Stevia: The Zero-Calorie Natural Sweetener

By: Mariah Haroon, CSUN Dietetic Intern

Image: TatianaMishina/Shutterstock

Keeping caloric intake balanced and blood sugar levels steady are part of a diabetic individual’s daily routine. Diabetes affects about 30.3 million people in the United States.1 That is 9.4% of the US population.1 As the number of products containing artificial sugar substitutes flood the markets, Stevia enjoys its own niche as a zero-calorie natural sugar substitute. It is extracted and purified from a plant called Stevia rebaudiana.2 This plant is native to South America.2 The leaves of this plant contain a substance called steviol glycoside. According to FDA, the highly purified and safe form of stevia should contain ≥95% of pure steviol glycoside.3 FDA granted stevia the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status in 2008, as long as it is sold in its highly purified form.4 This form is called rebiana and is sold under brand names such as Truvia®, PureVia® and Enliten®3. It is used as a sugar substitute and as an ingredient in packaged foods.

The blood glucose lowering effects of Stevia have been established through research. In a study published in the journal Metabolism, patients with type 2 diabetes were given stevia capsules before a meal. It was noticed that stevia reduced post- meal blood glucose levels by an average of 18%.5

While all sugar substitutes have some degree of after taste, stevia is found to have an after taste that is more pronounced than the others. The strong taste owes to the fact that it is 50- 350 times sweeter than sugar.2 In order to get accustomed to the taste of Stevia, it is helpful to introduce stevia in small amounts to the diet. Gradually cutting out the sugar or sugar substitute and replacing it with Stevia is another way to get used to its taste.

Here is a great Strawberry Banana Cashew Smoothie recipe found at foodandnutrition.org.6

Strawberry Banana Cashew Smoothie

Author:Julie Andrews

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1¾ cups milk of choice
  • ½ cup unsalted cashews
  • 1½ cups frozen strawberries
  • 1 medium ripe banana
  • Pinch stevia
  • 2 Tbsp. ground flax or chia (optional)

Directions:

  1. Pour milk and cashews into a blender pitcher. Let sit 5 minutes.
  2. Add other ingredients and blend until very smooth. Taste and adjust sweetness level, if necessary.

So, next time you are looking for a good sugar substitute, give this natural sweetener a try! FDA considers stevia use of 4 mg/ kg of body weight to be safe.3 It is always a good idea to check the amount of pure stevia extract in the product before consuming.

References

  1. CDC Newsroom. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p0718-diabetes-report.html. Published July 18, 2017. Accessed February 15, 2019.
  2. Samuel P, Ayoob KT, Magnuson BA, et al. Issue Cover Volume 148 Issue 7 July 2018. Stevia Leaf to Stevia Sweetener: Exploring Its Science, Benefits, and Future Potential. The Journal of Nutrition. 2018;148(7):1186S-1205S. doi:10.1093/jn/nxy102
  3. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Food Additives & Ingredients – Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use in Food in the United States. U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm397725.htm#Steviol_glycosides. Published February 8, 2018. Accessed February 15, 2019.
  4. Lafelice R. Sweet as sugar health benefits of stevia and xylitol. Health Reference Center Academic. February 2014:96 . http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A360611940/HRCA?u=csunorthridge&sid=HRCA&xid=49afc9dd. Accessed February 14, 2019.
  5. Gregersen S, Jeppesen PB, Holst JJ, Hermansen K. Antihyperglycemic effects of stevioside in type 2 diabetic subjects. Metabolism. 2004;53(1):73-76. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2003.07.013.
  6. Andrews J. Strawberry Banana Cashew Smoothie. Food & Nutrition Magazine. https://foodandnutrition.org/blogs/stone-soup/strawberry-banana-cashew-smoothie/. Published March 21, 2018. Accessed March 4, 2019.

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