Sometimes, we love the taste of sweet, but don’t like the calories. Many people would agree that we would enjoy our favorite treats more if it wasn’t for the guilty feeling we get after we eat them. But there is a new reason we don’t have to deprive ourselves of sweet because of the calories. Stevia is a sweetener option that has a delicious sweet taste with zero-calories.
Stevia comes from a plant (Asteraceae) native to South America that has been used as calorie-free sweetener and flavoring ingredient around the globe for centuries. It is important to understand that high purity stevia extract is often referred as Stevia, Stevia Extract, purified Stevia leaf extracts, high purity Stevia, or rebiana in food and beverage products. Only high purity stevia extracts (which contain 95% or greater steviol glycoside) are approved by regulatory agencies for use in foods and beverages. This was the result of extensive safety testing, that ultimately provided the approval by regulatory, health and food safety authorities from around the globe.
Understanding the benefits of stevia will help you incorporate it into your everyday foods and beverages. Here are the highlights:
• Stevia is a plant extract, not an artificial sweetener. Stevia is a natural origin sweetener.
• Stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener – it adds a delicious sweet taste without adding calories because the steviol glycosides in stevia pass through the body without effect.
• Stevia is a sweetener option for people with diabetes trying to manage their blood sugar because it has no effect on insulin levels. Stevia has a glycemic index and glycemic load of zero.
• Stevia is a naturally sourced sweetener – there are no changes to the sweet compounds after extraction and purification meaning the steviol glycosides found in the leaf is what ends up in the final stevia ingredient
• Stevia is a sustainable crop – Stevia farming, extraction and purification typically requires only a fifth of the land and much less water to provide the same amount of sweetness as other mainstream sweeteners.
• Stevia is a high intensity sweetener – its sweet compounds are 200-350 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar)
• Stevia is safe to consume for the whole family. Stevia has been used for centuries and major global regulatory organizations, including Codex Alimentarius and the Food and Agriculture Organizations/World Health Organization’s Join Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), have determined highly purified stevia extracts to be safe for consumption by the general population, which includes children and pregnant women.
• Stevia is an ingredient in foods and beverages that you purchase at the store, making it convenient to incorporate into your everyday eating style. More than 5,000 products on the market already contain stevia and that number continues to grow each year as this ingredient become more popular.
As a health professional, I believe offering people a wide selection of low-and-zero-calorie foods and beverages play a significant role for people looking to manage their weight and control calorie intake. The benefits of stevia are numerous: great taste, natural origin, sustainable, zero calories, zero glycemic load, heat stable and tooth friendly to name a few.
Let's remember that a healthy lifestyle is about moderation, balancing calorie intake and taking part in appropriate levels of exercise. Only those factors in tandem with nutrition education will provide the tools to manage weight long term.