What is Stevia?

August 22, 2017

What is Stevia?

Americans are addicted to sugar. Even the health conscious are consuming sugars unknowingly because they don’t realize that it is a common ingredient in many processed foods, including tomato sauce, yogurt, and granola.

While the American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 9.5 teaspoons of added sugar per day, the average US adult is taking in more than twice that amount at 22 teaspoons. Children are eating even higher amounts, consuming 32 teaspoons per day! Yikes.

Despite health warnings, it’s not any easier to kick a sugar habit cold turkey. Is there a healthy alternative? Yes. Stevia is a great replacement for traditional sources of sugar and has the potency to satisfy any sweet tooth.  

What is stevia?

Stevia is a nonnutritive, or no calorie, natural sweetener derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. While parts of the plant are bitter, the sweetness comes from plant compounds called steviol glycosides, the bulk of which include stevioside and rebaudioside. So, when you grab stevia from store shelves, you’re actually buying an extract that can come in a liquid or powder form.  

Native to most parts of North and South America, the people of Brazil and Paraguay have been using the leaves for centuries to sweeten teas and medicines. It’s no wonder, as Stevia extract can be 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. Because of its potency, less Stevia is needed to sweeten food and beverages.    

What makes stevia a calorie free sweetener?

Technically, all raw foods have calories…it’s actually how our bodies digest and absorb these foods that determine whether or not we receive calories or energy from them. For example, fiber, or cellulose, is a carbohydrate, which has 4 calories per gram. However, because people cannot digest or breakdown fiber, they cannot absorb the calories.

The body reacts to steviol glycosides in a similar way. They pass through the small intestine intact and are then eaten by gut bacteria in the colon, which produces a byproduct that is metabolized by the liver and excreted through urine. There is no excess energy that can be stored as fat.     

Is stevia safe to use?

Multiple studies have shown pure stevia extract is safe for consumption by people of all ages and stages, including pregnant women, children, and diabetics. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially recognized the sweetener as safe to use in food and beverages in 2008.

The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for pure stevia extracts is 4 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. For example, a person weighing 160 pounds can safely consume roughly 290 milligrams.

Not all forms of stevia are recognized as safe for all people. The bulk of scientific research has focused on pure stevia extract, not whole stevia in plant form or crude stevia extract. Therefore, you should proceed with caution when using stevia in its plant and crude extract form.

Does stevia have potential health benefits?

Obesity and overweight is an epidemic in the US and other developed nations. While there are many factors that contribute to weight gain, overconsumption of sugar-laden foods and beverages contribute to unhealthy BMIs. Replacing sugary beverages and meals with stevia-sweetened ones could help cut sugar intake, which may help people lose weight when included as a part of a healthy diet.

Stevia may also aid diabetics in controlling their blood glucose levels. Because it is indigestible and the carbohydrates cannot be absorbed by the body, stevia has little to no effect on blood glucose levels. This is great news for those with diabetes, as they can enjoy more foods without contributing to unsafe blood sugar levels.

Stevia is a healthy alternative to traditional sources of sugar, such as cane sugar and corn syrup. You can enjoy the sweet taste of stevia in many of your favorites from ice cream and baked goods to herbal teas. If you’re curious about stevia, try some of Primal Essence’s stevia-sweetened goodies, including our vanilla, cinnamon, and ginger sweet coconut oils. Our Infused Sweet Coconut Oils are gourmet-quality sweet spreads that transform boring food into a scrumptious treat.

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