Is Stevia a Healthier Alternative to Sugar?
We all know sugar is bad for us and overconsumption can lead to the development of obesity, diabetes, and other diseases. And although we are aware of how unhealthy it is, our body still craves it and drives us to want to consume more and more. Our body is programmed to want to consume sweet foods filled with sugar.
Because of our love for all things that are sweet, paired with the knowledge of how dangerous sugar can be to our health, people have begun to search for better alternatives so that we can continue to eat the food we love without the negative side effects.
Some people turn to artificial sweeteners, but these can have negative consequences of their own due to their chemical makeup.
In the past decade, stevia has become one of the most used sugar alternatives because it is viewed as a healthier alternative to sugar.
Today stevia is found in its powdered and liquid form at both specialty stores and local markets. Many restaurants have even begun to carry stevia along with the other traditional sweeteners due to the high demand.
Stevia has become a key ingredient in Claire's goodness. If you look at the ingredients of other almond butters that are on the shelves of your local grocery store, they are filled with the same artificial sweeteners and added sugars that you find in peanut butter. I wasn't about to put any of those in my almond butter, so I turned to stevia to give it that sweet flavor everyone loves without it threatening your health.
Is Stevia an Artificial Sweetener?
When you mention alternative sweeteners, many people automatically assume you are talking about artificial sweeteners. Unlike stevia, artificial sweeteners are made up of chemicals that are created in a lab and have adverse effects on your health. Stevia contains zero calories and zero sugar like artificial sweeteners, but instead of being made of chemicals stevia is 100% plant based.
Stevia is a plant that comes from South America, specifically Brazil and Paraguay, where it has been used for hundreds of years to sweeten tea. Today, stevia is grown, harvested, and imported all over the world to be used as a natural sweetener.
One reason that it has become so popular is that it is 200-400 times sweeter than ordinary cane sugar, yet it doesn’t cause the damage to the body that sugar does. This means you need a lot less stevia to achieve the same sweetness as sugar, and you do not have to worry about it contributing to your waistline because has no glycemic index due to it not having any calories or any carbohydrates.
Is Stevia Better than Sugar?Stevia is a much better alternative than refined sugars due to the high amount of calories and complete lack of nutrients in refined sugar. This can cause weight gain, diabetes, high cholesterol and triglycerides, heart disease, and destroy your teeth. It can also lead to hormonal imbalance, mental health issues, yeast overgrowth, and general inflammation within your body. Refined sugar literally robs your body of essential vitamins and minerals.
On the other hand, unrefined, natural sugars such as raw honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar do contain beneficial nutrients and can have health benefits when consumed in small amounts. However, stevia is a useful replacement to help limit unrefined sugars as they will still add up quick in sugar and calories and should only be eaten in moderation.
You can use stevia in place of sugar as long as you know the right conversion rate. Because stevia is so much more potent than sugar, you need to use a lot less stevia than you would sugar. The last thing you want to do is add a cup of stevia where a cup of sugar is needed!
For example, one cup of sugar only equates to ½ teaspoon of pure stevia powder or 1 teaspoon of liquid stevia. There are granulated stevia products that are made to be used as a cup for cup replacement for sugar, but keep in mind they contain other filler ingredients to help add volume.
Is Stevia Safe for Diabetics?Sugar is dangerous when over consumed, but it can be especially dangerous for people with diabetes because it spikes blood sugar levels. Stevia is the perfect replacement for sugar because it does not create this spike in blood sugar and it doesn’t contain the harmful chemicals you would find in the artificial sweeteners that many people with diabetes turn to.
It is also the perfect choice for people who are hyperglycemic or are considered to be pre-diabetic for the same reasons.
By being able to replace sugar with stevia, those who are sensitive to sugar have more options when choosing food.
Powdered vs Liquid SteviaThere are two ways that you can buy stevia. It comes in liquid or powdered form.
Liquid stevia is convenient to use in recipes that don’t need to be baked or added to beverages because it is already in liquid form and so it easily blends into other ingredients. It also comes in several flavors, which can make them fun to use, especially when you are adding them to your favorite beverages. If you are using stevia in place of a small amount of sugar, the liquid version is easier to work with because it is not as potent as powdered stevia, making it harder to over-sweeten.
Powdered stevia, on the other hand, is great to use in place of sugar when baking, especially when needing to use larger amounts. Pure stevia powder is very concentrated, so you will only need a small amount to replace the sugar.
As I mentioned earlier you can also find granulated stevia products that are meant to replace sugar cup for cup for easy use in recipes. Keep in mind these are diluted stevia and contain other filler ingredients. This is a common form of stevia you will see in your grocery stores, while sometimes the pure powder and liquid extracts can be harder to come by unless you go to a natural food store.
All Stevia Products Are Not Created Equal
There are many different brands of stevia on the shelves of the grocery store, so how can you make sure you are getting the best?
When purchasing stevia, whether you are choosing a powder or liquid, the first thing you should look for is whether or not it contains maltodextrin and other fillers. This is very common, especially in the powdered form. This is frequently added to increase the volume of the product and is made from corn, rice, potato starch, or wheat. One of the major issues with maltodextrin is that it can spike your blood sugar and cause weight gain.
One highly processed sweetener that is often confused with stevia is Truvia, a sweetener produced by Coca-Cola and is advertised as a stevia based sweetener. This sweetener is made up of Rebaudioside A, a compound derived from the stevia plant, erythritol, a sugar alcohol, and natural flavors. Because it is advertised as a stevia based product and has a name that is similar in sound, it is no wonder that is has become the second most popular sweetener in the United States.
Although this sweetener does contain Rebaudioside A, it only has trace amounts and is not enough to be considered a true stevia product. Rebaudioside A is also the stevia compound that is not responsible for the associated health benefits, such as lower blood pressure. These benefits are left to the stevioside compound of stevia, which Truvia does not have.
Erythritol is the main ingredients in Truvia, and so it should, essentially, be considered an erythritol sweetener, rather than a stevia sweetener.
The absolute best stevia product you can go with is stevia leaves. When you go with stevia leaves, either whole or ground, you know you are getting stevia in its purest, all natural form. Next best is pure powder or liquid extract derived from whole stevia leaves.
For this reason, growing and keeping stevia plants is increasing in popularity.
Can You Grow Your Own Stevia?
If you want to produce your own stevia you can grow the plant and use the whole stevia leaves as an alternative sweetener. This is done by drying them out and grinding them up or just adding a single leaf to sweeten your beverage.
Many people choose to grow their own stevia plant rather than buying the leaves individually because it is much cheaper, especially in comparison to buying powdered or liquid stevia.
While you do need more stevia leaf than powder to achieve the same sweetness as sugar, it is still minimal in comparison, with 2 tablespoons of dried stevia leaves equaling 1 cup of sugar.
Taking care of your own stevia plant is simple and fun, growing up to 2 feet in height and width! They grow best in warm weather, and the leaves can be saved and dried to get you through the winter.
You can find stevia seeds or cuttings at your local gardening center, or you can order them online and have them delivered to your house.
Start by planting your seeds or stevia cuttings using all-purpose fertilizer. As your stevia plant grows and begins to sprout leaves you can begin to harvest them for use. When you do start to harvest your stevia, choose lower, larger stevia leaves rather than the smaller ones that grow at the top. If your stevia plant begins to flower, you can cut the plant down by 3 inches, which will halt the flowering process and grow more stevia leaves.
Health Benefits of Stevia
Stevia is not just a better and healthier sweetener than sugar, it also has many health benefits of its own. Studies have shown that there can be real benefits to consuming stevia that you just do not find in other sweeteners.
Here are some of the top benefits you can reap from consuming stevia instead of sugar:
Weight Control – Obesity is a continual problem, especially in the United States for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons is because of all the added sugar that is readily available in abundance. Sugar is almost impossible to avoid when you eat a typical diet of processed foods and is over-consumed on a daily basis. Using stevia as an alternative can help you lose excess or maintain a healthy weight. A study published in Appetite found that when given sugary foods, people consume more calories during their next meal than when they consumed foods containing stevia. Stevia can actually help reduce your appetite thus making it easier to eat less.
Diabetes – Replacing sugar with stevia can open up food options for people who have diabetes, allowing them to still have that sweet taste without the sugar. In addition, it may actually help fight diabetes as the consumption of stevia has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and increase the production and effectiveness of insulin.
Cholesterol – Studies have shown that regularly consuming stevia can help lower triglycerides and LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise your HDL (good cholesterol).
Food Cravings – Refined sugar can be very addictive as it tricks your brain into wanting more. When you consume sugar, it activates the brain’s reward system and releases dopamine. This is why you crave foods with sugar. The same thing occurs when you consume artificial sweeteners, as they still trick your body into wanting sweet, sugary food. When you consume stevia this does not happen, and it can instead suppress your cravings for sugar.
Anti-Cancer – A study published Nutrition and Cancer suggests that the consumption of stevia may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Stevia can cause cell death in cells that are dysfunctional or damaged. It can also raise antioxidant levels in other cancer-fighting foods and fight off free radicals.
Oral Care – Sugar is known for the damage it can do to your teeth, and the rise of sugar has had a direct correlation with the decay of oral health. Stevia is becoming a favorite ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwash after studies have shown that it can reduce the bacteria in your mouth, prevent cavities, and lower your risk of gingivitis.
Blood Pressure – Research has shown that consuming stevia can help reduce your blood pressure and effectively lower your risk of Left Ventricular Hypertrophy, the enlargement of the heart caused by high blood pressure. It is thought that stevia lowers blood pressure by blocking the calcium ion channels found in cell membranes. This is the same approach used by many blood pressure lowering medications.
How Common Are Stevia Allergies
Allergies to stevia are very uncommon, but do exist in some people as with most plants and foods. The stevia plant belongs to the same family as sunflowers (Asteraceae), and so allergic reactions can happen in people with this allergy. Due to the purification process that most stevia products go through, allergic reactions are less likely, even among those who are allergic to Asteraceae plants. This is because the purification process removes the allergens and antigens that can cause allergic reactions. However, allergic reactions are still possible.
If you know that you are allergic to the stevia plant or Asteraceae plants, it is always best to proceed with caution and check with your doctor first, or avoid stevia products.
Different Ways Stevia is Used
Stevia can be used in most recipes that call for sugar, with a few exceptions, such as when making bread with yeast.
Places that stevia is commonly used include:
· Natural Sodas
· Ice Cream
· Baked Desserts
The Use of Stevia in Almond ButterI use stevia to sweeten my sprouted almond butter because I want to enhance it with ingredients that not only taste amazing, but add extra health benefits. I refuse to use subpar or harmful ingredients. Most of the other sweetened almond butters use refined sugar which - while it may be used only in small amounts - adds unnecessary sugar to an otherwise healthy food, encourages continued sugar cravings, and does not benefit you in any way. Even worse are ones that use artificial sweeteners, which your body cannot digest and can cause a whole host of health issues.
When you eat Claire's Goodness almond butter you will get your sweet fix without any added sugar and without harming your body. Not only will you get all the health benefits associated with the stevia sweetener, but it will also leave you feeling satisfied so you don't over consume it.
Every ingredient included in my almond butter was carefully selected so that I know you are consuming the absolute best product on the market with the absolute best taste. Organic stevia, organic vanillla, and unrefined sea salt come together with the sprouted organic almonds to create a superfood with a deliciously decadent flavor profile.
If you're someone like me who enjoys some sweetness but wants to keep it healthy, you'll love my recipes (add link)! Each one of my recipes is designed to use the natural sweetness of my almond butter and limit added sugars. I only use natural, unrefined sweeteners such as stevia, ripe bananas, dates, maple syrup, raw honey, and coconut sugar.
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