What does stevia mean?

Stevia, also called Stevia rebaudiana, is a plant that belongs to the chrysanthemum family, which is a subgroup of the Asteraceae family (ragweed family). The stevia you buy at the store is very different from the stevia you might grow at home.

Store-bought stevia products like Truvia and Stevia in the Raw do not contain whole stevia leaves. They are made from rebaudioside A, a very pure extract of stevia leaves (Reb-A).

In fact, many stevia products don’t contain much stevia at all. About 200 times sweeter than regular sugar.

Because Reb-A is mixed with other sweeteners like erythritol (a sugar alcohol) and dextrose, the sweeteners made with it are called “novel sweeteners” (glucose).

For example, Truvia is a mix of Reb-A and erythritol, and Stevia in the Raw is a mix of Reb-A and dextrose (packets) or maltodextrin (Bakers Bag).

Some brands of stevia also have natural flavors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t mind the term “natural flavors” as long as the ingredients don’t have any added colors, flavors, or chemicals.

Still, some ingredients that are called “natural flavors” may be made in a very artificial way. Many people say that this means they are not natural.

Stevia plants can be grown at home, and the leaves can be used to add sweetness to foods and drinks. Reb-A sweeteners come in three different forms: liquid, powder, and granules. In this article, “stevia” refers to products made by Reb-A.

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Is there a good reason to use stevia?
Stevia is a sweetener that has no nutrients. This means that it has very few calories. If you want to lose weight, this could be a good thing.

But so far, the research isn’t clear. How nonnutritive sweeteners affect a person’s health may depend on how much they eat and what time of day they eat it.

If you have diabetes, stevia might help you control your blood sugar.

In 2010, a study with 19 healthy, slim people and 12 people who were overweight or obese found that stevia lowered insulin and glucose levels by a lot. Even though they ate fewer calories, the people in the study felt satisfied and full after eating.

One problem with this study, though, is that it was done in a lab, not in a real-life situation in a person’s natural environment.

And a study from 2009 suggests that stevia leaf powder may help keep cholesterol in check. The people in the study took 20 milliliters of stevia extract every day for a month.

The study found that stevia lowered total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides with no bad side effects. It also made the “good” HDL cholesterol go up. It’s not clear if smaller amounts of stevia used less often would have the same effect.

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Does stevia cause any side effects?
“Generally recognized as safe” is what the FDA says about stevia glycosides like Reb-A. They haven’t given whole-leaf stevia or crude stevia extract the green light for use in processed foods and drinks because they don’t know enough about how safe it is.

People worry that eating raw stevia herb could hurt your kidneys, reproductive system, and heart. It could also lower blood pressure too much or cause problems with other medicines that lower blood sugar.

Even though stevia is safe for people with diabetes, you should be careful with brands that contain dextrose or maltodextrin.

glucose is what dextrose is, and maltodextrin is a starch. Small amounts of carbs and calories are added by these ingredients. Sugar alcohols can also change the carb count by a small amount.

If you only use stevia every once in a while, it might not be enough to affect your blood sugar. But if you drink it all day long, the carbs add up.

A 2019 report

Trusted Source said there might be a link between nonnutritive sweeteners like stevia and changes in the good bacteria in the gut. The same study also showed that sweeteners that don’t have any nutrients may cause problems with glucose tolerance and metabolism.

The taste is a big problem with most sugar substitutes that aren’t good for you. Stevia tastes a little bit like licorice and is a little bit bitter. Some people like it, but it turns other people off.

Some people may get stomach problems from stevia products that are made with sugar alcohols, like gas and diarrhea.

Is it safe to use stevia when you are pregnant?
When used in small amounts, stevia made with Reb-A is safe to use while pregnant. If you have trouble with sugar alcohols, choose a brand that doesn’t have erythritol.

You shouldn’t use whole-leaf stevia or crude stevia extract if you’re pregnant. This includes stevia you grow at home.

It might seem odd that a highly processed product is thought to be safer than a natural one. This is a common question about herbs.

In this case, Reb-A has been checked to make sure it is safe during pregnancy and in other situations. Stevia hasn’t done this in its natural state. There isn’t enough proof right now that whole-leaf stevia or crude stevia extract won’t hurt your pregnancy.

Is there a connection between cancer and stevia?
Some evidence suggests that stevia may help fight or prevent some types of cancer.

A 2012 study found that stevioside, a glycoside found in stevia plants, speeds up the death of cancer cells in a human breast cancer line. Stevioside may also help stop some pathways in the mitochondria that help cancer grow.

A 2013 report

Trusted Source agreed with these results. It was found that certain leukemia, lung, stomach, and breast cancer cell lines were killed by a lot of stevia glycoside derivatives.

How to use stevia instead of sugar
Stevia can be used in your favorite foods and drinks instead of table sugar. About one teaspoon of sugar is equal to one pinch of stevia powder.

Here are some tasty ways to use stevia:

in coffee or tea, homemade lemonade, on hot or cold cereal, in a smoothie, on plain yogurt, etc.
Some brands of stevia, like Stevia in the Raw, can be used in place of table sugar, teaspoon for teaspoon, in things like sweetened drinks and sauces, but not in baked goods.

Stevia can be used in baking, but it may leave a licorice taste in cakes and cookies. Stevia in the Raw says that you can use their product to replace up to half of the sugar in a recipe.

Other brands aren’t made for baking, so you’ll have to use less of them. To make up for the lost sugar, you should add more liquid or a filler like applesauce or mashed bananas to your recipe. It might take a few tries to get the right texture and level of sweetness.

In conclusion
Products made with Reb-A and stevia are thought to be safe, even for pregnant women and people with diabetes. Rarely do these products have side effects. But more research needs to be done before we can say for sure how to deal with weight, diabetes, and other health problems.

Keep in mind that stevia is much sweeter than table sugar, so you won’t need to use as much.

Whole-leaf stevia can’t be sold in stores, but you can still grow it at home. Even though there isn’t much research on the topic, a lot of people say that whole-leaf stevia is a safe alternative to its highly refined version or table sugar.

Putting a raw stevia leaf in your tea once in a while probably won’t hurt you, but you shouldn’t do it if you’re pregnant.

Get your doctor’s OK before using whole-leaf stevia on a regular basis, especially if you have a serious health condition like diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure. Until research shows that it is safe for everyone, it is best to wait.