Stevia: Sweet without the Sugar High

Post image for Stevia: Sweet without the Sugar High

by Jennifer Fugo on December 14, 2010

What’s the holidays without sugar?  I think most people would outwardly say that their life and waistline would be dramatically better off minus all the cookies and sweets this time of year.  However, inwardly I know most of those same people would nostalgically miss a time filled with some really great homemade pastries and baked goods.  It leaves us all both loathing and secreting stealing cookies from a gifted tray at work when no one is looking.  Little by little, the sugar totals increase along with the number of holiday parties.  And that, my friends, can spell total disaster!

I say ‘disaster’ because sugar is just sooo bad for your body.  Small quantities are fine, but even our current idea of ‘small’ is probably much too large for our own collective good.  Sugar is highly acidic to the body, creates systemic inflammation, makes blood sugar go haywire, feeds gnarly bacteria and yeast in your digestive system, reduces your body’s immune system which opens the door to colds and the flu, and will leave you feeling exhausted, sluggish and downright crappy.  Oh, and then you’ll be jonesing for it too…because its incredibly addictive to boot!  No wonder everyone gets sick during and after the holidays!

Alternative to Sugar

What to do?  Well, there’s many alternative sweeteners out there that can help your cause, but one in particular is ideal because it doesn’t inflame the body or mess with your insulin levels.  Oh, and it comes from a plant.  Meet stevia- an herb that has a sweet taste, but contains no sugar.  There’s no trick or slight of hand here.  The plant merely tastes sweet.  So sweet, in fact, that you’ll need to use a lot less of it than you will sugar or else you’ll be in for a wicked taste-surprise.

I was first introduced to stevia years ago by my Nutritionist Samantha Grant who helped me to understand the benefit of varying sweeteners.  She suggests it to clients “because it has no calories and, to [her] knowledge, no studies show dangerous side effects making it is a great alternative.”  Though you may see many different ‘alternative’ sugar alcohol sweeteners such as xylitol and sorbitol on the market,  “many people suffer from gas” as a result of consuming them because they can irritate the digestive system.  “This does not happen with stevia,” states Grant.

When I was going through my own sugar detox in October, I really had to make friends with stevia  once and for all because it can be quite difficult to just go cold turkey from having an abundance of that ‘sweet taste’ in your diet.  This is what most people don’t quite get: sugar isn’t always about sugar.  Sometimes it’s about the taste.  To clarify, there are five distinct tastes which are used to describe foods: pungent, sour, salty, bitter and sweet.  The American diet has pretty much gone overboard with the salty and sweet tastes which has led to steady increases of each in just about everything that we eat.  Body, Love, and Cravings Health Coach Richele Henry agrees that “after doing a week-long sugar detox, the taste buds change and stevia could be a palatable upgrade to other sweeteners used prior to detoxing.”  The reason is that stevia is “100 times sweeter than sugar and some find it to have a slightly bitter aftertaste.”  Thus stevia may not entirely please the palate if you don’t allow yourself time to acclimate to it as well as let go of the expectation that it will taste the same as sugar.

Is Stevia Safe?

Stevia most likely has its own health ups and downs which science is now looking into as its popularity grows.  It appears that most people in the health and wellness industry seem to echo Henry’s sentiment that “for people who have blood sugar issues, stevia could be an appropriate sweetener considering there is virtually no impact on the blood sugar.”  Melissa Hillegass, a Type 1 Diabetes researcher and author of The Delicate Place blog, hesitantly agrees and wisely suggests that its good to stick with moderation rather than go overboard on any one particular food or sweetener.   Though she’s waiting on more definitive research, she passed along a recent study published in the journal Appetite reporting that researchers concluded that stevia “significantly reduced both glucose and insulin levels compared to either sucrose or aspartame…suggesting stevia may assist with glucose regulation.”  And another study has verified that stevia won’t break down into a more toxic compound as some had feared when used in carbonated beverages.

I’m certainly not a cheerleader for any one food, however I do believe that stevia could potentially be a decent sweetener added to your sweetener repertoire.  I personally mix and match.  You’d find me alternating stevia with raw honey, yacon syrup, agave, black strap molasses, palm sugar and brown rice syrup.  I don’t use them all the time, but feel that by having a wide selection will help prevent from overusing/consuming any one sweetener.  And some pair better with certain foods and drinks than others.

Creative Stevia Uses

Whether it comes to baking, soups or just creating alternatives to sugary favorites, stevia seems to be a winner all around.  Grant’s young son is even a fan as she mixes stevia with his unsweetened Chocolate almond milk so that he can get his ‘sweet’ fix without the sugar rush and end up bouncing off the walls.  I even carry a container in my handbag so that I’m not ever stuck with the horrible choices on the table at a restaurant or at someone’s home for dinner.  Stevia seems to last forever since you use so little and I’ve yet to come close to replacing the container of it that I started several months ago.

Lisa Rado, an Integrative Health Coach and founder of One Delicious Life, is what I’d consider a stevia expert.  She has successfully used stevia many times over to shift clients away from sugar “who have a sweet tooth [so that they are] able to enjoy sweetened foods without the negative impacts of inflammation, high sugar and weight gain.”  Rado notes that its been especially helpful “for those who feel they can’t kick the soda habit.”  She instructs clients on how to create “their own soda – sparking water with flavored stevia.  Vanilla stevia makes a tasty cream soda!”  You can also use it to sweeten plain yogurt, coffee, tea, oatmeal, soups, etc.

If you love to bake and are gearing up to do some serious baking this holiday season, stevia is definitely a great alternative.  “I use the English Toffee or Chocolate flavor from SweetLeaf when I am baking…usually with some Xylitol or brown sugar,” shares Grant.  “It cuts the calories and helps with blood sugar control.”  But there’s a trip to making the substitutions between these sweeteners that you’ll need to keep in mind when altering recipes.  You can find a useful conversion chart here.  Karina Allrich from Glutenfreegoddess.com offers some great times for replacing sugar with alternative sweeteners like stevia on her blog in a post called Sugar Blues: Gluten-free Baking without Sugar.

Personally, I’ve found it to be pivotal in breaking the bad habit of eating sweets at night.  That seemed to be my weakest moment that would get filled with some sort of sugar-filled fix.  However, I came to enjoy a warm mug of Rooibos Chai tea from Yogi Teas with some unsweetened almond milk and stevia.  It was the right mix of everything that I crave in comfort food and it got me away from cookies and ice cream.  For me, this was huge and helped me to sleep better and thus feel better in the morning.

Stevia Brands

All this info is great, but I’m sure you’re wondering how to really make it happen?  Well, it all starts with picking a good brand.  Rado suggests Sweet Leaf or Stevita which is her favorite choice because “it comes in a smaller bottle, is cheaper” and offers the flavored liquid drops that make ‘stevia soda’ possible.  Some of the following flavors areavailable: Chocolate, Vanilla, Peppermint, Cinnamon, Grape, Peach, Strawberry, Lime, Orange, Lemon and Mango.  Grant’s favorite is PURE stevia since there are no fillers added to the product, though she cautions people against using “too much or a brand that isn’t good” in order to avoid experiencing a bitter aftertaste.

Also keep in mind that stevia is a green leaf often found in stores being sold as a white powder which has obviously been incredibly processed.  Henry adds that stevia may “even [be] bleached to make it look similar to sugar.”   Both Frontier and Navitas Naturals brands offer stevia in its more natural, less-processed, powdered form.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

TheHealthyApron December 14, 2010 at 9:38 am

I’m so glad you shared this post bc I have to be honest that I haven’t looked in to stevia that much. Now I will consider using it and I appreciate the brand recommendations!

Reply

Jennifer Fugo December 14, 2010 at 6:29 pm

You’re very welcome! 🙂

Reply

Laury @thefitnessdish December 14, 2010 at 5:43 pm

I love your post on stevia!!! I feel much more educated on it now 🙂

I have definitely researched it a lot since it came out, but have to say I am not 100% sold on using it a lot. I have it, and use it moderately. I am not sure if it is the stevia, but the few times I have used it I think it gave me a headache. I am not sure. I guess it’s just hard for me to grasp that it’s OK. You are right though, no studies have shown any harmful effects, and it does come from a very natural source!! I just tell people to staty away from Truvia and other blends, because they usually just have mostly chemicals and a small portion of Stevia!

Thanks for the recipe ideas!!! I guess it’s always better than loading up on sugar!!!!

Reply

Jennifer Fugo December 14, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Here’s my ‘thing’ with stevia… its an herb…not sugar. And we all are so used to confusing the idea of sweet with the taste of sugar that most people don’t even realize that certain veggies, for example, are actually sweet to the taste. So, it totally boggles our minds how an herb could be THAT sweet. Its the taste…that’s how it is. I have the non-processed green powder if you want to try some of that for yourself. But as with anything you put in your mouth, perhaps your body doesn’t like it…we can be sensitive to anything.

Glad to have helped offer some new insight into stevia for you!

Reply

Alexandra December 14, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Hello! I just discovered your blog and I don’t remember how I got here but I’m glad I did.

Great article! I’ve been using Stevia for years and like you, I always carry a small container in my purse “just in case”. I never realized that stevia powder should be green and the white is processed (duh, it should have dawned on me that the plant is green!). Do you know where one can buy unprocessed green stevia powder?

Reply

Jennifer Fugo December 15, 2010 at 7:27 am

I think that so many of us see a lot of ‘white’ food that its easy to not realize that its not suppose to be white, especially when you’ve never seen the green stuff. I have a bag from Navitas Naturals, but you can also buy it from Frontier (though it will be in a 1lb bag which may be A LOT!!). I’ve seen it at a Whole Foods recently and you may want to check out whatever local health food store is near you….perhaps you might even find it at a Vitamin Shoppe…sometimes they carry or can order stuff like that for you. Otherwise, just google “green stevia” and you’ll see links on amazon to buy it or visit Navitas Naturals’ website…I think you can order from there.

Just note one thing with the green…it doesn’t ‘disappear’ when you put it in tea, for example, like the white powder will. It’s not something that will dissolve since its just the leaf powdered.

Reply

Pure2raw Twins December 15, 2010 at 10:16 am

I agree having a variety of sugars is best. Though I do love my stevia but I enjoy yacon, coconut sugar and maple syrup too!

Reply

Jennifer Fugo December 15, 2010 at 10:44 am

I actually use palm sugar often in places such as when making my own pasta sauce. Variety is best and I hope to highlight some other great sweeteners in the coming months. Thanks for sharing!!

Reply

Nichole December 15, 2010 at 3:41 pm

You make so many good points. But the odd one that sticks out to me, is that I truly feel when I eat a lot of sugar I start feeling worse and feeling sick.

I was a little unsure about Stevia, really appreciate this info!

Reply

Jennifer Fugo December 15, 2010 at 7:12 pm

I think the sticking point for most ppl with stevia is that we’re sooo wary of sweeteners that are powdered. We fundamentally don’t understand why its so sweet and are suspicious of why it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels. I can certainly understand this position, however sweet does not equal sugar. This idea is rather foreign to Americans. So keep that in mind…stevia is sweet. It isn’t sugar. It isn’t trying to be sugar, nor any other sort of artificial sweetener. It just is what it is and definitely has a place in the host of sweeteners. Moderation and mixing things up is always the best policy.

Reply

Amy at TheSceneFromMe December 15, 2010 at 6:57 pm

I haven’t ever tried Stevia, so I appreciate your bringing this to my attention.
I do like Splenda and put an unhealthy amount of it in my tea when I drink it. It just isn’t the same if it isn’t sweet. But I use it instead of sugar to reduce the number of calories. Not sure which is better though.

🙂

Reply

Jennifer Fugo December 15, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Hi Amy,
Though I can certainly appreciate the idea of trying to reduce calories, why are you needing to have tea that is so sweet that you acknowledge using an ‘unhealthy amount’? I’d also encourage you to do some research if you have a few moments about splenda…specifically about it containing arsenic. You can google “arsenic splenda” and see many different articles for yourself. In my opinion, splenda is potentially very toxic to the human body. Calories or not, that stuff isn’t coming near my mouth.

Give stevia a try and check out some other types of sweeteners. And maybe see if you can slowly ween yourself down from needing something to be sooo sweet. If you have any other questions, please let me know!

Reply

Robson December 16, 2010 at 12:27 am

Wow! This is really an eye opener for me. Thanks for sharing this info and I’ll have to give stevia a try now.

Reply

Jo Lefebure December 16, 2010 at 2:39 am

Dear Jen,

I’m glad to see that more and more people are discovering stevia. It’s just been approved over here in Europe and I’m definitely waiting for the first products to hit the shelves. The reason why stevia is still so unknown to many people, is that the FDA (and EFSA too), under pressure from the sugar lobby, have tried to keep stevia off the market for so long. Who wants a safe alternative threatening your billion dollar business, right? 😉

If anyone is searching for a complete story on stevia, I encourage you to visit my site. I’ve been working hard on it so I hope you’ll find the additional information useful!

Cheers,

Jo

Reply

Jennifer Fugo December 16, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Hi Jo,
Thank you so much for stopping and sharing. I’ll def stop by and see what you’ve got up on your site! I’ve known from my father (who is a doctor) that the FDA has purposely blocked from this information getting out there and being more accessible for the general public. Now I think that people are interested in learning more about it especially as business trends are moving more ‘health and wellness’ focused. It’s just important to not lose sight of why people overuse any one particular substance…that’s what I worry about and always encourage diversity in the diet and anything else in life.

Reply

pat @ digestive enzymes supplement May 2, 2011 at 7:34 am

Hello Jennifer,
Thanks for sharing this post. Actually, this is just my first time to hear about Stevia. But based from your post, it is really a good alternative to sugar. I think I like this very wonderful product!

Reply

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: