(Want to get articles like this by email? Here’s the sign up)
Can a sweetener be good for you? Stevia, a natural sweetener derived from the stevia plant, is non-caloric and won’t spike your blood sugar. So, what’s the catch? Let’s explore how stevia works in your body and why you may want to replace your other natural sweeteners with this sweet leaf.
In this article you will learn:
- What is stevia?
- The benefits of stevia
- Different types of stevia
- Is there anyone who shouldn’t consume stevia?
- What to look for in a stevia powder
Stevia is a nickname for the plant Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, which has been used both as a sweetener and as a medicinal plant for over 1,000 years. The leaves of the plant get their sweetness from substances called glycosides, which are molecules that contain sugar bonded to another compound. In the case of stevia, by the time the sugar is released from its bond during the digestion process, it is used by the bacteria in your colon instead of ending up in your bloodstream. That’s how you get the sweetness with no calories or spikes in blood sugar.
There’s a reason the stevia plant was used in folk medicine for thousands of years. Here are just a few benefits of pure stevia leaf powder:
- Can reduce blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity.
- Can reduce inflammation.
- Can reduce blood pressure.
- Stevia is an antimicrobial and can be used to fight different types of bacteria and fungi that cause illness in humans, including Lyme disease.
- Stevia is high in antioxidants.
- The tannins in green leaf stevia help protect your cells from aging.
- Unlike some artificial sweeteners, it has no negative effect on your intestinal flora. For more on artificial sweeteners and the gut microbiome, read this article about sucralose.
- It is great for baking and cooking, is non-fermentable, and heat stable up to 392°F.
Sounds great, right? Not so fast. Stevia is available in several different varieties and not all of them are created equal.
When it comes to natural sweeteners, stevia’s benefits put it at the top of the list. But not every stevia product on the shelves is good for you. Stevia is available as a minimally processed powder, as an extract, and as a highly processed powder with added sweeteners and bulking agents. As you can guess, the least processed stevia has the greatest health benefits.
So, why process stevia if doing so makes it less healthy? While green leaf stevia powder is 30-40 times sweeter than table sugar, some of its glycosides are 250-300 times sweeter than table sugar. Stevia has the potential to be one of the sweetest compounds on the planet and big food companies know how to take advantage of that. Here’s what that looks like in practice.
Green Leaf Stevia
Green leaf stevia is the least processed of any type. It is dried and pulverized – that’s all. That’s why green leaf stevia contains all of the good-for-you things that the plant has to offer. These include a variety of glycosides, as well as folic acid, vitamin C, tannins, and amino acids.
The second healthiest form of stevia is a simple extract. Stevia leaves are processed using alcohol, heat, enzymes, or chemicals. This process extracts certain glycosides while removing things like essential oils, amino acids, tannins, and chlorophyll. By extracting and concentrating just the sweetest parts of the leaf, these extracts are roughly 100 times sweeter than the whole leaf powder.
Highly Processed Stevia
Some of the most commonly seen stevia extracts actually contain the least stevia of all. They are extracts that have gone through multiple stages of refinement with salt or chemicals, before being mixed with other, harmful non-caloric sweeteners, alcohol, and things to add bulk and prevent clumping. Unfortunately, the health benefits of green leaf stevia are not shared by its highly processed relatives.
In small amounts, stevia is relatively harmless, especially the whole leaf variety. But if you’re taking medication for diabetes, have hypoglycemia, or are on blood pressure medication stevia can lower your blood sugar.
Stevia can also interact with monoketocholate, diuretics, anti-inflammatories, cancer drugs, and verapamil. If this sounds like you, ask your doctor if small amounts of stevia can interfere with your medication before using it.
- Choose organic: pesticides and insecticides pose health risks and decrease the health benefits of eating stevia.
- Choose the whole leaf: Opt for whole leaf stevia powder instead of extracts to get all of the antioxidants, amino acids, and vitamins.
- Ditch the additives: Avoid stevia brands that use bulking agents or add other sweeteners.
At Natural Force, making things taste great is as important to us as choosing only the highest quality, most sustainable ingredients. That’s why we take the time to carefully evaluate every ingredient that goes into our products. We thoroughly researched the best way to sweeten products with something all natural, with zero calories, and a great taste. Organic green leaf stevia is all of those things and more. Taste the difference in our Organic Whey Protein Powder!
Have you tried organic stevia leaf powder in your kitchen? We’d love to hear about your favorite natural sweeteners in the comments below!
Also published on Medium.