What the Heck Is Stevia? Part 2

Last issue, we covered the history of stevia and the four different versions of it that you can find today, including the mechanically-processed-not-so-natural- “stevia” that is Truvia (avoid this brand!).

But for less-refined stevia, the question remains: is it actually healthy? Or like any other calorie-free sweetener out there, is it detrimental to health?

Well, when I dug into the research, I was pleasantly surprised. Research in both animals and humans suggests this sweetener could actually be beneficial to health, particularly in regards to its beneficial effects on blood sugar.

In one Spanish study, researchers gave stevia extract to mice for four weeks and found that it did not significantly affect their blood sugar. The also tested it in humans and determined it has a low glycemic index, meaning that it doesn’t cause a high spike in blood sugar.[1]

At least three other animal studies have confirmed that stevia can help keep blood sugar levels healthy.

Then, I found another human study where researchers gave participants either stevia, aspartame, or table sugar (sucrose) and fed them a meal. The folks who got the stevia had less of an after-meal blood sugar and insulin spike, which helps reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

Even more impressive, stevia had a similar effect in people already diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.[2]

One important thing to note is that many of the studies showing positive results used only one glycoside from stevia: stevioside. So if you’re interested in using stevia for its blood sugar benefits, be sure to use a pure stevia powder or extract, not refined rebaudioside A.

Stevia is reported to also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is considered nonacidic, so it shouldn’t contribute to cavities.[3]

And just a few months ago, researchers scanned all of the available literature and food allergy reports since 2008 to determine if stevia is a potential food allergen, since it is a member of the same family as ragweed. They found that neither food manufacturers nor food allergy networks have reported any significant number of adverse reactions to stevia.[4]

Overall, stevia appears to be a safe and potentially advantageous sweetener to use, but that’s with one caveat: Avoid the highly refined stuff, including Truvia.

Between processed food manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies, time has proved again and again that when we mess with something from nature, our bodies react badly.

And while I do believe stevia is better than sugar (and certainly better than artificial sweeteners), I still advise to use it as a treat and in moderation.

You can get 100% natural, dried powdered stevia online from Mountain Rose Herbs. Some say the pure stuff has a bitter aftertaste, but I’m going to give it a try. As soon as my order comes in, I’ll be sure to report back.

If you want a stevia extract product that’s not likely to be as bitter, look for SweetLeaf brand. Its ingredients include only organic stevia extract and inulin, a natural fiber that may help feed good gut bacteria. Sweetleaf brand doesn’t use any solvents or enzymes to extract the sweet glycosides from their stevia.

If you have trouble with inulin (it makes some people bloat), try Stevita liquid stevia extract. It contains only stevia, distilled water, and grapefruit seed extract (a natural preservative). Vitacost.com is my favorite source for items such as this.

To living well,

Jasmine LeMaster

[1] Safety assessment of stevia rebaudiana bertoni grown in southeastern Mexico as food sweetener. Nutr Hosp. 2014 Sep 1;30(3):594-601.

[2] Potential Roles of Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni in Abrogating Insulin Resistance and Diabetes: A Review. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2013

[3] An in vitro and in vivo comparison of the effect of Stevia rebaudiana extracts on different caries-related variables: a randomized controlled trial pilot study. Caries Res. 2014;48(1):19-23.

[4] Steviol glycoside safety: are highly purified steviol glycoside sweeteners food allergens? Food Chem Toxicol. 2015 Jan;75:71-8.

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