You’ve seen it around, and you’ve probably even used it. But how much do you know about this super popular sweetener?
The Skinny: Stevia is a South American herb (Stevia rebaudiana) used most commonly around the world as a natural, calorie-free sweetener. Stevia’s appeal is that it doesn’t contain sugar at all; rather, its sweetness comes from natural compounds in the leaves called steviol glycosides. These glycosides make it intensely sweet—in fact, about 10 to 15 times as sweet as sugar.
Suh-weet: So when can you use stevia instead? Well, the short answer is that you can use it any time, but it’s not always a perfect replacement. We find it does best in recipes that call for smaller amounts of sugar, like sauces (e.g. tomato) or batters (e.g. pancake). Baking is a different story, in which case the body, texture, and browning capacity of sugar is hard to replicate. In these instances, we recommend replacing some, but not all, of the sugar with stevia. Since palates vary, you may want to experiment with this to see what flavours and textures work for you.
Read the label: Stevia has gained popularity in the organic/health-minded community because it is minimally processed (fresh or dried leaves are simply ground up), it has a low glycemic index, and it’s non-caloric, so it doesn’t contribute sugars to the diet. You can buy stevia in its most natural form (green leaves, straight-up or ground) as well as stevia extract, which is added to alcohol or glycerin and is typically found in a dark bottle with a dropper. Stevia sweeteners, however (like Truvia, Pure Via, Stevia in the Raw, and even All Natural Stevia—the brand name), can have other additives that may contain calories and other unwanted substances, so it’s important to read the labels. Go for the least processed form you can find.
Fertility: Long before it became popular as a sweetener, stevia was used traditionally by indigenous peoples of South America as a contraceptive. And research involving hamsters and mice has shown that stevia may indeed have some effect on fertility when taken in frequent, high doses. Prevailing thought still suggests that human fertility is not likely affected by consumption levels of stevia as a sweetener, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Health: Does switching to stevia mean we can eat all the sweets we want? Well, not exactly. Many nutrition experts suggest that eating lots of sweets makes us desire even more sweets. The solution? Eat your sweets in moderation. Start by reading those ingredient labels—you’ll be surprised at how much sugar has been added even to the “healthy” items in your shopping basket! Work on weeding those out, and saving those sugar/honey/maple syrup/stevia sweets for when you intend to eat them. By gradually cutting back on all sweeteners, you’ll allow your taste buds to re-calibrate, and you’ll find that you start to prefer all of your eats and drinks without the added sweetener.
Consider yourself now in the sweet-know.
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