the basics

The Deal With Stevia: A Closer Look At The Sugar Substitute

Wherein we attempt to answer the question of what, exactly, is the best natural sweetener / sugar substitute out there.

We all know that an excess of sugar in your diet isn’t so sweet: It causes weight gain, it makes you feel sluggish, it contributes to brain fog. If you’ve been looking for ways to cut the sweet stuff from your diet, chances are you’ve found a host of alternatives, like maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, xylitol or stevia. While each is a great natural sugar substitute, knowing which one to add to your diet can be tricky since, as with any dietary changes, there will be pros and cons. So, in the interest of learning about said alternatives and substitutes, let’s take a deep dive into stevia and see if this sweet alternative is all it’s hyped up to be.

What exactly is stevia? Stevia is extracted from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, native to South America and also found abundantly in Brazil and Peru. It’s a natural sweetener that possesses no calories at all, but is 200 times sweeter than regular sugar.

The Stevia plant has been used for centuries as a sugar substitute, but only recently found its way into the mainstream. It’s processed and ground into granules or liquid versions of the sweet compound.

What are the health benefits of stevia? Aside from being a calorie-free, natural sugar alternative, stevia has other benefits. Studies have shown it can help fight Type 2 diabetes, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. In the plant’s native South America, stevia is also used (in its natural form) to treat stomach issues and burns.

Can stevia help with weight loss? This answer to this is a little bit tricky: Since stevia doesn’t contain any calories, you can assume it may help in weight loss. However, it’s not all rosy. Studies have revealed consumption of stevia does not have any kind measurable effect on weight. In fact, there are some researchers that say that consuming too much of this natural sweetener can increase your risk of obesity. The reason they cite is stevia can create a mismatch in the body between perceived sweetness and the calories that were expected from the sugar. This can cause a person to overeat.

The bottom line? Use stevia, but don’t look at it as a calorie-free pass.

But is it safe to consume stevia? The answer to the million dollar question is, yes, stevia is safe to use. And preferential to sugar. Before you break out the champagne, it’s important to remember that you should consume it in its raw form, as processed versions of stevia may have other sweeteners added. Always check the labels.

How do I use it? Adding a little stevia into your life is simple. You can sub it for regular sweetener in your coffee and other such beverages, as well as when cooking or baking. Remember, it’s 200 times sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a long way.

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