The truth about stevia
Have you ever purchased something claiming to be completely sugar-free? I recently got sucked into buying sugar-free drinking chocolate, and like with most things I buy, I turned it over to have a look at the ingredients. The main ingredient that stood out to me was stevia, something I had seen a few times before as a sweetener. This got me thinking; are these alternative sweeteners any better than the sugar they’re replacing?
The main benefit of sweeteners is that they do not add any calories and can, therefore, operate as an effective method by which to reduce weight. Unlike most sweeteners which are artificial, stevia is created from a plant.
The stevia plant originates from South America where it has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years before it was commercialised. Steviol glycosides are the extract from the stevia plant that is used to sweeten foods and is approved for consumption in over 60 countries. Other extracts and the leaf itself, however, do not have the same approval.
The sugar substitute market is expected to boom by 2020, estimated to be worth $16.5 billion, so it’s important to know if these substitutes have any side effects.
The literature appears to be on the fence regarding the health benefits of stevia. To make it even more confusing most modern iterations of stevia are powdered and heavily processed. The natural form of stevia has been used medicinally for hundreds of years for things such as burns and stomach pain.
Modern studies have seen other health benefits with one finding regular consumption helped to reduce blood pressure. There has also been research to suggest it can help reduce the growth of cancer. There are also potential side effects stemming from the body expecting a blood sugar change but not receiving one.
Most of the health benefits and side effects are either speculative or not rigorously tested enough. It does seem stevia is relatively safe to consume, however, and most importantly it helps to dramatically reduce sugar intake!