One of the biggest drawbacks of any sugar-based sweetener — no matter how raw or organic it might be — is that it packs just as many, if not more, calories than plain-old table sugar. Stevia extract, which is derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant native to Central and South America, solves that problem: it’s both all-natural and calorie-free. “Stevia is not sugar,” notes New York University nutritional scientist Marion Nestle.
Long popular in Paraguay, Brazil, China and Japan, stevia became widely available in the U.S. in the last few years, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed its use as a food additive in December 2008. In its raw form, Stevia extract is about 40 times sweeter than sucrose. That’s why it is mixed with other ingredients when sold as a powder under the brand names Truvia, Pure Via and Stevia in the Raw.
The main ingredient in Truvia is a sugar alcohol called erythritol (86% of Truvia by weight), which is a carbohydrate, but has essentially no calories because our bodies don’t have the enzymes to metabolize it. Stevia in the Raw and Pure Via both also contain the sugar dextrose, a.k.a. glucose, but there is so little per serving that the calories are negligible.