Focus On: Stevia

Is stevia safe?

WHAT IT IS: Stevia is an extract from the plant Stevia rebaudiana, which originated in the rainforests of Brazil and Paraguay. It is often used as an alternative to sugar. The flavor comes from glycosides—particularly stevioside, which is 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. It is highly sought after because it is calorie-free, carb-free, has a glycemic index (GI) of zero, and it is recognized as safe by the FDA.

Not everyone likes the way it tastes. Some people find it bitter, but others think stevia tastes like menthol. Try it in your morning coffee or sprinkled over your oatmeal to see if you like the taste. The sweet-tasting components in stevia sweeteners occur naturally. This characteristic may benefit people who prefer naturally-sourced foods and beverages. The low calorie count qualifies it to be a healthful alternative for diabetes control or weight loss.

Natural Sources

Stevia can be found in a powdered white or leaf form, as well as a liquid extract or blended with other ingredients like monk fruit. Most sources are great for beverages, sauces, coffee, fruit, yogurt, and oatmeal. It is considered heat stable up to 400 degrees, making it a good alternative for sugar in baking.

Benefits

Stevia may reduce blood pressure and blood sugar levels, but the data so far are not conclusive. Others have said it aids in weight loss and prevents tooth decay when substituted for table sugar.

Recommended Dosage

As a sweetener it is used as an alternative to sugar, not a supplement. The WHO has approved an acceptable daily intake of four milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

Warnings 

Stevia may cause mild side effects like nausea, dizziness, muscle pain, and numbness. An allergic reaction is possible if there is sensitivity to the Asteraceae plant family. There are some health concerns surrounding the stevia plant. Stevia may cause low blood pressure, which would be of concern to some taking blood pressure medications. Caution is advised when using medications that may also lower blood sugar. People taking insulin or drugs for diabetes by mouth should be monitored closely by a qualified health care professional,

Blends that contain sugar alcohols may also cause digestive issues in those who are sensitive. Common symptoms can include bloating, gas and diarrhea. Additionally, stevia could potentially cause allergic reactions in people with an allergy to ragweed, as they belong to the same family of plants. However, this has never been reported nor studied in structured research.

Wrap

For people who miss having sweet desserts and drinks, stevia sweeteners can provide an alternative ‎to sugar. A natural, zero-calorie sweetener, stevia can offer sweetness without the ‎excess sugar and calories. Furthermore, stevia is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, ‎which means you only need a little to create the same level of sweetness.  ‎ 

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