Is Stevia The Perfect Low Carb Sugar Substitute?

 

How Sweet it is

If you are trying to go low-carb or no-carb or simply trying to find a healthy alternative to table sugar the topic of artificial sweeteners is going to come up.

I am ashamed to admit this but I love the taste of Sweet’N Low. The fact that it is in the realm of 500 times sweeter than sugar is probably why. I have been known to sprinkle half a packet over some of my slow carb meals… you should see my wife’s face when she catches me doing this… Truly a sad state of affairs!

Then Tim went ahead and put a nail in my coffin when he mentions in the 4-Hour Body that it is perfectly OK to drink one diet beverage per day. So believe it or not I started doing this daily. This is kind of like smoking later in life because somebody tells you it is OK for your health. It was a few months ago that I realized it was not the sweet I needed but the caffeine.

So two weeks ago I switched from diet Dr. Pepper to an afternoon cup of coffee. But find myself struggling not to go back.

I truly believe that all of the artificial sweeteners on the market today are essentially bad for you. They are just too artificial and they even make me feel bad when I am consuming them. I am not trying to get political here but Donald Rumsfeld was behind the approval of Aspartame and I just don’t trust that guy. Here is a great article from the Huffington Post if you want to get your rabbit hole on.

What is a Poor Low-Carb Dieter to do?

It was this year that I decided to branch out and try to find a healthier alternative. I figured if I was going to switch from Diet Coke to coffee to get my caffeine fix I might as well not sweeten it with and additive that is going to kill me in the end.

Enter Stevia

I had been hearing people talk about Stevia for a while but really didn’t understand what it was or where I could find it. At the time it wasn’t readily available although this is changing rapidly and for good reasons.

Stevia isn’t an artificial sweetener at all; it is a plant that contains natural sweeteners. And you know what really makes Stevia the most attractive of all? It may have real health BENEFITS such as:

  • High blood pres­sure Some research sug­gests that tak­ing 750‑1500 mg per day of ste­vio­side, a chem­i­cal com­pound in ste­via, reduces sys­tolic blood pres­sure (the upper num­ber in a blood pres­sure read­ing) by 10–14 mmHg and dias­tolic blood pres­sure (the lower num­ber) by 6–14 mmHg within one week of start­ing treat­ment.
  • Dia­betes Early research sug­gests that 1000 mg daily of ste­vio­side, a chem­i­cal com­pound in ste­via, might reduce blood sugar lev­els after meals by 18% in peo­ple with type 2 dia­betes.
  • Pre­vent­ing preg­nancy
  • Heart­burn
  • Weight loss
  • Water reten­tion
  • Heart prob­lems

Note: I am not sure how stevioside prevents pregnancy but if you do not want a litter of slow carb kids stick with your current method.

For a full monograph of Stevia click here

Why doesn’t everyone switch to Stevia?

This is a great question. I can tell you why in two words:

  1. TASTE
  2. POLITICS

Taste:

When it comes to taste Stevia is (at least to my taste buds) a bit bitter. It requires some patience and practice to find the right way to sweeten your foods or drinks with Stevia.

I have tried to convince myself that this product tastes as good as my beloved Sweet’N Low but I would be lying… Like Guinness Stevia is definitely an acquired taste. But it is one worth acquiring especially for those of us trying to maintain a low carb lifestyle.

Politics:

Like many things natural, corporate America appears to have tried to keep the public at large ill-informed when it comes to Stevia. I assume this is because there is some seriously big money to be made in the world of artificial sweeteners. Stevia was officially banned from sale in the US as a sweetener in 1991, driven from the market after an anonymous safety petition led the FDA to conclude that it was an unsafe food additive.  The FDA has declined to release the petitioner’s affiliation, although it is suspected to be someone with links to aspartame – that had just come to market in the 1990s.

If you like conspiracy theory you might want to check out the history of Stevia in the U.S. It is filled with fascinating and fun facts.

Making the Switch

Stevia itself is a plant. The steviol glycosides are responsible for the sweet taste of the leaves of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni). These compounds range in sweetness from 40 to 300 times sweeter than sucrose. They are heat-stable, pH-stable, and do not ferment.They also do not induce a glycemic response when ingested, making them attractive as natural sweeteners to diabetics and others on carbohydrate-controlled diets.

The diterpene known as steviol is the aglycone of stevia’s sweet glycosides

In terms of weight fraction, the four major steviol glycosides found in the stevia plant tissue are:

  • 5–10% stevioside (250–300X of sugar)
  • 2–4% rebaudioside A — most sweet (350–450X of sugar) and least bitter
  • 1–2% rebaudioside C
  • ½–1% dulcoside A.

Money Talks: Stevia vs. Truvia (Coca Cola) vs. PureVia (Pepsi)

Rebiana is the trade name for a zero-calorie sweetener containing mainly rebaudioside A (also called Reb A).  There are two new “stevia” (Reb A) based sweeteners approved by the FDA: Truvia and PureVia.  These are essentially tweaked-Stevia-products that actually only contains 12% pure-leaf-Stevia

Truvia was jointly developed between the soft drink maker Coca-Cola and agribusiness giant Cargill.

PureVia was developed by PepsiCo in partnership with artificial sweetener industry veteran Merisant (under the proxy Whole Earth Sweetener Company).

rebiana_nutrition_label_comparisonBoth of these products are a combination of Stevia + Erythritol (a sugar alcohol think Sorbitol or Xylitol) which is only true if you stretch the truth a bit! Because Stevia is an extract of half a dozen natural steviosides (glycosides) and Truvia/PureVia are chemically pure Rebaudioside A derived from genetically modified plants.

Stevia itself is not patentable because it’s a natural substance, but when you apply a processing formula and add a few ingredients, it is. Having a patent brings the money making potential to justify the high cost of FDA approval. It certainly sounds like the FDA suddenly changed their mind about stevia once Coca-Cola and PepsiCo came knocking on their door with their checkbooks in hand.

In general with food, we see a destructive pattern with each refined product brought onto the market place.  Whole grains reduce the risk of heart disease while refined grains increase it.  The fructose in honey helps the body, while the fructose in HFCS has been linked to obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance.  Cold pressed natural oils dramatically reduce inflammation, while heavily refined hydrogenated oils promote inflammation – and chronic disease.  Why refined rebiana would be better for us than the whole leaf stevia has not been explained.

The Bottom Line:

There is some reason to think extracts of stevia, specifically stevioside, could prove extremely beneficial in a refined form but Truvia and PureVia do not contain any of that material.  Both sweeteners are proprietary formulas containing the largely untested rebiana and large amounts of erythritol, another non-caloric sweetening agent.  In fact, by volume, Truvia and PureVia have more erythritol than they do rebiana. There is still no science testing Truvia and PureVia themselves, which would show how these two sweeteners (rebiana and erythritol) metabolize together.

So What is a good Stevia Product?

greenPracticeBy now I hope I have convinced you that Stevia is worth a try. In fact I hope I have you considering throwing out your table sugar all together and switching to this natural plant based product that does not induce a glycemic response.

So where do you get started?

I have been experimenting with Stevia now for several months but it wasn’t until I sat down to write this blog post that I realized all the options one had.

At my local health food store I purchased some Stevia drops. Later I purchased a natural stevioside extract in a powder form that was dispensed in packets like my beloved SweetN’Low. I found that two of the drops went very far in sweetening my coffee. I would supplement this with some creamer and a teaspoon of natural pure cane sugar. I am now down to just creamer and Stevia drops which I like quite a bit. I find the stevia powder to be better for other things. I have not yet baked with Stevia although I will.

In all my research these products seems to get the highest marks both from a quality and purity standpoint. I would encourage you to experiment some, visit your favorite health food store and talk to one of the staff there.

Steviosides vs. Rebiana vs. Whole Stevia Powder

If you are an astute reader you may have noted above that Stevia plant is made up of quite a bit of components. Most stevia you buy in the store is stevia extract in the form of stevioside which has been around for a while. Rebaudioside A is in the two newer products Truvia and PureVia but they are mixed with Erythritol. Neither of these are actually whole Stevia.

I have not experimented with whole stevia but I am considering growing a plant myself just for the fun of it. It can be ground and processed and can be purchased online as well. I am sure it has a different flavor and if you are thinking “all natural” this is probably your best option. If anyone has experimented with this I would love to know. Take a look at this video if you want to learn about growing your own Stevia plants.

A Bit of Q&A (from the Stevia website)

Q) Can Stevia replace sugar in the diet?

A) Yes. Refined sugar is virtually devoid of nutritional benefits and, at best, represents empty calories in the diet. At worst, it has been implicated in numerous degenerative diseases. Stevia is much sweeter than sugar and has none of sugar’s unhealthy drawbacks.

Q) How many calories are in Stevia?

A) Virtually none. And the refined Stevia extracts are considered to be non-caloric.

Q) Will Stevia raise my blood sugar levels?

A) Not at all. In fact, according to some research, it may actually lower blood sugar levels. However, this research has yet to be confirmed and contradictory results make any conclusions premature.

Q) Can I use Stevia if I am diabetic?

A) Diabetes is a medical condition which should be monitored and treated by a qualified physician or health care practitioner. However, Stevia can be a part of a healthy diet for anyone with blood sugar problems since it does not raise blood sugar levels. If in doubt, ask your doctor. However, if they do say no, ask them politely for the current research to support their opinion.

Q) Can Stevia be used in cooking and baking?

A) Absolutely! Industrial research in Japan has shown that Stevia and Stevioside extracts are extremely heat stable in a variety of everyday cooking and baking situations.

Q) Does Stevia contain vitamins and minerals?

A) Raw herbal Stevia contains nearly one hundred identified phytonutrients and volatile oils, including trace amounts of Rutin (from the Callus) and B-Sitosterol (from the leaves). However, in the quantities typically consumed, the nutritive benefits will be negligible. The extracts of Stevia, being more refined, will contain far fewer of these phytonutrients and volatile oils.

Q) How are Stevia extracts prepared?

A) Extracts of Stevia leaves can be prepared by a number of methods some of which are patented. One researcher states: “Production of Stevioside involves water extraction from the dried leaves, followed by clarification and crystalization processes. Most commercial processes consist of water extraction, decoloration, and purification using ion-exchange resins, electrolytic techniques, or precipitating agents.”

Q) Can I make my own Stevia Extract?

A) Yes. A liquid extract can be made from the whole Stevia leaves or from the green herbal Stevia powder. Simply combine a measured portion of Stevia leaves or herbal powder with pure USP grain alcohol (Brand, or Scotch will also do) and let the mixture sit for 24 hours. Filter the liquid from the leaves or powder residue and dilute to taste using pure water. Note that the alcohol content can be reduced by very slowly heating (not boiling) the extract and allowing the alcohol to evaporate off. A pure water extract can be similarly prepared, but will not extract quite as much of the sweet glycosides as will the alcohol. Either liquid extract can be cooked down and concentrated into a syrup.

Q) What is the replacement factor for Stevia herbal powder and extract in terms of common table sugar?

A) Since Stevia is 10 to 15 times sweeter than sugar, this is a fair, if approximate, replacement factor. Since the crude herb may vary in strength, some experimentation may be necessary. The high stevioside extracts are between 200-300 times sweeter than sugar and should be used sparingly. Unfortunately, FDA labeling guidelines may prevent manufacturers from providing a specific replacement factor.

Q) What can’t I do with Stevia?

A) Stevia does not caramelize as sugar does. Meringues may also be difficult since Stevia does not brown or crystalize as sugar does.

Q) Will Stevia change the color of my food?

A) The green herbal powder may impart a slight amount of color to your food, depending on how much you use in your recipe. If you are concerned about color, I would suggest that you use the white powdered extract or a similar “clear” liquid extract of Stevia.

Q) Where can I buy Stevia herbal powder and extract?

A) At your local natural food store. As Stevia gains consumer acceptance, it may also begin to appear in supermarkets and grocery stores, but probably only in its refined form.

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