Possible health benefits
As an alternative to sucrose, or table sugar, using stevia as a sweetener carries the potential for considerable health benefits.
Stevia is considered “no-calorie,” meaning that it contains less than five grams of carbohydrate. They can be combined with other ingredients, so a few calories from those additional ingredients may be present depending on the product.
Stevia does not strictly contain zero calories, but it is significantly less calorific than sucrose and low enough to be classified as such.
The sweet-tasting components in stevia sweeteners occur naturally. This characteristic may benefit people who prefer naturally-sourced foods and beverages. The low calorie count qualifies Stevia to be a healthful alternative for diabetes control or weight loss.
Here are some of the possible health benefits of stevia.
Research has shown that stevia sweeteners do not contribute calories or carbohydrates to the diet. They have also demonstrated no effect on blood glucose or insulin response. This allows people with diabetes to eat a wider variety of foods and comply with a healthful meal plan.
Another review of five randomized controlled trials compared the effects of stevia on metabolic outcomes with the effects of placebos. The study concluded that stevia showed minimal to no effects on blood glucose, insulin levels, blood pressure, and body weight.
In one of these studies, subjects with type 2 diabetes reported that stevia triggered significant reductions in blood glucose and glucagon response after a meal. Glucagon is a hormone that regulates glucose levels in the blood, and the mechanism that secretes glucagon is often faulty in people with diabetes.
Glucagon drops when blood glucose climbs. This regulates the glucose level.
2) Weight control
There are many causes of overweight and obesity, such as physical inactivity and increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and added sugars.
The intake of added sugars has been shown to contribute an average of 16 percent of the total calories in the American diet. This has been linked to weight gain and reduced control of blood glucose levels.
Stevia contains no sugar and very few, if any, calories. It can be part of a well-balanced diet to help reduce energy intake without sacrificing taste.
3) Pancreatic cancer
Stevia contains many sterols and antioxidant compounds, including kaempferol.
4) Blood pressure
Certain glycosides in stevia extract have been found to dilate blood vessels. They can also increase sodium excretion and urine output.
A 2003 study showed that stevia could potentially help lower blood pressure. The study suggested that the stevia plant might have cardiotonic actions. Cardiotonic actions normalize blood pressure and regulate the heartbeat.
However, more recent studies have shown that stevia does not seem to impact blood pressure. Further research is required to confirm this benefit of stevia.
5) Children’s diets
Foods and beverages containing stevia can play an important role in decreasing calories from unwanted sweeteners in the diets of children.
There are now thousands of products on the market containing naturally-sourced stevia, ranging from salad dressings to snack bars. This availability allows children to consume sweet foods and drinks without the added calories while transitioning to a lower sugar diet.
Excessive sugars and calories are linked to obesity and cardiovascular disease.
In 2010, the European Food Safety Committee (EFSA) reviewed existing literature to determine if there was any cause for concern regarding the potential for allergic reactions to stevia.
The reviewers concluded that “steviol glycosides are not reactive and are not metabolized to reactive compounds, therefore, it is unlikely that the steviol glycosides under evaluation should cause by themselves allergic reactions when consumed in foods.”
Even the highly purified forms of stevia extract are highly unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. No cases of allergic reaction to stevia have been recorded since 2008.
Side effects of stevia
Safety studies have marked stevia extract as free of side effects.
While purified steviol glycosides can be added to foods and are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration, the same is less true of whole leaf stevia. However, the stevia plant itself may be grown at home, and the leaves can be used in a variety of ways.
It was originally thought that stevia poses a danger to kidney health. A study on rats carried out since then suggests that stevia leaves in supplement form may instead possess qualities that protect the kidneys and reduce the impact of diabetes.
Current research also suggests that it is safe to consume the recommended amount of sugar substitute or less while pregnant.
Some stevia products also contain sugar alcohol. People with sensitivity to sugar alcohol may experience bloating, abdominal cramps, nausea, and diarrhea, though one type of sugar alcohol, erythritol, poses less risk of symptoms than others.
As long as stevia is highly-purified and used in moderation, it will not cause side effects and can be consumed worry-free.