Stevia: A Breakdown of The New "It" Sweetener
In the realm of sweeteners, stevia is a relatively new kid on the block, and it’s starting to steal some of the popular crowd’s thunder. Although it’s not as ubiquitous in restaurants and coffee shops as Equal or Sweet’N Low, some previous devotees have begun to use stevia sugar in their stead. Stevia is also being found in an increasing range of products. But what is stevia, really, other than a trendy up-and-comer?
Below, we dive into what you need to know about stevia, what it’s used for, and any benefits and risks associated with it. Here we go!
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What Is Stevia?
Stevia comes from the stevia rebaudiana plant. This is a small perennial shrub that contains a white crystalline compound called stevioside, which is used as an herbal sweetener. One gram of stevia has nearly 0 calories and just under 1 gram of carbs. And a little goes a long way: Stevia is 200–300 times sweeter than table sugar, says Hailey Crean, MS, RD, CDE, CSOWM, a registered dietitian based in Boston.
Now, if you’re following Sugar Free 3, you may be surprised that stevia is on the list of approved foods. “We debated allowing stevia (and monk fruit), but here’s why I allowed it,” says Michele Promaulayko, creator of Sugar Free 3. “Unlike other chemical-laden sweeteners, these two come from natural sources. Stevia is a leaf, and monk fruit is, you guessed it, fruit. Therefore, I’ve allowed them on this plan.”
What Is Stevia Used For?
Stevia is used as a sugar substitute in a range of places, from beverages to baked goods. “Stevia is versatile,” says Brocha Soloff, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian based in New York City. “You can use it in your morning coffee, to make muffins, or for smoothies.”
In Sugar Free 3, you can use stevia in your coffee or tea during. You can also enjoy no sugar- added protein powders that are sweetened with stevia, since they can play an important dietary role if you’re active, on-the-go, or seeking more plant-based protein, Promaulayko says.
Stevia is commonly found in:
- Diet or low-sugar sodas and beverages including juices and teas.
- Sugar alternatives. These may come in boxes or packets and are sold under brand names like Truvia, SweetLeaf, and Pure Via.
- Low- or no-fat and low- or no-sugar products including ice cream and yogurts.
- Nutritional supplements. Stevia is found in a range of supplements, from protein powders to pre- and post-workout formulas. Some of Openfit’s supplements contain stevia, including Openfit Fuel and Openfit Recovery.
And since it has no calories and is light on carbs, it has become a very popular sugar substitute in the weight loss and keto communities.
How Can Stevia Help You Lose Weight?
One of the reasons stevia has become so popular is because of its potential to help reduce calories. Although swapping sugar for stevia alone probably won’t result in weight loss, it can be a part of a weight loss plan. Here’s how:
1. Stevia Could Help You Consume Less Added Sugar
Nutritionists agree that, by and large, Americans are eating too much added sugar, which can increase several health risks. The American Heart Association recommends that women eat no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day and that men have no more than nine teaspoons.
If you take your morning coffee with two packets of real sugar, and you drink two cups a day, you’re well on your way to that limit — before you consume anything else that day. Substituting stevia for table sugar can be an easy way to cut down on added sugar (depending on the rest of your diet).
2. Stevia Can Help You Consume Fewer Calories
Theoretically, if you’re consuming fewer calories from sugar, that could help you create a calorie deficit that can contribute to weight loss.
In a 2018 review of studies published in the Journal of Nutrition, one study looked at stevia’s effect on satiety and calorie consumption. And while it found no effect on satiety, it did suggest that it “significantly decreased” calorie consumption. People who ate two small low-calorie meals sweetened with stevia before an all-you-can eat lunch and dinner consumed 309 fewer calories over the course of the day. However, clinical trials exploring the direct effect of stevia on body weight are lacking.
But it’s important to use stevia in the context of your total diet, and avoid the temptation to replace these saved calories with bigger portions or unhealthy foods. So be aware of how many calories you’re consuming as a whole, no matter what kind of sweetener you use.
What Are The Risks of Stevia?
“Stevia has been evaluated for safety in more than 200 peer-reviewed studies and is considered GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the US Food and Drug Administration,” says Crean.
“Stevia is not dangerous,” says Soloff. “But as with anything in life, moderation is key.”