Advertised as all natural, calorie-free, and safe for people with diabetes, the sweetener stevia seems like a win-win-win! But can you really believe all the hype?
Does it work?
Calton is very enthusiastic about stevia. She explains the science: "The stevia leaf contains compounds called steviol glycosides, which make it about 30 to 45 times as sweet as sugar, but two of the glycosides—stevioside and rebaudioside—are approximately 300 times as sweet as sugar... Stevia is fine for diabetics or even very low-carb dieters. In fact, some studies suggest that stevia can help reverse diabetes and metabolic syndrome and reduce hypertension."
Dr. Talbott agrees. "Stevia is a much better alternative for people looking for a lower-calorie option that avoids the use of synthetic artificial sweeteners." This is not necessarily because artificial sweeteners are dangerous, but rather because many of them, especially aspartame, can set off sweet cravings in many people, he says. "The brain perceives the sweetness from the artificial sweetener but then cannot account for those calories later so our brain tells us to consume more calories to make up for the missing energy." Thankfully stevia does not seem to set off the reaction, he says.
Is it safe?
"After initial concerns in the early 90s by the FDA, [stevia] was ultimately approved as safe in 2009," Dr. Brar explains. "Review studies in 2010 have corroborated some of the claims that stevia has benefits of lowering blood pressure and blood sugar." But don’t be fooled by "stevia products" in the grocery store, Calton warns. They often include stevia mixed with some kind of sugar base such as dextrose, maltodextrin, xylitol, or erythritol. "While the xylitol or erythritol bases are better choices, we prefer pure stevia extract," she says. That means "stevia rebaudiana" is the only ingredient.
Final verdict: Try it.
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