Stevia is popular for being a sugar substitute that can help reduce blood sugar and calorie intake. But over the years, there has been growing concern about whether stevia is actually healthy for you. The easy answer is that stevia is not directly harmful but may lead to side effects that could lead to health risks. Let's look deeper into what stevia is, how it can be beneficial, and how it can be harmful.
What Is Stevia
Stevia is a sweetener that comes from the leaves of the stevia plant. It is a zero-calorie sweetener that is actually 200 times the sweetness of the table sugar you have at home. It is popular among those who are trying to limit their sugar intake but still indulge in sweets.
There are a handful of different kinds of stevia. Some are highly refined and mixed with other sweeteners, and others are less processed. The highly processed stevia's are what you typically find in the grocery store. The less processed stevias have not gone through many studies for safety.
The most common highly processed stevias are Truvia and Stevia in the Raw. These are made of refined stevia extract called rebaudioside A (or Reb A) mixed with erythritol and maltodextrin. On the other hand, green leaf stevia is the least processesed form of stevia and is considered the purest form of stevia. This stevia has not undergone studies to understand health benefits and risks.
Stevia's made from Reb A have been studied and recognized by the FDA as a safe food additive. It can be helpful for people with diabetes and other people who are trying to keep their blood sugar low. It doesn't have any calories and is significantly sweeter than table sugar. In this study, it showed that stevia intake significantly lowered blood sugar and insulin levels.
This study showed that stevia also helped manage cholesterol. The participants of the study consumed stevia extract daily for 30 days. It was found that bad cholesterol levels (LDL) were lowered while also increasing good cholesterol levels (HDL).
Although there seem to be a few positive health benefits, there has been a lot of controversy over calling stevia “healthy” since it can have negative side effects that could lead to health risks. Some of these include harm to gut bacteria, higher calorie consumption, and intake of sugar alcohols.
A study in 2019 reported that there could be a link between harm to gut bacteria and stevia. It also reported the possibility of building a glucose intolerance due to a lack of sugar intake. When gut bacteria is compormised, it can affect weight gain, cholesterol, and your immune system.
It was also found that people who consumed stevia were left unsatisfied, leading them to consume more calories later in the day. In the long run, these cravings lead to more calories from food than they might've had if they had just consumed regular sugar from the get-go.
Since some forms of stevia may have sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol, it could cause problems in those with sensitive bellies or digestive issues. Consumption of xylitol for some can lead to issues like bloating and loose stools. Sorbitol can cause problems like stomach pain and diarrhea.
Although some people use stevia to help with blood sugar and cholesterol, that doesn't mean they love the taste. Although it is sweeter than sugar, it can be described as having a slightly bitter taste. For some, that is easily overlooked. For others, it's enough to write it off and try to reduce their daily sugar intake.
Stevia For Children
Because many children consume higher amounts of sugar than they should, stevia could be a good alternative at home. The American Heart Association states that increased sugar intake puts children at risk of heart disease and weight gain. Using stevia instead of sugar could potentially reduce the risk of those health concerns.
If you do use stevia for your children, it's important that you keep an eye on their daily limit. The daily limit is different for each person depending on their body weight. Consumption should be 1.8 milligrams per pound. So please note they can not consume as much as you would as an adult.
In summary, stevia has some positive health benefits that are important for some people. Keeping blood sugar and cholesterol down is important for people with diabetes or for people who aim to be heart-healthy. It can also have some possible negative side effects like compromised gut health or weight gain due to being unsatisfied and the urge to continue eating. It's important to note that our body does need sugar, so completely removing sugar from your diet could cause an intolerance.
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