In recent times stevia has become a preferred alternative to sugar. It is often seen next to brown sugar or refined sugar in cafes and restaurants. What are stevia’s health benefits and risks?
In layman’s terms, stevia is a nonnutritive sweetener. It is often used by people with diabetes, high blood pressure, and those following weight-loss diets. Stevia is a member of the chrysanthemum family and is called Stevia rebaudiana. It is a common household plant that is highly processed to extract sugar. A misconception is that the stevia plant can be grown at home and derived sugar from. This is not possible unless we know how to process the stevia leaves, and extract the rebaudioside A (Reb-A) component from it.
Reb-A is 200 times sweeter than table sugar but it does not cause harm the way refined table sugar would. It is further blended with sweeteners such as erythritol (sugar alcohol) and dextrose (glucose) to provide what we see in supermarkets as stevia.
One commonly known benefit of Stevia is its low calories and tendency to lower blood pressure.
Weight-loss – If you are a person looking to reduce weight and watch what you eat, Stevia is a good option to include in your diet. Stevia when mixed with food gives the feeling of fullness within a few intakes. This means less calorie intake and more weight loss.
Studies have shown that consuming stevia for longer periods of time decreased low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol with no negative side effects. Consuming stevia for shorter periods of time may not deliver the same results.
Diabetes- Stevia is proven to lower blood pressure. This aspect of it particularly helps diabetes patients who are advised to monitor their blood pressure. Studies found that stevia significantly lowered insulin and glucose levels. This indicates stevia is a safe and effective way to help manage blood sugar levels, especially in people with type 2 diabetes.
Cavity prevention – Commonly called novel sweeteners, nonnutritive sweeteners, Stevia products are found to not cause tooth decay. Normal sweeteners aid bacteria growth inside the tooth but the almost zero-calorie nature of stevia doesn’t provide nutrients for bacteria to feed on. This means stevia won’t cause cavities and might even prevent gum-related diseases like gingivitis.
Carb count – All the above-mentioned benefits of Stevia can be considered their risks too. Stevia and its processed by-products such as sugars and liquid sweeteners are known for having almost no calories. But research has found that Stevia sugar components contain glucose and starch which will impact carb count. Therefore, having too much stevia may also increase weight.
Intolerance – Studies have linked nonnutritive sweetener usage to inducing glucose intolerance and metabolic disorders. Stevia products made with sugar alcohols are found to cause digestive problems, such as bloating and diarrhea.
Other risks – There is widespread concern that ‘raw stevia herb’ may harm your kidneys, reproductive system, and cardiovascular system. The herb also aids in rapidly reducing blood pressure and interacting with medications that do the same.
Stevia is good when consumed in small amounts. Research is still ongoing about its benefits and risks. Kindly consult your doctor before making major dietary changes.