The Health Benefits Of Stevia As A Sugar Substitute
Where Does Stevia Come From?
Stevia, or specifically the Stevia rebaudiana plant, is an extremely sweet plant that is actively grown from Brazil and Paraguay. Stevia on it natural leaves form has long been used as a natural sugar substitute for at least 1,500 years. People have consumed stevia leaves on its own, added it to coffee, or sometimes to tea. Compared to ordinary table sugar that we know, a tiny amount of stevia is at least 30 to 200 times sweeter.
The earliest recorded use of stevia was by the Guaraní peoples of South America as a sweetener for medicines and tea. They used to call the herb as "ka'a he'ê," literally translating to "sweet herb." They also consume stevia on its own as a kind of "treat." The name "stevia" came from the Spanish botanist and physician Petrus Jacobus Stevus, as the plant was eventually named after him.
Years passed and a lot of research was put on stevia, leading to the discoveries regarding its composition, its effects, and its many uses. Stevia's main compounds, and the one that is mainly responsible for its extremely sweet taste, are steviol glycosides--composed of stevioside and rebaudioside. Aside from giving stevia its sweet taste, these compounds are also PH and heat-stable and are not fermentable. Since the body does not metabolize the glycosides found on stevia, it is recognized as having zero calories. This is the same as artificial sweeteners--the difference is that stevia is a natural source.
Right now, stevia is widely used around the world both as a processed sweetener, a sugar substitute, and a natural sweetener straight from its leaves.
Is Stevia safe to consume?
The simple answer is yes - stevia is safe. Since it is a naturally occurring plant, there is no reason to believe that it can pose threats or risks for consumption. Additionally, the United States' FDA gave stevia a "generally recognized as safe" approval in 2008. This meant that the use of stevia as a processed sweetener is deemed safe after close examination. However, leaves and crude extract use in drinks is yet to have FDA approval. Various health institutions around the world have also found stevia as a sweetener as a safe product for consumption.
For specific users, here are some tips and considerations you need to have in mind in taking stevia as a sweetener.
Is Stevia Safe for Children?
There is currently no established research that shows any complications of Stevia to children. Since Stevia has zero calories, it is generally safe for children to have as a sugar substitute, and it does not pose any worries of causing a calorie-intake imbalance.
Is Stevia Safe for Pregnant and Lactating Women?
For the most part, Stevia is also safe for pregnant and lactating women. In a series of studies done on animals, no one who had a regular intake of the steviol glycosides compound showed any adverse reaction from fetal development up to the lactating stage.
Stevia Safe for Diabetics?
People with diabetes are, in fact, one of the top target markets of a stevia sweetener product. Since carbohydrate and calorie intake is a very particular thing for people with diabetes, Stevia's sweet. Yet, zero-calorie properties is an instant deal-sealer for anyone who has diabetes but still wants to enjoy a sweet taste in their mouth.
In 2018, the American Diabetes Association Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes said that sweeteners with the same properties as Stevia may not only have sweet and safe properties for diabetics but may also help ease certain diabetic conditions by helping reduce overall carbohydrate and calorie intake. Their statement read: "The use of non-nutritive sweeteners may have the potential to reduce overall calorie and carbohydrate intake if substituted for caloric (sugar) sweeteners and without compensation by intake of additional calories from other food sources. Non-nutritive sweeteners are generally safe to use within the defined acceptable daily intake levels."
Stevia & Weight loss
Weight loss can be a complicated process and is often not the same for everyone. However, everyone who is trying to lose weight can agree on one thing: if you want to lose weight, decreasing calorie intake is one of the most basic approaches to it.
In a survey done by the National Weight Control Registry, it was found that out of the respondents, 50% of those who have lost weight said that they regularly consume low-calorie drinks. Out of these people, 78% of them felt that low-calorie drinks helped them manage their overall calorie intake better and thus lead to better overall weight management.
Although numerous studies have shown a significant relationship between less calorie intake and consuming food and drinks with fewer calories to losing weight, it is still important to remember that losing weight is not just simply having fewer calories in your daily intake--it is just one of the many aspects of the journey to losing weight.
Stevia & Blood Sugar Control
The consumption of low-calorie or zero-calorie sweeteners, both artificial and natural, has long been a recommended thing by a lot of nutritional and health bodies, as several studies have already proven that these sweeteners have promoted overall better blood sugar level control. As for Stevia, studies have proven that stevia sweeteners do not cause to raise blood sugar levels even in diabetics.
Does Stevia Affect our Gut Microbiome?
Although research on the impacts of the microbes in our intestinal tracts still has a long way to go, it has already been recognized that these microbes play a significant role in maintaining our overall health. As for Stevia, there is no evidence found on the number of researches done that suggests that the compounds found on Stevia have an impact in the composition or the function of the gut microbiome.
The Bottom Line
Having stevia sweeteners as a table sugar substitute in your diet, no matter if you are diabetic, someone who is trying to lose weight, or someone who is trying to eat naturally and healthy, is something that has no negative effects and has a number of benefits that it can offer you. So, there is no reason for you not to try and get your own stevia sweetener today!