What is Stevia?
Stevia is a naturally sourced sweetener with zero kilojoules. It originated in South America and comes from a plant called Stevia rebaudiana, also known as sweetleaf. Stevia contains two glycoside components called Steviosides and Rebaudosides that produce its sweetness. When producing the stevia you buy as a sweetener, these two active ingredients are extracted from the stevia leaf and processed into a powder which is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar.
How does it differ from sugar?
The main difference is that Stevia has no kilojoules. In addition to this, research has found it may also have some added health benefits which sugar certainly does not. It is non-glycaemic, meaning it does not affect blood glucose levels. In an age where Diabetes is rapidly increasing; this gives people a great alternative to sugar, obviously still to be used in moderation.
What are the benefits of stevia?
We’ve established that stevia is a zero kilojoule alternative to sugar but is stevia good for you?Thestevia plant is rich in nutrients including folic acid, vitamin C and essential amino acids. It also possesses therapeutic, antioxidant, antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Stevia has little to no affect on blood glucose or insulin responses in the body, this means those sensitive to sugar could use this as a sugar alternative. However, one study found stevia lowered blood glucose after eating. Whilst more research is certainly needed, at this time stevia appears to be a good sugar alternative.
Another benefit of stevia is its low environmental impact. Stevia requires lower inputs of land, water, and energy in comparison to other natural sweeteners. A carbon and water footprint assessment from one of the largest stevia producers, using sweetness equivalence for comparison, found an 82% reduction in carbon footprint for stevia compared with beet sugar and a 64% reduction compared with cane sugar.
In addition, stevia is creating opportunities for farmers in countries such as Kenya, Paraguay, and Brazil to grow profitable crops that support public health goals.
There are over 200 studies currently on Stevia all of which have been short-term studies. There hasn’t been any studies on the health risks in long term use of stevia. Having said that, it’s worth noting that stevia has been consumed for hundreds of years, although not in a refined state as we consume it today. So it is recommended not to exceed more than 4mg of stevia per kg of body weight per day.