What is Stevia?
Ahh, sweet, sweet stevia <3 The wonderful stevia is a plant native to South America. Commonly referred to as “sweet leaf”, stevia is part of the Asteraceae family of plants (same at the sunflower). Stevia has come to the market in full force in the last 10 or 12 years, known to most as an all-natural, zero-calorie sweetener. You can check almost any natural product’s label whether it be a packaged tea, snack or treat, more often than not, you will find stevia on the label.
Is Stevia a Sugar?
No!! Praise be, stevia is NOT a sugar! The human body does not digest stevia as a sugar and it has no effect on blood sugar levels.
The stevia leaf contains 11 types of Steviol glycosides. These glycosides are what give stevia such a sweet taste, so sweet of a taste that the leaves are 40 times sweeter than sugar and the extracts can be anywhere from 250-300 times sweeter(!WOWZA!). The two glycosides in particular that give stevia its strongly sweet taste are Stevioside and Rebaudioside A (aka Reb A). Sometimes, one or the other of these two glycosides will be extracted and used on its own, instead of using the full leaf as a sweetener.
Is Stevia Good for You?
Stevia has been used in South American cultures for hundreds of years. Historically, they have not found it to be harmful or detrimental to health in any way. In fact, recent studies have also found that stevia may play a role in reducing obesity when used in place of sugar. Furthermore, another study shows results that look promising for stevia in regulating insulin levels in diabetes and other insulin resistance related syndromes. It is also a good alternative sweetener in conditions dealing with bacterial overgrowths in the gut or other places in the body.
What Kind of Stevia is Best?
This is where things get a little tricky… leave it to the FDA to make things clear as crystal, am I right? (-_-)
There are several versions of stevia available…
Stevia Leaf, Fresh or Dried
Obviously, this is the number one choice - anything in its most whole, organic form is going to be best and easiest for the body to understand. Some people try to avoid this because it tends to leave an odd aftertaste according to many. I will also say, use this with caution, as it is always sweeter than you anticipate!
Stevia Liquid Extract
This is typically the cleanest version of stevia extract you will find. I like to give the example of vanilla extract, it is just like that but with stevia leaf instead of vanilla bean. If you are familiar with tinctures, it is essentially the tincture of the stevia leaf. It will typically contain only 3 or 4 ingredients: water, alcohol, stevia, and occasionally, glycerine. Again, use this with caution as only 3-4 drops typically do the trick!
Stevia (Reb A)
This is an extracted glycoside from the stevia leaf. It can be up to 250-300 times sweeter than normal table sugar, which means you only need a teensy tiny amount when using it. This extract is not bad in itself, but it is not easy to come across on its own as it is extremely pricy and typically (as you will read in the next bullet point) diluted with filler ingredients, so it is good to always check your ingredient labels to be sure of what ingredients are actually in your stevia(!!!).
Stevia Sweetener Packets
So those little packs that you see at your favorite coffee shop or in your office break room are actually not as amazing as they’re made out to be. They are typically a powdered extract of the glycoside Reb A, which that in itself is okay, but on top of that ingredient is also something like maltodextrin, sucrose, or dextrose which are all synonymous for fillers/ sugars. This would be my last recommendation for stevia choice - honestly I skip this kind of stevia all together.
How Much Stevia is Too Much?
According to PubMed, the acceptable daily intake (ADI) should not exceed about 12mg of high-purity stevia extract per kg of body weight per day. This means we really don’t have to worry at all about the amount of stevia we are ingesting because… take this example provided by PubMed:
For example, to put the ADI for high purity steviol glycosides into perspective, a 150-lb (70-kg) person would need to consume approximately 40 packets of a table top stevia sweetener that contain 21 mg steviol glycosides per packet daily for a lifetime to maximize the current ADI.
I too, as I am sure you are, was shocked when I found this out. One could fully blow this out of proportion and take it for granted, sure - But as with all things in life, everything in moderation!… But as you can see from that study above, you can’t really overdo it on stevia with any ill health consequences, so shoot, go for it and have that 5th drop of stevia extract in your morning coffee!! ;)
So that wraps up my little blurb on my favorite sweetener. Don’t be afraid to get a bottle and experiment with it, it goes well in drinks like coffee, tea, and smoothie and you can use it in baked goods as well without having a huge spike in your blood sugars when you indulge in that treat!
If you have any comments or questions, feel free to comment in the section below. I would love to hear your thoughts on stevia and your recipes too :)
Big SWEET Love,