What is Stevia?
Stevia Rebaudiana, derived from the plant group Asteraceae (aster, daisy, chrysanthemum or sunflower family). Commonly known as candy leaf, sweet leaf, or sugar leaf.
It naturally grows wild in Paraguay and Brazil.
The leaves of the stevia plant contain substances called glycosides that give it its sweet flavour. Comparatively, stevia is 30 times sweeter than sugar in its whole leaf form and almost 300 times sweeter once it has been refined.
The two types of glycosides present in Stevia leaves are Stevioside and Rebaudioside A, but they must be extracted to be used as a sweetener.
Stevia Vs. Sugar
Diets high in sugar have links to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
In fact, the British Heart Foundation recommends no more than 100 calories a day from added sugar for women and 150 for men. Unfortunately, the typical UK diet may get more than 355 calories of added sugar per day.
The use of a sugar substitute such as stevia has the potential of reducing this calorie load. However, it’s important to know how stevia differs from sugar, how it can be used as a substitute and whether it’s considered safe.
One teaspoon of sugar contains 15 calories in the form of carbohydrates and no other nutrients. This may sound modest, but sugar is very easy to overeat and its overconsumption has been linked to serious conditions, including heart disease.
On the other hand, stevia does not contain any calories and may have health-enhancing properties.
For a study published in the journal ‘Nutrients’ in 2017, participants consumed a biscuit containing stevia and coffee fibre or sugar.
The researchers found that the stevia-containing biscuits inhibited a diabetes-related digestive enzyme and improved the release of a hormone that promotes a sense of satisfaction after eating.
Sugary fare, on the other hand, is more likely to offset your blood sugar levels, leading to less satiation. Stevia also contains antioxidants, which are helpful for immune function and lowering inflammation.
Several brands of stevia are on the market, and the flavour and sweetness can vary among them. Given that stevia is much sweeter than sugar, less is needed when using it as a sugar substitute. One teaspoon of stevia is needed when the recipe calls for a cup of sugar. Follow general substitution guidelines, but trial and error will probably be needed until you are able to adjust the taste to your liking.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not objected to the use of highly refined stevia and has labeled refined stevia as “Generally Recognised As Safe.”