There are many forms of sugar and many forms of sweeteners. The market is changing with more natural sweeteners now available. Stevia is one. It has stolen the spotlight from other sweeteners like Splenda (Sucralose) and Sweet ’N Low (saccharin). Stevia has the advantage of being a natural substance, not one chemically created in a laboratory. So is stevia better than other sweeteners?
What is stevia?
Stevia is a small shrub native to parts of South America. It is a member of the chrysanthemum family. While it has been around for a long time, it has been used primarily for medicines, such as making your body better able to absorb glucose, the basic sugar we need to make energy.
Stevia is nearly 200 times sweeter than table sugar. But it will not raise your blood sugar and has very little aftertaste, unlike some sweeteners, especially the natural ones. Monk Fruit is one sweetener that, like Stevia, is stronger than sugar, but it has a caramel-like aftertaste that makes it a poor choice for me since I use sweetener mostly in drinks. I don’t like the sweetener adding anything other than sweetness and monk fruit has a strong flavor all its own.
There are two sweet compounds in stevia: stevioside and Rebaudioside-A or Reb-A. You can buy pure stevia, usually mixed with a no-calorie sugar like dextrose or maltodextrin.
What’s Different About Stevia?
Also on the shelf, you will see brands like Trivia or Pure Via. These brands use the other sweet element of the stevia plant, Reb-A. Getting a purified version you can put in your coffee requires extensive processing. No definite health benefits have been found so far from Reb-A. However, both sweeteners use stevia as the base and both generate sugar alcohols which provide a sweet taste, but then it has no effect on blood sugar or overall sugar consumption.
Stevia had been banned for use in food in 1992 because some early studies showed it could lead to cancer. But more studies convinced government authorities that it was safe after the USDA approved the use of Reb A as “generally safe and effective.” That opened up stevia leaf extracts to the markets, but only as a dietary supplement, not a food sweetener.
Yes, It’s Safe.
So, in the end, Stevia is generally safe to use for most people and it will help those facing blood sugar tolerance issues. It has no real flavor of its own, making it a good choice for sweetening drinks and other foods, although it’s still not great for baking. It is healthy and it is safe.
That could change, as studies continue. Stevia hasn’t been around long enough to find any side effects or problems cropping up from stevia usage. But experts still advise using stevia or artificial sweeteners in moderation. They recommend stevia use be limited to things like drinks. For other sweetening power, looks to other sugars like raw honey, coconut sugar, bananas and dates.