Because I know that sugar is not healthy, especially in excess, I have always looked for healthy alternatives. After long and long research I have come to the conclusion that Stevia would be the healthiest option. However, I’m not that sure now.
There is a general confusion about the sweeteners on the market, some are harmful others have beneficial effects on health. Xylitol is good, but it must be investigated where it is extracted. If corn is extracted (which is most often genetically modified) avoid it, look for one extracted from birch.
Honey and maple syrup, have some minor benefits compared with sugar (they contain negligible traces of enzymes, minerals and vitamins) but still have sugar – fructose, specifically – and are to be avoided.
I know it can be frustrating to find that everything around might be dangerous. However, if you want to have good health you must do a minimum of research and then be ready to know what to spend your money on.
What is Stevia?
Stevia has been used for many decades as a sweetener and as a medicinal plant in many cultures around the world but has become popular in recent years. It is native to South America.
Stevia is a plant 200 times sweeter than sugar, but it does not raise blood sugar at all, unlike other artificial sweeteners.
Unfortunately, while stevia leaf is a natural sweetener, many modern forms of this sweetener take the form of powders, which involve super chemical processing.
There are two compounds in stevia that are responsible for that very sweet taste: Stevioside and Rebaudioside A.
Rebaudioside A is the most commonly extracted and used in stevia powders, but most often it is not the only ingredient and in combination with corn erythritol, dextrose, acesulfam K, aspartame etc.
Stevioside is only 10% of Stevia and is responsible for the slightly bitter taste that many of you feel after tasting something sweetened with stevia. It is also responsible for the beneficial effects with which stevia is credited.
Is Stevia Healthy?
In order to answer this question, it is necessary to differentiate the processed stevia and the natural stevia or as close to its natural state. The stevia plant that you can grow in the garden or balcony and which you can dry and make from it tincture, is considered healthy and ok for consumption, being considered to bring health benefits. You can buy ready-made tincture from Plafar. I bought one from Hypericum Impex and it was very good. Probably in the meantime there are several assortments.
Avoid Stevia powder as it goes through many chemical processes to reach that white color (don’t forget that at its origin it is a leaf).
What are the benefits of Stevia?
As I said at the beginning, Stevia has been used for many decades as a herbal medicine.
- It reduces blood pressure
- It has the potential to reduce the growth of cancer cells in breast cancer
- Another study says that Stevia lowers blood sugar and helps fight diabetes.
- The oxidation of LDL cholesterol decreases indicating that it could help prevent heart disease. The study was done on animals and you can read it in detail here
- It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, diuretic and immunomodulatory effects.
Of course, just because you avoid sugar, brings tons of health benefits.
What are the risks of consuming Stevia?
At the beginning of this article I told you that I have some doubts about Stevia even in the most natural form possible. Although there are studies that say that Stevia is safe and does not pose problems, we recently came across a study that shows that Stevia (specifically Stevioside) has co-receptive effects on mice, which means it has an impact on estrogen, progesterone or both. The study was performed on mice with very large amounts of steviosides.
Moderate consumption of Stevia does not affect long term fertility or health, but it should not be consumed if you have hormonal problems, a deficient immune system, or want to become pregnant.
Personally at this point I am taking a break from Stevia. I want a child and I would not want to affect this process in any way. This is also why I wrote this article. I know I have recommended Stevia in my recipes, but if you want to get pregnant or have hormonal / immune problems, I recommend avoiding stevia altogether.
Replacement for stevia can be a higher quality xylitol (not corn extract), erythritol or, best, no sweetener at all.