Stevia is a plant grown in south america and eastern Asia that’s beneficial for people looking to sweeten their diet without some of the pernicious effects of table sugar and other artificial flavorings. Its leaves are naturally sweet, and purified Stevia leaf is about 20x sweeter than sugar.
Lots of people have been using it for a long time to good effect.
- It’s an extract from a plant with additional health benefits
- There are no known long-term side effects (at least the way it’s currently used)
- It has little to no impact on blood sugar, and may even help in this area
- IMO it has the best taste of all sugar alternatives.
- It doesn’t seem to kickstart your body into fat accumulation mode or have renal and neural side effects like aspartame.
Sounds like a slam dunk, right?
You’d think, but using Stevia on the ground is a little more complicated than it ought to be.
Stevia in the Store Isn’t Exactly Stevia
For reasons that aren’t clear to me, whole leaf stevia and stevia extracts can’t be sold to consumers in the US. You can add stevia leaf to a supplement (that’s what we do in Incredible Greens), and you can grow it in your backyard, but you can’t get it at the grocery store.
I think it’s dumb, but I don’t make the rules.
Most of the Stevia you get at the store is a combination of Stevia and some other artificial sweeteners. Erythritol is the most popular addition. Sometimes they’re also mixed with fructose, table sugar, splenda, or other similar substances.
PureVia and TruVia are the most popular brands of Stevia products and are made by Coke and Pepsi respectively. They’re Stevia-like, but not the real thing. This is partly due to rules, and partly due to the fact that pure stevia is brown when it’s crushed and doesn’t resemble regular ol’ sugar very much.
Only rebaudioside A, which is an extract of a compound found in Stevia can be used as a food additive and put into foods. That’s why you can’t buy big bags of Stevia powder for $5 and don’t see it used in packaged foods very much.
I typically find myself disappointed with lots of Stevia products (particularly Stevia in the Raw), but have found a few that are helpful and pretty close to the real thing.
My favorite is the Stevia from Puritan’s Pride, which is stevia extract mixed with inulin, a prebiotic fiber. It’s also much cheaper than similar products, which are often priced like premium health supplements. Boo!
Health Benefits and Side Effects
Like I said before, there’s no reason to think Stevia is dangerous. At least in moderate quantities. (Okay, it’s probably harmful if you digest 100 lbs of it a year like high-fructose corn syrup).
The FDA, WHO, and EU haven’t found anything wrong with it. Japanese people eat it all the time. It’s sweetness also means you don’t have to use very much of it for it to affect the taste of dishes.
However, it’s important to note the differences between Stevia Leaf and Rebaudioside A, which is a particular extract that comes from Stevia and is most commonly used in food products like TruVia.
Concentrated Stevia is about 20-30x sweeter than sugar, whereas Rebaudioside A is about 300x sweeter. It’s the sweetest compound in the stevia plant. As far as I know most of the studies done on Stevia that show it’s harmless are done with aqueous Stevia extracts, and not Rebaudioside A, which is the primary substance used in PureVia and TruVia, and many other stevia products.
This isn’t troubling in itself, but maybe Rebaudioside A behaves differently in the body than stevia leaf itself.
The effect of rebaudioside A is critically dependent on the presence of extracellular Ca2+, ie, rebaudioside A-induced insulin stimulation at high glucose disappears in the absence of extracellular Ca2+. In conclusion, rebaudioside A possesses insulinotropic effects
This is a good spot in the article to point out the irony of legalizing a less healthy plant extract in lieu of its more nutritious natural form.