Since it comes from a plant, stevia has a reputation for being the healthiest of the zero-calorie sweeteners. How true is that really? Find out below.
- ...contains 0 calories.Stevia has become a popular sugar alternative among dieters as it is very sweet but contains 0 calories.
- ...is natural.Unlike most other zero-calorie sweeteners, which are made from chemicals, stevia actually comes from the stevia plant.
- ...can be a good option for diabetics.Some initial studies that indicated that incorporating stevia into your diet might help type 2 diabetics lower their blood sugar levels.
- ...could have an adverse effect on gut bacteria.Some studies have shown that zero-calorie sweeteners including stevia can disrupt the gut bacteria ecosystem, which helps keep the immune system healthy and powers digestion, among other functions.
- ...could help reduce blood pressure.Studies have indicated that stevia can cause blood vessels to widen, leading to lower blood pressure, which is good for the cardiovascular system.
- ...could be mixed with chemical additives and fillers.Cheaper brands of stevia are often mixed with other chemical sweeteners and sugar alcohols, which can cause digestive issues in some.
- ...may cause stomach issues.If you have a sensitive stomach, stevia might cause flatulence, bloating or diarrhea.
What You Should Know About Stevia
Stevia is a naturally-occuring zero-calorie sweetener, harvested from the South American stevia plant to produce sweetener in liquid or granular form that’s about 200-400 times sweeter than sugar.
Stevia shrubs are native to South America, where their leaves have been used as a sweetener for teas and medicine by the Guarani people for more than 1,500 years. The first Western introduction to stevia seems to have come in 1899, when Swiss botanist Moises Santiago Bertoni made note of the local sweetener in his diary during a research trip to Paraguay.
Stevia is incredibly sweet, up to 400 times more so than natural sugar.
How Healthy is Stevia?
When consumed in moderation, stevia is generally safe to eat, and might even have some health benefits. Stevia is a great option for dieters, as it contains 0 calories, as well as diabetics. Some initial studies indicate that stevia might help type 2 diabetics lower their blood sugar levels. Stevia is also a vasodilator, meaning it can cause blood vessels to widen, which could lead to lower blood pressure in some.
However just because stevia comes from a natural source doesn’t mean it’s immune from many of the issues which plague other zero-calorie sweeteners. Studies have shown that zero-calorie sweeteners can disrupt the gut bacteria ecosystem, which helps keep the immune system healthy and powers digestion, among other functions. If you have a sensitive stomach, stevia might also cause flatulence, bloating or diarrhea.
One of the biggest health drawbacks when it comes to stevia are the additives which often make their way into stevia products. Generic and large commercial brands often dilute stevia with cheaper sweeteners such as sugar alcohols, which are filled with chemicals and can cause digestive issues. Therefore it’s always important to check the ingredient list on your stevia before purchasing.
|Stevia Nutritional Info (1 TBSP)|
Shopping and Cooking Tips
Make sure to always buy stevia extract instead of stevia powder. Stevia powders are blends of sweeteners and not pure stevia, often containing chemicals and alcohol sugars which can upset the stomach. Stevia extract is a bit more expensive and generally in powder form, but is made of 100% pure stevia, without any harmful additives.
Kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, stevia should stay good for up to four years.
What to Make With Stevia
Among zero-calorie sweeteners, stevia is usually the best option when it comes to cooking and baking. Because it’s a natural ingredient, stevia can be cooked at much higher temperatures than chemical and artificial sweeteners, which tend to break down around the 250° F mark. Stevia, on the other hand, can be easily cooked up to 400° F.
Stevia is especially good for baking, and an easy way to cut the calories of your favorite cake or cookies by degrees. Because it’s so sweet, stevia should never be substituted 1:1 to sugar. Instead, use this easy chart to calculate your appropriate substitution:
|1/4 cup||3/8 tsp.|
|1/3 cup||1/2 tsp.|
|1/2 cup||3/4 tsp.|
|3/4 cup||1 tsp.|
|1 cup||1 1/2 tsp.|