There’s no doubt about it, sugar substitutes like xylitol, the artificial sweeteners and ‘natural’ sugar sources can all be confusing. I’ve been reading, researching and filling my head with this for over a year now, and I still find it all overwhelmingly baffling at times.
I wanted to get to the bottom of Stevia. Sarah Wilson, my faithful sugar guru, goes with it. Others say it’s processed and natural honey would be better. I decided to do some deeper research and form my own opinion on the new kid in sugar-free town.
What is Stevia?
Stevia is touted as the ‘natural’ sweetener, derived from the Stevia leaf of a South American Plant. The refined extracts of Stevia called Steviosides are said be 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar. The Japanese have used it for years, however it’s relatively new in the Western world and especially in Europe.
Stevia is growing in popularity and comes in three main forms:
- White powder – this is the most processed form of Stevia. It has a ‘filler’ added to it and has spent time in a factory where it’s likely to have been bleeched or whitened.
- Liquid – The leaf goes through an extraction process but generally, no whiteners, bleach or additives are added
- Whole leaf (or green) stevia – this is Stevia in it’s purest form. It’s a bit like picking the leaves in your garden, drying them and crushing them into powder. It still contains the chlorophyll from the plant, which explains the green colour.
Stevia health benefits
It’s better than refined sugar. Why?
- It’s from a natural plant source (although the white powder form could be argued on this point)
- The sweetness comes from the Stevioside, not fructose, so you’re not adding to your fructose intake by eating it (your body can only really process a small amount of fructose a day which is the main problem with sugar)
- Studies have shown it does not increase appetite throughout the day, indicating stable blood sugar and satiety levels (that full feeling)
- It’s been used for years, particularly in Asia where it’s used as a diabetes aid
- Most of the stuff you buy in the shop is of the more processed nature
- Research is continuing, we still really don’t know what the human body does with Stevia. As David Gillespie says ‘it’s your call’
- Increasingly I’ve read that the green leaf Stevia “tastes like grass” (I haven’t tried it myself yet but that point might be relevant before you decide to fork out)
- Lots of Stevia can affect your taste buds. This stuff is super sweet, so it’s not suprising that it potentially changes the taste sensations in your mouth after a while. Note: Don’t get addicted to it.
My take on Stevia
To be completely honest, I’m not really on the Stevia train, but I do think it’s useful. Here are my thoughts…
I cut back sugar and as a result don’t really need loads of sweetness in my life anymore. If you’re desperately looking for the sweet fix or replacement, you’re not really off it right? I satisfy my sweet with fruit, coconut produce and a little dark chocolate. This seems to work fine for me.
Many of the times I do eat sweet are due to those ‘in the moment’ occasions where I make the lifestyle choice to do so i.e. I’m on holiday and want to try a local speciality, I have a smidge of a homemade birthday cake or I have a pretty looking cocktail by the pool. I doubt they’ve used pure green leaf Stevia just for my convenience and I’m not going to stress about it.
I do think Stevia is great if you like baking or you’re making a dessert. You’re in control and you can make something healthy and sugar-free that still tastes good. I made a carrot cake with it and and no-one noticed. Occasionally I add a sachet to sweeten up a smoothie. I plan to experiment with the liquid variety a bit more in the future and share some interesting recipes, but I’m in no rush to bring it massively into my diet.
To sum up…
Consider Stevia a beneficial natural alternative to sugar (especially when baking) that is handy on occasion. However, don’t rush to buy all the new shiny ‘Stevia-fied’ products thinking they’re all saintly and virtuous, because chances are they’re going to be somewhat processed and unnatural. If you are feeding a sweet need, you’re probably better off with a natural alternative like a banana or a few berries.
I say concentrate on adjusting your tastebuds permanently to desire less sweet, banish your cravings and move towards a more savoury diet. If you want to get started with this, don’t forget to subscribe to Happy Sugar Habits and I’ll send you an easy tip each week for 6 months. Implement all of those and you’ll be well on your way. No regular Stevia habit required 🙂
Was this useful? Any more questions on Stevia please fire away? Have you tried it?