Experts say adults consume no more than six to nine teaspoons — or 25 to 37.5 grams — of sugar per day. However, last year, the average American ate roughly four times that amount, totaling 111 grams.
As a result, Americans and people all over the globe are turning to sugar substitutes to reduce their intake and stay healthy. One such alternative is Stevia, a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the plant Stevia rebaudiana. This natural ingredient is zero calories and 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar.
Is Stevia safe and healthy compared to sugar? A closer look into its effects may provide the answer.
Stevia in Various Forms
Stevia comes in a variety of forms. One is Truvia, which contains a mixture of Stevia, sugar alcohol called erythritol, Rebaudioside A — refined Stevia extract — and so-called natural flavors that aren’t known to the public.
You can also purchase pure extracts in liquid or powder form made solely from Reb A. Compared to blends like Truvia, these brands don’t combine Stevia with other ingredients, though it does undergo similar processing. Another type of Stevia is the green leaf variety that is dried and ground. This option is the purest, least processed form of the sweetener.
Although the leaf is the purest form of Stevia, scientists haven’t conducted much research concerning its safety. They have, however, carried out a few studies regarding the health effects of Stevia powder — the kind that looks like sugar.
Is Stevia safe, or should you stick to reducing your sugar intake naturally? That depends on who’s asking. Although most scientists think many Stevia products are safe to consume, some people should exercise more caution than others.
People with Type 2 diabetes, for instance, can benefit significantly from zero-calorie sweeteners like Stevia because they provide a safe and effective way to reduce sugar intake. One study even suggests that Stevia can help people with diabetes lower their blood sugar levels if they consume it alongside meals.
If you have this disorder, however, you should keep in mind that specific blends, like Stevia in the Raw, contain added carbohydrates like dextrose, which can cause blood sugar to spike. It may be better to either stick to Stevia or naturally reduce your sugar intake.
Stevia may be a good alternative for kids. Researchers recommend children over two years old consume no more than six teaspoons or 25 grams of added sugar per day. Yet this ingredient typically accounts for roughly 16% of children and teens’ daily caloric intake.
Stevia may solve this problem. However, it’s much easier for kids to exceed the daily limit of 1.8mg per pound per day. Therefore, it may be safer to reduce their intake naturally by making healthy desserts and snacks that contain little to no sugar. For example, you could try oatmeal zucchini cookies, chickpea blondies or sweet corn ice cream.
Concerning pregnant women, scientists have conducted little research on how Stevia might affect them, their fertility and their unborn baby. In studies involving rats, researchers didn’t find evidence to support the idea that these products or zero-calorie sweeteners have an adverse effect.
Still, no studies involved human pregnancies. Therefore, researchers advise women to stay within the recommended limit to avoid any byproducts of overconsumption. Moreover, eating a balanced diet full of nutrient-rich foods is more beneficial to you and your unborn child than artificial foods and sweeteners.
The Health Risks of Stevia
What about risks to typical human adults? How does Stevia affect them? People who choose this sweetener over sugar and stick to the recommended dosage likely won’t suffer any negative health effects. However, some may experience an impact on weight and cholesterol levels, conditions that may link to variations in gut bacteria that correlate with body mass index, and lipid levels.
Some research suggests that people who use Stevia may trick themselves into thinking they’re eating healthy. This notion may cause them to be more lenient in their food choices and consume more calories than they would’ve had they used regular sugar. Further, Stevia may prevent your mind from associating sweet flavors with caloric intake. As a result, you crave more sweetness, increasing your caloric and sugar intake.
Products like Stevia may also change the way you taste. Because this sweetener is hundreds of times more potent than sugar, it can overstimulate your sugar receptors and cause you to use more — much like a cocaine addict would use more frequently and in larger doses over time.
This effect would make subtly sweet foods like fruits less appealing. Plus, unsweet foods, such as vegetables, would become entirely unsatisfactory for your taste buds. All things considered, it may be better to cut sugar out of your diet naturally rather than use artificial substitutes.