Stevia gives us a calorie-free sugar fix from an all-natural alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners. But how healthy is it? Stevia is about 30 times sweeter than sugar, which means, even though it doesn’t spike sugar levels, a little goes a long way. And while studies link it to several health benefits–for example, reducing plaque and preventing cavities and even balancing blood sugar levels–replacing sugar with no or low-calorie natural sweeteners may not ultimately lead to weight loss in real life.
Stevia is a small, bushy shrub native to Paraguay and Brazil and is part of the sunflower family. It’s been used in powder form for centuries as a sweetener, and even as a digestive aid. There are 150 species of stevia, all native to North and South America.
Stevia is one of the healthier sweetener choices. But it’s still best used in moderation. Some evidence suggests that any type of sweetener, even stevia, which doesn’t stimulate insulin, may still stoke sugar cravings. Tasting something sweet (even if it’s calorie free!) sends a message to your brain and digestive system to expect a sugar caloric payoff. So when those calories don’t show up, your body can start craving sugar or carbohydrates. Also, keep in mind that not all stevia products are created equal. Some are highly processed and contain additives (including sugar, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, i.e. Truvia). Look for a brand that’s organic and sans additives. (Hint: always read the labels; when the whole plant has been used, the powder will still be green, which is a good thing.)
If you’re trying stevia for the first time (for example, in your morning tea or coffee), start with a TINY amount. Because it’s so much more concentrated than sugar, the sweetness can be overwhelming. And be forewarned, not everyone is a fan of the flavor–it can have a bitter aftertaste.
Stevia is heat stable and can be used successfully in baked goods. You can combine stevia with other healthy sweeteners to reduce the total amount needed. Because stevia contains no sugar, it cannot be used in yeast breads since the yeast needs sugar to be activated.
Here’s a quick conversion guide:
1 tsp stevia clear liquid = 1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. whole leaf dark liquid concentrate = 1 cup sugar
2 tsp. whole leaf dark liquid concentrate = 1 cup brown sugar
Here are 6 other natural sweeteners to consider:
Also, check out our post about artificial sweeteners: