We all love the sweet stuff so is substituting some of your sugars with Stevia the answer? It seems it may be because Stevia seems to have some advantages over sugar.
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a natural plant extract derived from the leaves of Stevia Rebaudiana, a plant species similar to sunflower. It grows in South America and the leaves are naturally sweet. The local Guarani people have used the leaves as a sweetener for centuries, often in Yerba Mate tea and to make sweet treats in food.
Although Stevia came to the notice of the scientific community in the late 1800s, in 1931 two chemists M Bridel and R Laveille isolated the glycosides (molecules that bind sugars) and realised it had an application as an alternative to sugar. Stevia Rebaudiana has been grown commercially as a natural sweetener ever since.
Many sweeteners contain steviol glycosides. Sweeteners containing Stevia are sold under various brand names and when you look for sugar substitutes, Stevia is certainly worth considering.
It is estimated that Stevia is 200 times sweeter than usual sugar. However it has very little effect upon blood sugar levels so is ideal for use if you are trying to lose weight.
Does Stevia Taste the same as Sugar?
Stevia is sweet and many people will not notice the difference between a Stevia sweetener and sugar. The sweet taste takes a little longer to develop in the mouth and it can leave an after taste if taken in high levels.
There may be health benefits to taking stevia too. However there are also health concerns with taking natural Stevia rather than an artificial sweetener that contains the active molecules.
Health Concerns of Stevia
It may be effective at lowering blood pressure and the implications with the treatment of diabetes are obvious.
It can cut down on dietary sugars so you would think that with the obvious benefits of taking stevia as a sugar replacement, it may one day replace sugar completely.
However this is not so. The legal status of Stevia varies from country to country and there are health concerns because there are concerns that natural Stevia may affect reproductive cardiovascular and renal systems.
The FDA has not approved stevia leaves or crude stevia as a dietary supplement although they have allowed the isolated chemical compound Rebaudioside A to be used in artificial sweeteners. The EU only approved Stevia additives in 2011 and in the USA it was banned in the 1990s although some glyvoside extracts were approved in 2008.
Truvia is fairly well known artificial sweetener that contains Rebaudioside A as its active compound.
Are There Health Risks?
Stevia can lower blood pressure. That can be a benefit but people on blood pressure medication will find that the sweetener could affect medication and this could be potentially dangerous. It can also interfere with diabetic medication and if you are taking insulin you will need to consult with your doctor before you try.
Stevia does interact with many types of medication including anti viral and anti fungal treatments. In addition it can interact with cancer drugs.
If you have any type of medical issue you do need to speak to your doctor before you take Stevia.
Does Using Stevia Help You Lose Weight?
You would imagine that Stevia would help you lose weight and many people take it for this purpose. However there is no evidence that taking sugar substitutes actually helps weight loss.
Despite the reduction in calories, there seems little impact on obesity levels. Industry sources value the substitute sugar market at $10.5 billion a year and suggest that as many as a quarter of the US population are taking sugar substitutes as a regular part of life. With the rise of obesity it seems obvious that taking sugar substitutes like Stevia is not really working for most people.
So Should You Replace Sugar With Stevia?
Many people have lost weight by changing diet and lifestyle and if replacing some of your sugar with Stevia works for you, there is no real reason why you should avoid it. The problem is that sugar is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to weight gain and to really lose weight and keep it off you need to think of your general diet and lifestyle.
Cutting down on sugar and sweet foods is the first step but it is important to remember that most foods come laden with added sugars and fructose and unless the food industry changes or you make changes yourself, using Stevia instead of sugar in your regular tea or coffee is not really going to make much difference.
Stevia may have numerous medical applications but these have yet to be fully tested for efficacy and safety. Before this happens if you decide to use a Stevia substitute which contains the active ingredient Rebaudioside A it may help your weight loss journey you may find it helps you to lose some weight. However if you have any medical issues or are taking medication for low blood pressure or diabetes you will need to ask the advice of your doctor.