Sugar is not the healthiest thing to include in the diet, and excessive amounts are a sure ticket to a wide variety of health conditions. The awareness of the “sugar” problem has made people aware of the need for an alternative that won’t cause so many problems.
There is a sweetener that has been getting a lot of attention in this regard: Stevia. Of course, the first question on the discerning consumer’s mind will be “Is Stevia a Healthy solution for sweetener? “
What is Stevia?
Stevia s an herb from the lands of S. American and reputedly 200 times as sweet as sugar.
The great thing about stevia is that it doesn’t spike sugar levels in the blood and cause the “sugar rush” that you get from eating candies.
Stevia has been used as a sweetener for many centuries but has only become a popular item in recent years.
While the stevia leaves are very sweet, whether they are dried or fresh, this is not the typical presentation enjoyed by the average consumer.
The stevia leaves will go through a rigid processing and treatment process before the little sachets of white powder make their way to the corner of your coffee break room.
What makes Stevia Sweet?
The sweetness from the stevia plant comes from two chemicals found in the leaves: Stevioside and Rebaudioside A.
Rebaudioside A is the more valuable of the two and what is isolated by processing and refining, but there are usually other ingredients included as well.
Erythritol can enhance the sweetness and is a derivative of the corn syrup family, but can also be synthesized artificially.
Stevioside is the smaller portion of the Stevia sweetener.
This is the portion that causes an unusual after-taste and also has many of the beneficial properties that make stevia a healthy option.
Is Stevia Safe?
Stevia as a plant is 100% and grows easily in many areas of the world. Tinctures and other natural products are both sweet and has been studied and found safe.
There are actually some health benefits from the natural stevia plant.
On the other hand, the processed white powders are FDA approved, but not necessarily any less of a risk than regular sugar.
Stevia Health Benefits
The first and foremost benefit of using a stevia sweetener solution is avoiding all the conditions that can spring from a high-sugar diet.
From better-balanced blood sugars to the lack of a sugar rush and fewer cavities, the benefits in this healthy switch are extensive.
Then stevia has also been studied for its effects on hypertension and found to reduce blood pressure. No side effects were recorded in this study.
Other studies indicated that stevia can have beneficial properties in preventing certain types of cancer, namely breast cancer.
While more studies will be needed to support the claims of being an anticarcinogen, it is safe to say that Stevia is a “healthier” option, so long as it can be found in an unprocessed and natural form. Even still, there are some risks that should be considered.
These will be outlined later in the article.
Is Stevia Safe for Diabetics?
Diabetics have been enthused about the option of a sugar-free sweetener and stevia might just be the thing.
The important thing to remember is that a diabetics diet must be carefully adjusted to their specific condition, and any changes and substitutions should be discussed with a professional dietician. Simply because a beverage or food has “stevia” on the label, doesn’t make it a good choice for all diabetics.
Nevertheless, stevia has 0 calories and no carbohydrates that can send the diabetics conditions in a tailspin.
In other words, the blood sugar levels and insulin in the body will continue unaffected by stevia, when the smallest amounts of sugar could be quite disruptive.
Stevia can be used to sweeten a wide variety of teas, coffees, soymilks, cereals and salad dressings so long as the ingredients are considered as a whole.
You will want to ensure that your stevia foods don’t also contain any other carbohydrates or ingredients that could affect you negatively.
This is why you will want to have your food choices sanctioned by a qualified health provider before beginning your new diet plan.
Are There Risks with Stevia?
Despite the advantages of this alternative sweetener, there are some things about stevia that should be considered.
These exist in both the processed and natural form but could be more aggressive in the refined stevia products. This is, as yet, educated speculation, though more studies will be needed to prove the true effects of FDA-approved stevia products.
While there is no threat to spiking blood levels or affecting insulin, the body may be expecting these effects and be taken by surprise if not supplied blood-boosting effects. Some experts think that this ordeal could be stressing on the body.
Stevioside has also been found to have contraceptive properties in both male and female test subjects. Steviol glycoside, of which stevioside is a prime example, has been found to reduce the productivity in female lab rats.
This suggests that large amounts of prolonged consumption of stevioside can have an impact on hormonal balance.
Considering that the quantities of this substance in stevia products are so small, it is unlikely that this would be a factor to anyone other than those suffering from hormonal disbalance or those enduring some sort of hormonal therapy.
It is an important topic to discuss with your medical provider if you are suffering any such conditions.
Stevia Safety: The Bottom Line
Studies have been performed on the stevia plant and are still in process for the many derivative products. As yet, there has been no substantiated reports of poor health caused by this plant in natural or processed forms.
There is a good chance you will feel very different as you slowly eliminate sugars from your diet in place of stevia, and it would be wise to take a slow and intuitive approach to this major adjustment.
As mentioned, be sure you discuss your diet and health conditions with a qualified expert who can provide you with the parameters of the best diet for you.