Should You Be Using Stevia?
Written by: Kat Gal
Sugar, sugar, sugar… it’s bad for you, you’ve heard it a million times… but is all sugar bad? What are you going to sweeten your tea, coffee or baked goods with? Is there a solution?
Okay, let’s talk about sweeteners.
First, there is the regular old processed sugar. There are many forms of it – white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar and so on – but in the end they are all processed sugar without nutritional benefits that only spike your blood sugar, creating inflammation and a mess in your body. So nix that white powder, please.
Then there are the artificial friends of the good old sugar, Splenda (sucralose) and Sweet’N Low (saccharin) being the popular choices. They are not any better. They may be free of or low in calories, but they have the same affects on your body as regular sugar. Being artificial, they can cause even more health issues. Stop using these artificial sugars, please.
How about the natural cousin of these no-calorie alternatives – stevia? Is stevia better and healthier?
What Is Stevia?
Stevia is a small plant that belongs to the chrysanthemum family native to Brazil and Paraguay. It’s been used since ancient times as a sweetener and also as a medicine (to increase glucose tolerance, for example). It has recently become popular in the West as a low-calorie sweetener.
Stevia is sweet, very sweet. It is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar so you only need to use a little bit of it. It won’t raise your blood sugar and doesn’t leave you with a funky aftertaste either.
Is Stevia Natural And Healthy?
Stevia comes from a plant and is completely natural. Let’s look deeper into what it is and how it works.
The stevia plant has two sweet compounds: one is Rebaudioside A (Reb A) and the other one is stevioside. According to research studies, stevioside may help reduce blood sugar levels and blood sugar. However, there is little research or evidence on Reb A and its potential health benefits. Moreover, to create a highly purified Reb A involves a patented refining process, including extracting, isolating and combining Reb A with natural flavors and other sugar alcohols to create the sweet powder that sweetens your coffee or tea. So while the plant stevia itself is natural, when it comes to creating your stevia sweetener from Reb A, a serious and complicated process goes down before it hits the shelf and makes it into your morning drink.
Is Stevia Safe?
It seems like it, but let’s examine the issue deeper.
When you go to a store to buy stevia, you will find two types of products marketed as ‘stevia’: products with whole-leaf stevia and extracts other than Reb A. Products using Reb A will not be marketed as ‘stevia,’ but with a specific brand-name (such as TruVia or Pure Via). However, none of these stevia products have been evaluated by the FDA.
In 1991, the FDA actually banned stevia because some preliminary studies suggested it may lead to cancer. This ban was revoked in 1995 and stevia was ruled by the FDA to be sold as a food supplement. In 2008, they also granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) to Reb A products after Truvia and Pure Via shared research evidence supporting its safety.
Note that whole-leaf stevia and stevia extracts are currently considered dietary supplements, not sweeteners.
Should You Use Stevia?
This is completely up to you. Only you can tell how much sweetness you need in your life. Stevia is definitely a much better alternative to artificial sweeteners and table sugar. It is natural, calorie-free and may help you with glucose tolerance. It hasn’t been long enough to know the long-term health effects and potential benefits, but it sure seems like it is a safe choice.
Of course, use it in moderation. Don’t pour it over anything and everything, a tiny bit goes a long way to sweeten your tea, coffee or desserts if you wish.
Don’t just rely on stevia either. There are plenty of natural sugar alternatives you can find.
What Other Natural Sugar Alternatives Are Out There?
Raw honey is a wonderful option. It is one of nature’s best medicine. It is a natural antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral food that is naturally sweet. It is full of antioxidants, fights infections, illnesses and allergies and fills you up with energy.
Just make sure that you buy raw honey from a beekeeper, from your farmer’s market or a health food store. Most ‘honey’ in your regular supermarket is actually not honey, but either super filtered, taking away all the nutrients or is out-right corn syrup.
Pure maple syrup is another good alternative. Maple syrup is actually filled with several dozens of antioxidants, fighting free radical damage and working to prevent cancer in your body. It is filled with manganese and zinc for a health immune system. Maple syrup is also good for your skin and digestion.
Yes, it’s sugar, but it definitely scores lower on the GI index than table sugar. Again, make sure to buy pure maple syrup from reliable sources at farmers markets and natural food stores, as some supermarket varieties are actually high-fructose corn syrup.
Dates are nature’s candy. They are so sweet, so good and come in so many varieties, such as medjool dates, neglect nour, bahri and so on. Dates are full of iron and help your body to prevent and recover from anemia and fill you with energy. They are powerful for your digestive health, immune system, bone health, blood and heart health.
You can snack on them as they are, add them to smoothies and salads, or make date paste out of them to use it as a liquid sweetener.
Fruits are another excellent option. Sure, you can’t sweeten your tea with fruits, but you can sweeten your life with them. Each fruit is filled with a variety of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, for example, berries are the best for antioxidants, oranges and citrus are the kings of vitamin C and bananas are one of the best sources of potassium.
Fruits are good options to add to your smoothies, salads and various dishes. Of course, they are the best when eaten as they are. Remember to eat them as a whole (or mashed in a smoothie) with all the fiber to prevent blood sugar spikes. Avoid fruit juices and when you add some fruits to your green juices, look for low-GI varieties, such as apples.
Root vegetables and sweet vegetables are also great options. Again, roots and veggies are not sweeteners to sweeten your coffee with, but serve as great sweet snack and meal options to satisfy your sweet tooth and bring you health benefits. With creative ideas, such as sweet potato brownies or traditional goodies like pumpkin pie, you can even bring sweetness to comforting baked goods.
Beets, carrots and sweet potatoes are just examples of sweet roots, while sweet peppers, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes are sweet veggies. Each vegetable has its own individual health benefits, for example, beets are great for liver cleansing, carrots may improve your vision and skin and bell peppers may benefit your heart health.
You may be questioning the safety of nightshades. If you are dealing with an autoimmune condition or food allergy or sensitivity, you should avoid nightshades, such as peppers and tomatoes, but for most people they are safe to use.
Reading this list, I bet you are confident that you can bring sweetness into your life naturally without processed and artificial sugars. Make sure that you are not only eating these natural and healthy sweets, but also eating a balanced, whole foods, mostly organic diet filled with greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains legumes and beans free from processed junk food.
If you are still questioning how to get enough sweets in your life, remember, you are sweet enough as you are without clogging your system with sugar. You can bring more sweetness into your life by smiling, laughing, giving back and living from the heart.
What kind of natural sugars are you using right now? How are you creating a sweet life besides with sweet food? Share in the comments below, we would love to exchange ideas with you.
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Kat Gál is a multi-passionate writer, world traveler, nomad, runner, and cat-person. She is a lifelong learner who lives outside of her comfort zones stretching her boundaries and discovering beauty around the world. She is a Certified Holistic Health and Life Coach who encourages others to embrace their unique authentic selves, follow their heart and find their own version of freedom in life.
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