Stevia: what is it and benefits of this sweetener for health

Originating from a plant native to South America, stevia is a type of sweetener with a capacity 300 times greater than that of sugar, and yet it can prevent diabetes , prevent weight gain and fight intestinal problems.

Discover all the benefits of stevia rebaudiana bertoni, its scientific name, and discover why it is a great option to be present in your kitchen.

Benefits of Stevia

There are indications that the vegetable was already used by the Guaraní Indians for centuries to flavor and provide sweetness to their drinks, however, its advantages go far beyond that. Check out.

Reduces sugar consumption

Stevia helps to reduce the consumption of sugar, which is so beloved in Brazil, but so harmful to the body.

Thus, there is a decrease in the occurrence of problems such as obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol , among many others. Although all sweeteners offer this gain, stevia has an advantage, as it has a natural origin , which, according to many experts, makes it healthier and does not offer side effects. In addition, it has a greater ability to sweeten compared to other options, so it can be used in less quantity.

Reduces blood glucose and insulin levels

A study conducted at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in the United States showed a reduction in glucose and insulin levels in individuals. ( 1 ) Insulin is the hormone that allows glucose to enter cells and blood circulation after a meal, the so  called postprandial glycemia .

Clarissa Hiwatashi Fujiwara, nutritionist and master of science from the University of São Paulo, says that reducing these hormones “is especially important for people with diabetes, as these factors help control the concentration of sugar in the blood, which is essential to reduce risks complications resulting from this disease”.

Among these complications are nerve, heart , eye, kidney, and skin problems.

Prevents diabetes and insulin resistance

Insulin resistance is a condition that occurs when this hormone does not work in the body as it should, causing the body to manufacture larger amounts of this substance, harming blood vessels and the heart, and which can precede diabetes.

Those who already have a family history of these diseases or who have been showing excessive weight gain in recent times are at great risk of developing these ailments, and that is where stevia comes in, controlling the production of this hormone and normalizing its functioning in the body.

However, Clarissa emphasizes that “for this to happen, it is essential that the individual has a healthy and balanced diet, with few processed items and more fresh foods , such as vegetables, fruits, cereals and whole grains, proteins and sources of good quality fats”. ( 1 )

Fight intestinal problems

Another scientific work, this time done by specialists from the University of Nebraska, in the United States, showed that stevia passes through the stomach and large intestine without being absorbed, and when it reaches the small intestine, it undergoes transformations caused by the intestinal microbiota, that is, the good and bad bacteria that live there. ( 2 )

Clarissa adds that “with this, this sweetener revealed to have a potential prebiotic effect ”. This means that it serves as food for the beneficial microorganisms that remain in this organ, fighting the appearance of intestinal problems, in addition to low immunity, obesity, cholesterol, high blood pressure , among other things.

But the benefits offered by stevia are not limited to health. Its molecules are very stable in relation to pH and withstand temperatures up to 200ºC. For these reasons, it can be used in the production of processed foods and in several homemade recipes, as it can be used in the oven and the stove.

Stevia did it?

According to an international scientific committee linked to the WHO ( World Health Organization ), stevia is okay and the safety of its ingestion is guaranteed, as it has been tested and proven by several scientific studies.

Recommended daily intake

Although this product is considered safe and does not have side effects, it is not recommended to exaggerate the dose. According to the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, ideally it should be no more than 5.5 grams for every kilogram of a person’s weight.

For example, someone who weighs 60 kilos can consume up to 330 grams in one day. If we think that, according to the manufacturers, a 60-milliliter package of the product can sweeten around 350 cups of coffee, it is very difficult to imagine that this amount will be extrapolated.

Stevia uses

Stevia is a sweetener widely used by large food companies in the production of processed products, soft drinks, juices and gelatins, for example. However, its powdered, liquid or granulated versions are easily found in supermarkets and natural food stores.

Any of these versions of the plant can be used in place of sugar in homemade recipes, such as coffee, teas, juices and, as it can be baked, it can be an ingredient in cakes and other sweets.

Other sweeteners of natural origin

This list is composed of xylitol, thaumatin, sorbitol and erythritol. The xylitol is derived mostly from corn but also from wood, fruits, mushrooms and some micro-organisms.

The xylitol undergoes chemical changes up to the final product, has refreshing flavor and sweetness similar to sugar. There is still evidence that in large amounts (above 15 mg per kg of weight) it can have a laxative effect.

Thaumatin, in turn, comes from a fruit from East Africa, has a sweetening capacity 3,000 times greater than that of sugar and there is still no determined maximum amount.

Sorbitol is found in a variety of fruits and helps ensure the texture of products. For this reason, it is mostly used in processed foods.

Finally, erythritol, which tastes similar to sugar, but with a refreshing base. It can be found in fruits, seaweed, mushrooms and some fermented items such as wine and beer, for example. As with sorbitol, it is often used with other sweeteners.

Compare other sweeteners

CharacteristicsSweetness x sugar powerEquivalent to 1 tablespoon of sugar
Acessulfame KDerived from acetic acid, it is stable at high temperatures. No aftertaste.200 times24mg
AspartameIt is made from phenylalamine and aspartic acid Cannot be heated Tastes similar to sugar and 4 kcal/g.200 times24mg
CyclamateDerived from artificial oil, it withstands high temperatures and has a bittersweet aftertaste.40 times121.5mg
SaccharinIt is artificially derived from petroleum and has a metallic aftertaste.300 times16mg
SteviaNatural origin, comes from the Stevia rebaudiana plant and has an aftertaste similar to licorice.300 times16mg
SucraloseObtained from modified cane sugar molecule. No aftertaste.600 times6g

*Fonte: Fitch C, Keim KS; Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: use of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012

flavor and price

An issue that usually bothers some people and makes them prefer to opt for other types of sweeteners is their aftertaste, that is, the one that stays in the mouth after ingestion, which resembles licorice . The good news in this case is that there are companies working on developing more palatable alternatives to this sweetener.

Its price is another issue that may not be very pleasing to those who use sweeteners. This is because it is usually much higher than that of competitors, reaching 50% higher than sucralose. But, as the list of earnings offered by their consumption is much larger, many consumers prefer to make this investment.

Ellie Lauderdale

My name is Ellie Lauderdale, MD and I am USA based professional Nutritionist .

I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and board certified specialist in sports dietetics who is trained in integrative medicine. I have worked with hundreds of clients, from those suffering with chronic disease to professional and olympian athletes. My goal is to help optimize you from the inside so that you can feel, perform, and look your best on the outside.

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