digestive tract. This is another reason why it is considered tooth-friendly and less likely to contribute to dental cavities.


9. Zero Glycemic Index:


Stevia has a glycemic index of zero, which means it doesn’t cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. This quality makes it an attractive option for people with diabetes or those following a low-carb diet.


10. Global Consumption:


Stevia’s popularity has grown globally as people seek alternatives to traditional sugars. It’s now found in a wide range of products, including beverages, snacks, dairy alternatives, and more.


11. Sustainability:


The cultivation of stevia requires less water and land compared to the production of sugar cane. This can contribute to more sustainable agricultural practices.

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