Stevia is one of the latest in a long list of artificial sweeteners, products that provide sweetness without added calories. The producers of stevia claim that it is better because it is “natural” and derived from a plant. But, there are many different things to consider before adding stevia as a permanent fixture to your diet. Here is the truth about stevia.
Stevia comes from a plant called Stevia rebaudiana that is native to Paraguay and Brazil. People in these countries have used stevia leaves for hundreds of years to help sweeten foods. Stevia is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It has been used in traditional medicine for stomach problems or for the treatment of burns. The fact that stevia is sourced from a plant may make it more appealing to some people, but this does not make it inherently better than chemically-based sweeteners.
There has been a significant amount of research on artificial sweeteners and even though they do not contain any calories, they still may stimulate appetite and sugar cravings. There is also a mismatch between how we view sweetness (via an artificial sweetener) and calories provided by a portion of sweet food. Artificial sweeteners have been found to actually increase appetite, lead to weight gain, and cause more metabolic dysfunction than regular sugar would. Since stevia is a non-caloric sweetener, it has the potential to cause similar metabolic damage as other chemically based sweeteners such as aspartame.
There is also some concern that stevia can cause low blood pressure, which may have an effect on people taking blood pressure medications. It has also been shown to interact with certain medications such as anti-inflammatories, anti-fungals, antibiotics, and some anti-cancer drugs. Therefore, a doctor should be consulted if you are taking any medications. Most people should not have a significant issue with stevia in small amounts, but it is best to talk to your doctor if you have any significant concern.
Stevia is being sold via the brand names Truvia, CSR Smart, SteviaSweet, Sweetin, PureVia which are a purified version of the original plant sometimes mixed with other ingredients. Truvia is a product by the Coca-Cola company that contains both rebiana (a derivative of stevia) and erythritol. PureVia is a similar product made by Pepsi. These two brands are highly processed stevia derivatives and some people believe organic or more natural versions may be a better choice. Like any non-calorie sweeteners, it has no calories or carbohydrates and should not significantly impact your blood sugar.
Stevia may be a good choice for people watching their calories and blood glucose, in moderation. The exact level of how much is safe to consume is still unknown. Adding a bit to your tea or coffee in the morning is likely safe, whereas consuming large doses may have consequences. Some other alternatives include xylitol, raw honey, or date sugar. But, the best thing to do when trying to cut back on sugar is to break the addiction. Once you stop eating foods high in concentrated sugar, you will begin to appreciate the sweet taste of fruit or other natural sugars.