Artificial sweeteners are found in hundreds of products on our supermarket shelves in ‘diet’ foods and ‘sugar free’ drinks and their popularity has been rapidly growing as dieters start turning to them to them to get their ‘sweetness fix’ without adding any calories and blowing their diet.
Artificial sweeteners are synthetically made substitutes for sugar that trick your taste buds into thinking they taste sweet. Most of them are hundreds of times sweeter than regular table sugar.
All artificial sweeteners are regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and need to be tested and approved before they declare them safe to be consumed and placed on supermarket shelves.
Saccharin has been around since the early 1900’s and has since been FDA tested and approved. Aspartame was approved in 1980’s and Sucralose in the 1990’s which are now found in many products such as Diet Coke and sugar free gums. The problem is that many studies have found that these artificial sweeteners are linked to weight gain.
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a another artificial sweetener that is considered a newcomer compared to the sweeteners we’re used to, even though it was also approved by the FDA in the mid 1990’s. It has been growing in popularity because it’s one of the only sweeteners that comes from a natural sources but remains calorie free.
The leaves are incredibly sweet and a taste 200 times sweeter than regular table sugar so is only needed in small amounts. The sweet taste comes on a bit slower than sugar but it lasts longer. Some of it’s extracts can have a slightly bitter aftertaste.
But the best feature of all? It has no calories and doesn’t affect blood sugar levels.
Is Stevia Safe?
There were several studies to find out whether Stevia had any adverse side effects in the 1990’s, some of which did not result in its favour but most were disregarded because they had too many flaws.
Since then numerous tests have been conducted around the world and the FDA has found it to be non-toxic to humans and can be safely consumed without any harmful effects.
I recommend however that you only use the actual Stevia plant which you can grow at home. Just crush up one or two leaves between your fingers and add them to your tea or coffee. Make sure you test your sweetness tolerance first though!
Alternatively you can buy powdered Stevia in it’s raw form so it hasn’t been through a manufacturing process. And who knows what has been altered or added to it during that process! If your body doesn’t recognize it (if it’s not in it’s natural form) it’s bound to cause problems.
Raw, natural Stevia it should look like a greenish brown powder. Manufactured Stevia powder it will look like a white powder (like the image above).
I generally stay away from sweeteners altogether as I no longer have cravings for sweet foods and some people find it causes them to crave more sweetness in their diet. Everyone is different though, so just see how it affects you. if you are hungrier afterwards or have more cravings for sweet foods then it might be best to avoid it.
Stevia Around the World
Stevia has been incredibly popular in Japan since the 1980’s ever since the health effects of the other artificial sweeteners were questioned. The Japanese were looking for an alternative and Stevia was the answer. Now they use it in around 40% of their artificially sweetened products. In 2013 Cola Cola introduced Coca Cola life in Argentina which uses Stevia as a sweetener and it has beden released in many other countries since.
You can buy Stevia powder or tablets online or from a health food store, and carry it with you to sweeten your tea or coffee. It can also be used for baking but because it has a different consistency than sugar, be aware that it doesn’t always turn out the same!
Even though the FDA has approved artificial sweeteners, I’ll pick something that comes from a natural source every time.
The Benefits of Stevia:
- Zero calories, so helps with weight control!
- It doesn’t affect your blood sugar levels, so ideal for intermittent fasting, or people with diabetes.
- No harmful effects on your teeth like sugar.
The Cons of Stevia:
- Many versions have been manufactured artificially so unless you know exactly whats in it I would avoid those.
- If you’re trying to give up sugar Stevia might perpetuate your cravings for sweetness. But see how it affects you before making that decision.