Have you heard of Stevia? It has been buzzing on the web for some time. So we decided to shed some light on the plant with leaves of extremely high sweetening power and practically no calories. By the description we already know it’s making this type of sugar especially desirable for those who want to lose weight. But is it just buzz? What’s behind and in Stevia? Here you will get a brief overview and find out what Stevia is, how it’s used and whether or not it’s actually healthy or rather harmful.

First details

The fact that the plant Stevia rebaudiana might be new to us. But (accoring to Wikipedia) the plant has been used for 1,500 years by the GuaranĂ­ peoples of South America. “We” became aware to end of the 19th century as part of an expedition. Until 1931 there was only little research, which changed when two French chemists isolated what make the plant leaves taste sweet. Since then more companies adapted Stevia and in 2006 Japan consumed more Stevia than any other country while China was the biggest exporter. After Coca Cola hopped on the bandwagon in 2007 and made their announcement come true in 2008 many more followed.

The legal distinction is made between the plant and sweeteners extracted from it, steviol glycosides. It has long been controversial whether or not the leaves of the stevia plant are a new type of food- subject to novel food regulation- or if they do not require approval as a traditional food.

Numerous products containing this sugar substitute are now legally available in stores. These include drinks, liquid sweeteners and gummy bears. Stevia makes the classic household sweetness look very old because it is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar – yet it has no calories! It is an excellent choice if you want to avoid sugar. Unlike other sweeteners, it doesn’t negatively affect your blood sugar level and has a low glycemic index.

What’s the Difference between Stevia and Stevioside?

Stevia is the shortened name of the plant Stevia rebaudiana and it is also a natural sweetener and sugar subsitute derived from the leaves of the plant. To be precise: Stevia is a genus which contains 240 species including the sweet Stevia rebaudiana, but for simplicity of the buzzword everybody calls is just Stevia.

From Wikipedia: Stevioside is a glycoside derived from the stevia plant, which can be used as a sweetener.

So in other words it is just a type of extract from the plants.

Is Stevia healthy or harmful?

Some people eat stevia for conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heartburn, and many others, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.

There is a further discussion in regards to the use of stevia. The argument: sweeteners have a negative effect on weight gain. Researchers suspect that they send signal to the brain which increase hunger and thus food intake. If you eat large amounts of foods with stevia, then you will likely gain body weight – depending how much sugar was in these foods beforehand. But eating large amounts of foods will always lead to weight gain in one or another way.

According to experts, there is no scientific evidence for carcinogenic or genotoxic effects because so far there has been no studies done regarding this topic. But two 2010 review studies found no health concerns with Stevia or its sweetening extracts.

The acceptable daily intake (ADI) is four milligrams per kilogram of body weight and day. That means: someone with 70kg can ingest 280 milligrams without having to worry about any harm done to their health. But, be careful: according to experts, the ADI value could be exceeded if large amounts of foods containing stevia are consumed.

In conclusion stevia in small doses will be harmless. In industrial products it will be more purified, too. But before you order Stevia leaves or crude extract from abroad you should be aware that they do not have “GRAS status” meaning the import will raise an FDA alert when imported. The FDA approved only the purified form of stevia, called stevioside, as safe to use. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. And with stevioside you will be on the safe side.

Where is stevia used?

Stevia or steviol glycosides, are a popular sweetener used in many food and beverage products. The substance is best known for its low cost and the fact that it’s very stable, which makes it useful when cooking with other flavors. However depending on purity levels, this sugar substitute has a licorice-like or bitter taste that may be noticeable to some people. In the food industry however, steviol glycosides are only approved as an additive for certain foods such as:

  • Fruit nectar
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream
  • Jam
  • Cocoa and chocolate products
  • Snack foods
  • Soups
  • Sauces
  • Cereal
  • Beer
  • Fish products
  • Chewing gum
  • Sodas (or as Europeans call it: Soft Drinks)

Manufacturers are only allowed to add up to a certain amount of stevia sweetener in each food type, but you can use it at home by using powder, tablets and liquid. Stevia itself do not contain any calories but may alter the taste of what you’re cooking. If you put too much into your creations such as cakes or pastries they will quickly turn bitter.

Is it for you?

While the benefits of Stevia are the sweetness and lack of calories, it seems to be predestined for all kinds of cooking and baking experiments. However some of the products in the food industry will combine Stevia with other sugars or sweeteners due to it’s rather strong taste and bitter aftertaste. Which some people make like and others won’t.

We do recommend experimentation with tiny amounts first to find out how much of it you prefer. Maybe you’d like to try it with a single batch of muffins.

Do you have any experience with Stevia? Leave a comment below and tell us more.

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Tom Boyle

Tom Boyle

physiotherapist, woodworker, recreational cook

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