In today’s health-conscious society, there is no need to press upon you the drastic and deadly effects of refined sugar. We all know that a steady consumption of refined sugar can lead to serious health issues like obesity, diabetes and other life-threatening conditions. Needless to say, many of us are looking for healthy alternatives that still satisfy our ever-present sugar cravings.
There is indeed a boom in the market of low-calorie sweeteners, many of which taste great but are inconveniently artificial. What to do?
There are few natural sweeteners that actually taste delicious, one among them is Stevia. This completely natural and tasty sweetener has become rather famous over the past few years, not only for its enjoyable taste but also because it’s free of calories and possesses significant health benefits.
Native to South America, this leafy green plant has been used for its medicinal benefits for many hundreds of years as well as for its strong, sweet flavor. While you can still buy stevia in its original form, either with its leaves whole or crushed, more often than not you’ll find this sweetener refined to a liquid or powder. In its refined form, you’ll find nothing but the extracted sweet compounds of the plant. The two main compounds found in extracted stevia are called Stevioside and Rebaudioside, both of which are hundreds of times sweeter than regular sugar.
Of course, there are many different kinds of stevia, and not every combination of stevia compounds actually tastes good. This is why finding the right kind of stevia isn’t necessarily obvious. Many people find that this natural sweetener is best in powder form rather than liquid, and often times this has to do with the fact that alcohol is an additive in liquid stevia. Alcohol can then probably be the contributing factor to the stevia’s bad aftertaste. A general rule of thumb in purchasing stevia is to look for a brand that is organic with no artificial additives. It also doesn’t hurt to look for brands with positive reviews about flavor.
Considering the fact that stevia is way sweeter than sugar, it’s worth spending a little time talking about its many uses. While you can add stevia to your smoothies, yogurt, tea, coffee as well as to any other number of beverages and even baking recipes, many find it most convenient to use liquid stevia in drinks and powdered stevia for baking. Here’s a tip: if you’re baking, look for erythritol, a natural low-calorie sweetener that helps to add bulk to the texture of your baked goods. Don’t forget stevia’s potency! One teaspoon of this stuff can have the same taste as an entire cup of sugar, depending on the brand you’re using.
Is Stevia an Artificial Sweetener?
It is very easy to confuse stevia as an artificial sweetener when, in truth, it’s a natural sweetener. While both natural and artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes with a generally low caloric intake, there are some key differences between the two.
Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni is a bush in which we extract the actual steviol glycosides (i.e. stevia leaf extracts) from the leaves. These extractions can contain substances up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. South American natives have used stevia leaves for hundreds of years not only as a sweetener but also for the health benefits. Studies have shown that stevia contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and can also help to reduce blood pressure and sugar levels.
On the other hand, artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes extracted from naturally occurring substances like herbs and even sugar itself, and more likely than not are synthetic. As in stevia, they are also likely to be many times sweeter than refined sugar.
The Side Effects of Stevia Leaf Extract
In the study and use of a product that simultaneously satisfies our sweet tooth cravings as well as offers quite significant health benefits, you can be sure that questions around side effects arose. When numerous well-recognized food safety authorities put this to the test, the resounding answer of whether or not stevia may cause certain side effects is a definite “no.” In gathering information regarding stevia leaf extracts and their effects and uses as a sugar substitute in our diets, stevia was found to be safe and harmless.
While allergic reactions do not qualify as a side effect, they were nonetheless addressed in many studies on steviol glycosides. With a long history of stevia use, there have not been any published reports regarding allergic reactions in association with the leaf extract. In a recent 2010 study done by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), it was concluded that steviol glycosides are unlikely to cause any allergic reactions by themselves. Health Canada has also shared that, when used as a food additive, stevia leaf extracts are not likely to be a concern for the general public.
This being said, anyone with allergenic concerns should always read the labels on their food and consult their doctor when adding new products and produce to their diet.
An interesting finding that is sure to have any health community buzzing is that stevia leaf extracts do not affect blood glucose levels. This is particularly good news for those who are diabetic. Despite the calorie-free sweetness of stevia, however, one may want to look out for any foods that naturally contain fat, carbohydrates and sugar in the form of lactose. So, for example, if you notice an advertisement for ice cream sweetened with stevia only, as a diabetic, be concerned with the other factors previously named when considering your purchase.
When it comes to children consuming stevia, one should be wary of the fact that much less stevia is required to reach a satisfactory level of sweetness than when using regular sugar. And, because stevia has a low weight, a child’s daily intake of the extract is much lower than that of an adult’s, of course. Take the necessary time to calculate your child’s ideal daily intake of stevia–it is best to base this on their body weight.
Popular Beverage Options that include Stevia Sweeteners
Consuming soft drinks has become a rather guilty pleasure of indulgence, considering all of the awareness surrounding the actual damage that these beverages have on our health. The nearly worldwide replacement of soft drinks for stevia drinks has undoubtedly affirmed the place that stevia will continue to have in our daily diets. From teas to carbonated drinks, stevia is completely versatile and effective in satisfying our need for sweet, and many major companies are catching on.
Both the Coca-Cola and Pepsi companies are widely known as owning soft drinks containing enormously high amounts of sugar in them. It is no wonder that both of these corporations are striving to make dietary changes to their products and brand.
Using the Truvia brand as the main sweetener in their products, Coca-Cola has created Sprite Green, originally introduced to their markets in New York and Chicago. Sprite Green is just one in Coca-Cola’s lineup of healthy beverages and is the healthy version of Sprite. This soft drink substitute contains only 50 calories for every 8.5 ounce serving and contains 5% lemon juice as well.
Pepsi has created Sobe Life Water as their healthy soft drink alternative. This zero calorie substitute comes in the flavors of Fuji Apple Pear, Yumberry Pomegranate and Black and Blue Berry.
Sobe Life Water is actually sweetened with PureVia sweetener, a popular stevia brand manufactured by the Whole Earth Sweetener Company. Not only do these drinks taste great, but, according to an official press release by Pepsi, any one of these drinks can give you a full day’s intake of vitamin C. They also contain 20% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin E and 10% of the daily value of vitamins B6, B12, B3, and, finally, B5. Not bad for an alternative soft drink!
These two powerhouse corporations aren’t the only ones getting in on the action. Zevia–a clever play on words–is a stevia soda drink created in 2007. Founded in Seattle, Zevia Zero Calorie Soda uses stevia sweeteners manufactured by the Sweet Green Fields company and comes in flavors like Orange Soda and Lemon Lime Twist. Zevia resonates with many consumers because their aim is to provide a hydrating and refreshing soft drink that tastes great and indulges in our sweet cravings without jeopardizing the health of consumers. Since the company’s move from Seattle to Los Angeles, this soft drink has become widely popular in the Southern California region.
Across the sea, Hartwall Water and Beverages is the first company in Finland to introduce stevia sweeteners into soft drinks. The innovation of including steviol glycosides into various drinks in the market was deeply supported by this company, and they continue to provide extensive research on stevia to support the use of their products. With the implementation of this wholesome kind of marketing, it is no wonder that Hartwall still dominates the Finnish market with their drinks.
Partnering with the Gerber Juice Company, Del Monte Fruit Juices is another major company to add stevia alternatives to their product options. They now have fruit juices sweetened with stevia, resulting in various low caloric drinks. This option has become a wildly popular choice among long-time Del Monte consumers.
Organic Dark Chocolate Sweetened with Stevia
In 2000, we set out on the slightly daunting task of making sugar-free dark chocolate with stevia extract. Needless to say, we went down endless roads of trial and error. We also shoveled through endless tubs of chocolate liqueur–not to be mistaken with liquor (our chocolate–fortunately or unfortunately–has no alcohol in it)!
We roasted our cacao beans, and then ground them into a liquid-like paste once they were ready. This is then poured into moulds for storage, and is similar to unsweetened Baker’s chocolate which you can easily find in most supermarkets.
Here’s a little disclaimer for you: not all chocolate labeled “dark chocolate” is dairy free! Did you know that? By now, you’ve probably already gathered the importance of reading your food labels. This is another reason to keep doing so. On many dark chocolate labels, you will actually find ingredients like butter, milk fat, whey, casein, lactose, among other ingredients. Even by some government standards, numerous chocolate products are allowed to contain dairy and still be labeled “dark”. In our opinion, any chocolate containing milk and any other dairy product is definitely “milk chocolate.”
Where does stevia fit into all of this? In our quest to perfect our tasty dark chocolate, stevia will be an essential factor in creating an authentic product without compromising the ingredient list or great taste. With versatility and sweetness, stevia is a game-changing ingredient that is here to stay.