stevia natural sweeteners

There’s been an increase in the variety of artificial sweeteners on the market, as more and more people seek ways to satisfy their sweet tooth without piling on the calories. The chemical taste of saccharine has long been replaced by more real-tasting additives like aspartame. This is especially good news for people with diabetes and others who need to manage their blood sugar levels.

Like these artificial sweeteners, products derived from stevia do not impact blood glucose. Stevia products also might help with weight loss. That’s because not only is stevia many times sweeter than sugar — so you need to use very little — it’s also calorie-free.

What Is Stevia?

Stevia rebaudiana is a genus of plants native to South America. Its common names, sweet leaf and sugar leaf, suggest its tastiness. A highly refined form of stevia called rebaudioside A (marketed as Rebiana) is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food additive.

Less refined forms and stevia leaves aren’t FDA-approved for use in foods, but are sold as a health food supplement in powder and liquid form. The FDA opinion is based on limited studies that suggest raw or crudely refined stevia products can damage heart and reproductive health, and might do harm to the liver.

What Is Truvia?

Truvia is a commercial product created by the Coca-Cola Company and the food and chemical company Cargill. Truvia is made from refined stevia. It’s used as a sweetener for cooked or baked products and as a tabletop sweetener, that you might add to coffee.

Truvia is marketed as a natural product because of its origins in the stevia plant, but it’s removed from its roots by several refinements. It also has added ingredients, including erythritol and natural flavoring.

No Calories or Cavities

Stevia itself, as well as Truvia, has virtually no calories. Additionally, because stevia is many times sweeter than table sugar and most other sweeteners, you’ll use much less.

No calories means that stevia-based products could be a helpful part of a weight loss plan. But remember that any food can increase your weight if you eat more calories than you expend. That means if you replace the sugar in a recipe with stevia-based products, you reduce the sugar’s calories, but you don’t change the calories of the other ingredients.

Studies suggest stevia and its derived products don’t cause tooth decay and may help stop bacteria growth in the mouth. That means stevia won’t cause cavities, and might even prevent them and the gum disease gingivitis.

Can You Cook with Stevia?

One of the biggest advantages of stevia-derived sweeteners over other non-sugar sweeteners is that you can heat them and use them in cooking and baking. Truvia’s manufacturers recommend using a third as much Truvia as you would sugar. Truvia is also sold in blends that contain some table sugar and brown sugar.

If you’re not much of a sweet tooth but still curious about stevia, try a stevia leaf in a glass of iced tea.

Miraculous Stevia?

Stevia has been studied for many effects, good and bad. A recent study published in a Chilean health journal suggests stevia could have a positive mood effect on the brain, while also reducing sugar cravings.

Other studies suggest stevia could help stop diarrhea and the dangerous rotavirus. Remember however, that most of the stevia available in this country is a processed and refined version of the real stevia plant.