There’s a lot of talk surrounding sweeteners. We all know that sugar is a surefire way to keep our abs in hiding, so we turn to no-calorie or low-calorie sweeteners instead. The problem is that most artificial sweeteners, while they don't have ab-cursing calories, can be bad for your health in other ways. Fortunately for any guy with a sweet tooth, a new plant has stolen the scene in recent years, claiming to be the ideal solution to all your sugar-derived dilemmas. Stevia is now the go-too sugar substitute of health-conscious people everywhere, but is it as healthy and guilt-free as it's touted to be?
Here’s what you need to know.
Stevia is calorie-free and unlike other sugar substitutes, it’s actually derived from a plant. If you really wanted to, you could grow your own. However, it’s native to Paraguay and Brazil where leaves from the plant have been used to sweeten up food for hundreds of years.
The substitute is actually 200 times sweeter than the real thing when compared directly. Stevia extract is sold in liquid form and also in crystals. Some brands even offer flavored varieties like lemon or vanilla.
According to an analysis by Markets and Markets research firm, the sugar substitute market was worth an estimated $10.5 billion in 2012, and has only grown since. To date, Stevia is seen as the safest sugar substitute, however research is still being done on its effects. "Extracts from the stevia plant—rebaudioside A (or reb A) and stevioside—are considered GRAS (generally considered as safe) by the FDA to be used as non-nutritive sweeteners," explains Angela Lemond R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "But we need to differentiate between these extracts and the actual stevia leaf, which contains many more properties and is not approved as a sweetener."
On the flip side, there are claims that stevia consumption has added health benefits such as increasing good cholesterol and helping to prevent heart disease, suggests a study published in the International Journal of Obesity. Also, a two-year study of Chinese patients found stevia to not only help lower blood pressure, but it also revealed that use of the sugar substitute had no adverse side effects.
As with most things, stevia should be used in moderation. It can contribute to a healthy diet and aid in weight loss, but too much can still feed your “sugar addiction,” which may actually hurt your diet efforts.