The Health Benefits of Stevia the Sugar Substitute
Starting to use stevia regularly may well be one of the most beneficial things you ever do for your health. Not for the nutrition it gives you, but for what it helps you substitute in your diet – sugar.
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a small South American herb with leaves that contain unusual compounds called steviosides that mimic the sweetness of sugar without any of its negative effects on your health.
In fact, raw stevia is around 40 times sweeter than regular sugar, while the concentrated extract is approximately 200 times more sweet.
As a sugar substitute, stevia benefits include the fact that it has zero calories, does not spike your blood sugar levels, does not promote candida fungal overgrowth in your digestive tract like sugar and may even have dental benefits by protecting your teeth from decay.
By comparison let’s look at what sugar does to your body and why it’s so important to replace it with stevia wherever possible. Also ahead are simple suggestions for using stevia in your food and drinks as well as the best tasting stevia extract I’ve found.
Destructive Sugar and How It Impacts Your Health
Most of us living on a high carbohydrate diet consume far too much sugar for our bodies to handle. Food manufacturers have loaded sugar into a wide variety of packaged foods and many of us drink sugar sweetened beverages regularly.
A 20 oz bottle of the most popular soda for instance contains a massive 65 grams or 17 teaspoons of sugar or the similar, but worse high fructose corn syrup. In fact, soda is a serious contender for the most health damaging product people consume on a regular basis.
There is no doubt that drinking this much concentrated sugar regularly puts you on the path to obesity, heart disease and diabetes and switching to similar tasting yet far healthier alternatives is a simple but powerful lifestyle change for better health.
Blood Sugar and Weight Gain
Your body only requires about a teaspoon worth of glucose in your bloodstream at any one time. Any more is toxic and can have some very negative effects on your health and wellbeing.
Eating or drinking a high sugar product quickly causes massive fluctuations in your blood glucose levels. You may feel a little ‘high’ or ‘wired’ for a short period, but to protect itself your body signals your pancreas to release the potent hormone insulin to shuttle away the excess sugar for storage.
If you’ve recently exercised then some can be stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen. More often though, sugar is converted to triglycerides to be deposited as fat. This usually starts around the waist and then, as the fat storage sites fill up, pretty much everywhere throughout your body is used.
Stress and Disease Risk
The familiar sugar crash, with its resulting tiredness, inability to concentrate, headaches and cravings for more sugary products is just the start of the problem. Numerous large scale research studies confirm that a high sugar diet heavily increases your risk of diabetes and heart disease and is almost certain to make you fat.
In the shorter term, sugar makes you stressed and anxious. The spike and resulting crash in your blood glucose, due to the high levels of insulin needed to deal with a sugar overload, are seen as a threat by your body. It releases the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine and adrenaline to compensate.
Cortisol in particular may keep you going, but it’s a jittery and nervous kind of ‘energy’. In the long term, regularly running on these stress hormones increases your risk of heart disease and accelerates the aging process within your body.
Living day to day powered by fight or flight cortisol and adrenaline, rather than a more stable kind of energy, is also not much of a way to live and can begin to affect your emotional and psychological well being.
Lowered Immunity and Digestive Problems
Unlike stevia, sugar suppresses your body’s immune function and makes you more susceptible to infections and illnesses. This is hypothesized to be due to the way excess insulin levels from high sugar consumption blocks antioxidants like vitamin C at a cellular level.
Sugar also feeds bad bacteria and pathogenic yeasts in your gastrointestinal tract. This further comprises immunity and can lead to all manner of digestive problems. Candida yeast overgrowth for instance is a commonly undiagnosed condition that is implicated in chronic fatigue syndrome and can be at the heart of an array of health problems that many doctors find difficult to diagnose.
This is just the start of the damage sugar can do to your body, without even going into nutritional deficiencies, tooth decay, interrupting sleep patterns, cancer risk and the list goes on. Replacing sugar wherever possible in your food and drink with stevia as suggested ahead is a great first step to recovery.
Essentially though, our high consumption of simple carbohydrates is the primary cause of so much stress and fatigue and so many health issues and diseases within modern society. An entirely different way of eating is desperately needed if we are to avoid our entire health system collapsing under the weight of ever increasing diabetes cases and obesity complications.
Stevia Health Benefits and How to Use it to Replace Sugar
This study in the medical journal Appetite found that people given a small amount of stevia before a meal had lower blood sugar 20 minutes after finishing than those who were given sugar or aspartame. Japanese research has also shown a potential increase in beneficial insulin sensitivity from using stevia and states that it may be useful for diabetic patients.
Primarily though, stevia is so good for your health not because it is high in nutrition or antioxidants like most of the other foods on Superfood Profiles. It’s benefits come from replacing destructive sugar as a sweetener.
Due to its extreme sweetness, just one drop of this stevia extract I use is as sweet as a teaspoon of sugar, with no calories, no negative effects on your blood sugar levels, no stress hormones and no damage to your tooth enamel. In fact, stevia has been found by the Purdue University Dental Research team to reduce bacterial growth and plaque formation on teeth, thus reducing tooth decay risk.
The most obvious and immediate use for stevia is as substitute for sugar in hot drinks like coffee or tea. Good stevia is heat stable up to 392 degrees fahrenheit (200 degrees celsius) and a single drop is usually enough. Those who love their sweetness could try two or even three drops but you shouldn’t need any more than this.
Cold drinks can also be sweetened with stevia. This simple method for replacing soda uses a drop of the extract for sweetness without the calories. I also use it when making healthy juices and smoothies. Here’s how.
Many people load up their smoothies or fresh juices with too many high sugar fruits in an effort to make them taste good. While these are natural sugars, too much sugar is still too much sugar and this compromises the health benefits of these recipes.
Instead, make the healthiest juice or smoothie you can, like this juice for better skin or this one, full of nutritious vegetables and greens, and just add a drop or two of stevia to the mix for instant sweetness without the blood sugar crash.
A couple of drops of stevia mixed into a healthy homemade muesli recipe removes any need for sugar or honey. It can also be used in most forms of baking recipes and this page has a useful stevia conversion chart for cooking.
I’d be interested to read in the comments other good ways you’ve found to cook with stevia and use it as a sugar substitute.
Despite all these health benefits of stevia, a very small number of people have reported a possible allergic reaction to it.
Symptoms of a stevia allergy may include:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
- A swollen tongue, mouth or throat.
- Dizziness, brain fog and headaches.
- Sudden skin rashes and itchiness.
Consult a doctor if these symptoms are severe or worsen over time. Usually, people who report an allergy to stevia are also allergic to plants in the chrysanthemum/ragweed family, of which stevia is a member.
While a swollen tongue and sudden shortness of breath is often a good indication of a food allergy, which are actually more common than most people realize, it has been suggested that other symptoms attributed as stevia side effects, like brain fog and headaches, could actually be caused by candida die off.
When you replace sugar with stevia you may temporarily feel worse as a side effect of destructive candida being starved of its favorite food. This can increase sugar cravings but you’ll improve your health in the long run if you can get through them.
While this study found no evidence of allergies to stevia, it would make sense to be aware of any unusual reactions to it the first time you use it, particularly a swollen tongue, and people with a known allergy to the ragweed family of plants may be best avoiding it.
For the vast majority of people though, stevia allergy is extremely rare and it is a safe and very beneficial way to cut down on their sugar intake.
The Best Tasting Stevia
Early versions of stevia apparently had problems with a bitter aftertaste. This is uncommon in stevia preparations these days and I’ve never experienced it personally.
When researching the best tasting stevia to buy for my own kitchen I read many reviews and tried around half a dozen brands before settling on this organic stevia concentrate. It’s actually one of the least expensive ones but I like the long lasting sweetness of it in my teas or on my food the most of any I’ve tried.
Do you use stevia in your kitchen and have you found your sugar intake cutting down dramatically since you started substituting sugar with stevia? The long term benefits for your health can be dramatic for such a simple and inexpensive change and if you’ve never used it before I’d highly recommend giving stevia a try.