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How Healthy is Stevia as a Sugar Substitute?

by Yes Health

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.

What is stevia?

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.

Is it good for me?

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.) 

What does stevia taste like?

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.

How can I best substitute stevia in recipes?

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:

  • Raw honey – Honey contains antioxidant vitamins E and C as well as minerals, but will elevate blood sugars.
  • Monk fruit sweetener – Even though it has a very sweet flavor, it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. This diabetic-friendly sweetener has been used around the world for centuries. It is also one of the more expensive alt sweeteners.
  • Maple syrup – Look for “pure” and always read labels (avoid added artificial flavors and high fructose corn syrup). Maple syrup does have sugars and will elevate blood sugar levels.
  • Agave nectar – Agave has a slightly lower glycemic index compared to sugar.
  • Xylitol – Derived from birch trees, this sweetener is common in gum, protein bars and toothpaste. Since it’s a sugar alcohol, Xylitol may cause bloating, diarrhea or gas for some people if consumed in large amounts. It has half the calories of most sweeteners, but still raises blood sugar levels. 
  • Coconut palm sugar – Made from the sap of the coconut palm, it has half the fructose of white sugar and is low on the glycemic index. It looks similar to brown sugar and has a subtle caramel-like flavor.

Also, check out our post about artificial sweeteners:

Artificial Sweeteners: Too Good to Be True?

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