Stevia is most frequently used as a sugar substitute/sweetener to cut down or eliminate calories while maintaining sweetness. Many people assume stevia is like other alternative sweetening agents- grouping stevia with equal, splenda and sweet ‘n low. However, there are major differences between these sweetening agents. The first and foremost being that stevia is derived from a plant making it a natural- not an artificial sweetener. On the other hand, Equal is made from aspartame (an accidental and artificial byproduct discovered in the 1960’s), Splenda has a similar story from a decade later, and sweet ‘n low is an FDA approved artificial sweetener as well- discovered in the early 1900’s accidentally by a chemist.
The stevia plant, visually, resembles a mint plant or other herb. The sweetener is extracted from the leaves which are up to 150% sweeter than cane sugar. It is indigenous to South America, and some tribes have been using the plant for over 1000 years. Japan is currently the country that consumes the most stevia, and has been consuming stevia for much longer than people in the USA. In a nutshell, the FDA decided that stevia is unsafe for human consumption, and for almost two decades, it was a banned ingredient. The FDA came around less than a decade ago. So is it healthy?
That’s a good question. Unfortunately, there aren’t any long term studies on humans to be able to say one way or the other. Japanese people have been using Stevia for decades, and their population has quite pristine health- among the top 5% of life expectancy in the world. While I do not think that the former influences the latter statement, I do believe it is worth mentioning. True stevia is unprocessed and unrefined. One of the problems with purchasing stevia is that so many big companies refine their extracts (usually to make white in color) or add in anti-caking agents. Not all white stevia is bad- there is a simple and safe process to remove chlorophyll from plants without overly processing, but taking the time to research can be consuming. My advice: find a reputable source and stick to them; one that doesn’t use bleaching agents or anti-caking agents.
So what’s wrong with regular sugar? Doesn’t regular sugar come from a plant as well?
Yes. Yes it does. But most commercial sugar is horrible for you in many ways. Stay tuned for more information on the problems with white sugar.
For more information on stevia: https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/stevia