There are a lot of sweeteners out there, and it can be confusing to know which ones are healthy and which might be packed with artificial ingredients. We asked Kim Rose, RDN, to give us all we need to know about stevia.
Stevia has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years in traditional medicine. Extracted from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, stevia is not considered to be a refined or added sugar. It is an artificial sweetener. Yes, an artificial sweetener! Specifically, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies it as a non-nutritive sweetener (1). Non-nutritive sweeteners are very low in calories or contain no calories at all. For all intents and purposes, stevia is a calorie free and carb-free sugar substitute. Therefore, it can be a suitable substitute for persons seeking to watch their waistline or control their blood sugar levels.
All food is composed of three major nutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat. Let’s focus on carbs for a bit. If you're having problems controlling your blood sugar numbers, it's a good idea to pay special attention to the overall amount of carbs you're consuming. Carbs, which also include sugars, are not the bad guys here; however, if you consume too many carbs, they can send your blood sugar levels sky high. When certain sugars are replaced with substitutes that have very little impact on your blood sugar levels, this may help keep those levels under better control. Case in point: stevia is 200-400 times sweeter than regular table sugar, but it won’t send your numbers soaring (1). This means a little can go a long way in your morning cup of coffee or baked goods. You don’t have to sacrifice your health for great taste.
As a matter of fact, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) states that using sugar substitutes, such as stevia, is an “effective alternative to sugar” (2). Surprising right? This is definitely a winning scenario. Can you see all the reasons why people love stevia? It tastes good. It's carb-free. It's calorie free. The FDA and ADA approve of it. And most remarkably, it has proven itself to be suitable for many persons desiring to lower their blood sugar levels. This has got to be one of the sweetest deals nature ever made with us.