Stevia – Plant Power from Central and South America
Stevioside is extracted from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, which is a plant mainly cultivated in Central and South America. It is a white, crystalline, odorless powder, being approximately 300 times sweeter than table sugar. In America, stevia/steviol can be found as „Truvia“ or E 960 as a food additive.
Stevioside is a non-caloric sweetener, which makes it an attractive sugar substitute for the food industry. Even though stevia does not contain any calories but no nutrients as well. Several filtration steps such as the chemical precipitation of undesired components, decolorization, anion and cation exchange, and a multistage crystallization, are necessary to get the final purity of 95 %. Further, drying and resolving steps, and using chelators are needed as well. This is why you won’t find stevia in organic quality that easy.
Additionally, stevioside could be used as a natural sweetener and a sugar replacer in different foods. Although, several researchers have claimed that stevioside offers therapeutic benefits such as having anti-hyperglycemic, anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-diarrheal, diuretic, and immunomodulatory effects. But, further study is needed to assess its toxicological effects on human health.
What’s the catch?
The problem is: Studies have shown that stevia/stevioside (totally harmless) was transformed in the guts of rats into steviol, which is toxic. Steviol caused a big spike in mutagenic DNA damage.
The question is: Do we have the same bacteria in our guts like rats? Yes, we do! Just like in almost everything in our daily life: The dose makes the poison. That’s why the WHO (World Health Organization) has drawn the line of our daily intake of stevia at 4 mg/kg of body weight. If you don’t consume more than one or two stevia-sweetened beverages a day, there is no need to worry. Remember: It is 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Weighing 70 kg you’re allowed to eat 280 mg a day which is equal to 84 g of sugar. 84 g of sugar is equal to 28 sugar cubes. Quite a lot, isn’t it? Moreover, there is no risk of overuse because food is not tasty anymore when it is too sweet. Stevia has been approved for use in Japan for over three decades and is the major non-nutritive and non-caloric sweetener used there.
You can buy stevia powdered, liquid or pressed into tablets. Due to its processing, you cannot really call it a „natural sweetener“. Furthermore, there is a lack of evidence about its long-term effect. But, if you care about a low-carb or zero-calorie substitute, then stevia is your choice.
To be on the safe side: Reduce your overall amount of used sugar and sweeteners. This is the only way to avoid negative side-effects of any uncertain food.
+ 0 calories, does not affect blood sugar levels as well as on insulin secretion, suitable to a low-carb diet
+ does not cause cavities
– has a quite intense licorice taste of its own
– the need for conversion due to its sweetness
– the need for studies due to its long-term effect
What about you? Did you ever try stevia or another sugar substitute? Do you mind its taste?
Here you can find all sources used for this blogpost
Allam, A./Nassar, A./Besheit, S. 2001: Nitrogen fertilizer requirements of Stevia rebaudiana bertoni, under Egyptian conditions, in: Egyptian Journal of Agricultural Research, Vol. 79, 2001, pp. 1005-1018.
Anton, S. D./Martin, C. K./Han, H./Coulon, S./Cefalu, W. T./Geiselman, P./Williamson, D. A. 2010: Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels, in: Appetite, Vol. 55, 2010, No. 1, pp. 37-43.
Brusick, D. J. 2008: A critical review of the genetic toxicity of steviol and steviol glycosides, in: Food and Chemical Toxicology, Vol. 46, 2008, No. 7, pp. S83-S91.
Gasmalla, M. A. A./Yang, R./Hua, X. 2014: Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni: An alternative Sugar Replacer and Its Application in Food Industry, in: Food Engineering Reviews, Vol. 6, 2014, No. 4, pp. 150-162.
Goyal, S. K./Samsher/Goyal, R. K. 2010: Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) a bio-sweetener: a review, in: International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, Vol. 61, 2010, No. 1, pp. 1-10.
Kienle, U. 2010: Welches Stevia hätten Sie denn gerne? Anbau und Herstellung – Perspektiven weltweit, in: Journal für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit, Jg. 5, 2010, Nr. 2, S. 241-250.