As a health coach I get asked about stevia sweetener all the time. I’m not a big fan for two main reasons: 1) I hear of too many people suffering from sugar cravings when they use stevia, and 2) medical conditions aside, people turn to stevia to cheat the system — have their cake and eat it too.
I know, I’m being a bit harsh. 😉 So, I decided to do some research for you on stevia and its side effects to see if the proof is in the pudding!
What is stevia?
Stevia is a natural sweetener extracted from the leaves of an herbal plant that grows in South America. The leaves can be eaten fresh or put in teas and foods. The sweet taste is mainly due to two glycosides: stevioside (which is sweet but also has a bitter aftertaste) and rebaudioside (which is sweet and less bitter).
Here’s the problem: the extracted stevia sweetener varies drastically depending on the process used.
This probably explains why we have such conflicting information about stevia. Here are the different versions of stevia I’ve found, starting with the least processed:
- Green Leaf Stevia: the dried leaves ground into a powder, 30-40 times sweeter than sugar
- Stevia Extracts: the rebaudioside extracted (which is the sweetest part), ~200 times sweeter than sugar
- Truvia and other stevia products: the rebaudioside extracted and put through a chemical process with other ingredients added, ~400 times sweeter than sugar
When people say that stevia has been used as a natural sweetener and health remedy in Japan and South America for centuries, it is green leaf stevia they are talking about.
The problem with the overly processed stevia is that it is so much sweeter than sugar. After all, since it is “natural” and low in calories, we might think it doesn’t matter how much we use, but we often end up eating more of it than we normally would either through larger portions or more frequently. This effectively increases our tolerance for sweets and leads to sugar cravings!
If you are looking for a natural sweetener, I suggest raw honey, dates, coconut sugar, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, or blackstrap molasses. If you want to use stevia then choose green leaf stevia, use small amounts, and listen to your body.
Have you had issues with stevia, or have you found it really helpful? Share in the comments below!