Stevia Benefits, Side Effects, Best Brand and Why It’s So Good as a 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 rather for what it helps you substitute in your diet — sugar.
Here’s why stevia is so much better as a sweetener than sugar, the many benefits of making the change, potential side effects and the best tasting brand I’ve found to sweeten food and drinks.
What is Stevia?
Stevia, known scientifically as Stevia rebaudiana, is a small herb that originated in South America. Its leaves contain unusual compounds, like steviol glycoside and rebaudioside-A, that mimic the sweetness of sugar without any of its negative effects on your health.
Raw stevia leaf is around 40 times sweeter than regular table sugar. While a good concentrated organic extract, like this one I use virtually every day, is approximately 200 times more sweet.
The leaves of this plant have been used to sweeten foods and drinks for more than 400 years in South America. In countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, stevia products have been popular for decades with very few reported side effects.
Purified stevia glycoside extracts have been generally recognized as safe in the United States since 2008. However, whole stevia leaf powders and other products do not have GRAS status and are not approved by FDA as a food additive.
Beneficial Effects in Summary
As a sugar substitute, stevia benefits include:
- Zero calories.
- Increases insulin sensitivity.
- Does not spike blood sugar levels.
- Aids in natural weight loss.
- Scientific studies showed taking oral steviosides lowered high blood pressure.
- Reduces bacteria in the mouth protecting your teeth from dental decay.
- Does not feed candida in your digestive tract like sugar.
Stevia for Weight Loss and Blood Sugar Control
The main reason why taking stevia is so good for your body and overall health is because it helps replace destructive sugar as a sweetener.
A high dietary intake of glucose, fructose and especially HFCS, increases your risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome and makes weight management extremely difficult.
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 an increase in beneficial insulin sensitivity from using stevia and states that it may be useful for diabetic patients.
Due to its extreme sweetness, just one drop of this concentrated extract I use in my kitchen is equivalent to a teaspoon of sugar, with no calories to store as fat and no negative effects on your blood sugar levels.
Beneficial for Hypertension and Lowering High Blood Pressure
Long term use of stevia extract has been demonstrated in scientific research to have an anti-hypertensive effect and lower blood pressure.
This double blind and placebo controlled study showed oral stevioside significantly reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure in the treated group. The researches said stevia extract was effective in human hypertension and well tolerated with no side effects.
Dental Care and Preventing Tooth Decay
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.
Sugar is particularly bad for cavities and gum disease so swapping it out with stevia extract is especially beneficial for your teeth.
How to Use Stevia
The most obvious and immediate use for stevia is as a substitute sweetener in hot drinks like coffee or tea.
The extract 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. Add a drop of the extract for extra sweetness without the calories.
A couple of drops mixed into a healthy homemade muesli recipe removes any need for any other sweeteners. It can also be used in most forms of baking and other food recipes that call for extra sweetness.
I’d be interested to read in the comments other good ways you’ve found to cook with stevia and use it as a replacement for sugar.
Potential Side Effects and Allergy Symptoms
Warning for Pregnant Women
Refined stevia extracts with rebaudioside-A have GRAS status and are considered safe for moderate use as a sweetener during pregnancy.
The FDA notes that whole leaf stevia products are not generally recognized as safe and therefore not recommended for use by pregnant or breast feeding women.
Some stevia products also use sugar alcohols as an ingredient which may cause digestive upsets like bloating and gas and should be avoided.
A very small number of people have reported a possible allergic reaction to stevia. Symptoms 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. People who report an allergy to stevia are also usually allergic to other plants in the ragweed family, of which stevia is a member.
For the vast majority of people though, stevia allergy is extremely rare and using it is a safe and very beneficial way to cut down on their simple carbohydrate intake.
Candida Die Off Symptoms
Some negative reactions attributed as stevia side effects, like brain fog and headaches, are more likely to be caused by candida die off.
When you replace sugar in your diet with stevia you may temporarily feel worse as destructive candida is 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.
It’s important to keep cortisol and stress levels in check to reduce cravings for sugary foods and drinks. This stress relieving Gold superfood powder can reduce stress and tension and help you get a better night’s sleep. This leads to lower cortisol and more effective weight loss.
The Best Tasting Brand
Early versions of stevia apparently had problems with a bitter aftertaste. This is uncommon in extracts these days and I’ve never experienced it personally.
When researching a good tasting brand to buy for my own kitchen I read many customer reviews and tried around half a dozen versions before settling on this popular organic concentrate.
It’s actually one of the least expensive ones but I like the long lasting sweetness of it in my teas or mixed into my food more than any of the others I’ve tried.
Do you use stevia in your kitchen and have you found your simple carbohydrate intake cutting down since you started substituting sugar with it?
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.
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