What is Stevia? | Everything You Need to Know | Benefits, Risks & More

By
Yara Mersi
December 29, 2020

Stevia is a non nutritive natural sweetener, which means it has no calories. It is derived from the leaves of a plant. Stevia leaf extract is about 200x sweeter than sugar. That being said, some people find that stevia products have a bitter aftertaste.

That is because the chemical compounds in the stevia plant interact with both the sweet and bitter receptors on your tongue.

For this reason, many products sweetened with stevia also contain other sweeteners. One packet of stevia powder is equivalent to 2 tsp of sugar and is approximately 5 calories and one gram of carbohydrate. Meanwhile, 2 tsp of sugar has 30 calories and 8 grams of carbohydrates.

Aside from being low in calories, another big draw of stevia is that it's not really absorbed by the body. So if you are looking to lose weight or control blood sugar you might look for stevia instead of sugar.

You can substitute stevia for sugar when baking or cooking in your recipes, but keep in mind you have to use the conversion chart to determine the proper amount. 

Benefits of Stevia

1. Diabetes

Stevia has been found to help lower blood glucose levels. Foods with a glycemic index less than 50 are considered safe for people with diabetes. The glycemic index (GI) refers to how fast the food you consume will increase blood glucose levels.

The lower the GI of a specific food, the less it may affect your blood sugar levels. Pure stevia has a glycemic index of 0 in comparison to table sugar, which has an index of 80. 

2. Weight Control

Given that stevia has no calories, it may help those who are trying to lose weight. 

It provides a natural touch of sweetness to beverages and food without compromising your weight loss program.

However, make sure you consume pure stevia extract as many products contain unwanted chemicals, sweeteners and other ingredients that will increase the calories.

3. Blood Pressure

One of the most important benefits of stevia is that it has been shown to lower blood pressure. This is because it is a vasodilator, causing the blood vessels to widen and lowering overall blood pressure.

Of course, this may be only an advantage for individuals suffering from high blood pressure. This is because having too low of a blood pressure can also be dangerous; it is associated with dizziness, nausea, dehydration and more.  

4. Anticancer Properties

The Nutrition and Cancer conducts a study in 2012 that demonstrated its anticancer abilities, specifically showing how stevia extract helped kill off breast cancer cells.

Steviol, which is the molecule in the stevia plant that provides the sweetness, increased the expression of apoptotic proteins (cell death proteins) and decreased certain pathways in the body that contribute to cancer growth.

In another study, steviol was found to be effective at blocking the growth and spread of gastrointestinal cancer cells, demonstrating its potential anti-cancer properties.

Risks of Consuming Stevia

However, just because something is zero calories or keto friendly does not mean it is healthy. Many of the brands harbor additives like maltodextrin, which is an oxymoron–you are buying stevia to get low sugar but the stevia ends up having the highest type of sweetener on the glycemic index, about 110.

In comparison, sucrose has a glycemic index of 65 and glucose is 100. Therefore choosing a stevia product does not necessarily mean it’s keto friendly. 

Furthermore, many stevia products may contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose or sugar alcohols like erythritol or xylitol. Some also use chemicals to get rid of the bitter aftertaste and because it's less than 5g, companies are not required to put it on the ingredients label. 

The best stevia product you purchase is the one that contains pure stevia extract. 

Moreover, these additional additives have been associated with severe digestive problems.

Even more, in a longitudinal study, the consumption of sweeteners was associated with increases in weight and waist circumference, as well as a higher incidence of health problems including obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases.

Some of this may be attributed to the fact that stevia and other sweeteners, while containing zero calories, may lead you to consume more calories throughout the day.

When it comes to pregnancy,  there is limited research on the effect of stevia during pregnancy, however, the FDA has deemed stevia safe to use during pregnancy.

Several animal studies do not suggest concerns of stevia during pregnancy. Yet, whole-leaf stevia as opposed to the purified extracts of the stevia leaf have not been permitted to be sold as sweeteners in the US due to limited research on its toxic effects. 

Finally, while stevia has been show to appear harmless, many studies conducted on rats found otherwise. In fact, intestinal bacteria in gas transformed steviosides, the active ingredient in stevia, into steviol. Steviol is toxic and causes the proliferation of mutagenic compounds to be produced in our colons.

Luckily, such risk only comes when fail to follow the recommend safety dosage of up to 4 mg/kg of body weight.

The Bottom Line

The research on non nutritive sweets and stevia in particular is inconclusive. The impact may depend on the individual’s other lifestyle factors, the amount consumed, the time of day consumed and their health conditions. 

If you do use stevia, make sure you get your doctor’s approval, especially if you suffer from serious health conditions. 

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Yara Mersi
Blogger at Anabolic Aliens