Stevia can be used as an alternative to sugar with the added benefit of fewer calories. Diets containing a lot of sugar have links to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Why is it that everything that tastes good to us is actually bad for us? The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories a day from added sugar for women and 150 for men. Actually, according to the Mayo Clinic, the typical American diets get more than 355 calories of added sugar per day. Using a sugar substitute such as stevia has the potential of reducing the calorie load but it’s important to know how this product differs from sugar and if it’s safe as a substitute.
Sugar, also called sucrose, is extracted from sugar cane and sugar beets that have been grown in tropical climates. Sugar is contained in the plant’s tissues and only sugar beets and sugar cane contain enough to be extracted and turned to white crystalline table sugar. Stevia is extracted from stevia rebaudiana, which is a member of the chrysanthemum family and native to Paraguay and Brazil. Substances called glycosides are contained in the leaves of the stevia plant that give it the sweet flavor. Stevia is 30 times sweeter than sugar in the whole leaf form and almost 300 times sweeter after refining.
Fifteen calories, and no nutrients, are contained in 1 teaspoon of sugar but linked to numerous diseases. “The Open Obesity Journal” reported that too much sugar is linked to the development of Type 2 diabetes, cancer, cavities, inflammatory bowel disease and the overgrowth of the candida yeast in the body. Stevia does not contain any calories and may have some health-enhancing properties, such as better blood glucose levels, fewer cavities, effective antioxidant activity, antiviral and antibacterial properties as well as the ability to lower blood pressure. Therefore, researchers have deemed that Stevia does have properties that make it a beneficial component to a healthy diet.
Stevia is sold as several brands on the market and the flavor and sweetness can vary. Less of this product is needed when using as a sugar substitute because it is much sweeter than sugar. Using only 1 teaspoon of stevia substitutes for 1 cup of sugar.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not objected to the use of highly refined stevia and has labeled it as “Generally Recognized As Safe”. Just know that the FDA has not permitted the use of whole leaf or crude stevia as food additives as they have concerns about possible negative health effects on the control of blood sugar and effects on the cardiovascular, reproductive and kidney systems. If we could just all do without that sugar, it would be great. But, if we absolutely have to have it, wouldn’t it be better to try to eliminate sugar hazards by substituting it with an FDA approved product?