In his book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, author Jonny Bowden states, “One particular taste that seems to be clearly human, one that is hardwired and arrives full-blown and ready to go from the time we're born, is the taste for sweetness. The question then becomes how to appease that taste so it doesn't destroy us.” It is widely accepted that sugar and artificial sweeteners are not healthy for our body or our brain. As a result, stevia is gaining popularity in the sweetener market. If you are new to using stevia or perhaps already use it, this basic guide will help you source a high-quality stevia product you can feel good about using.
What is it
Stevia is an herb that is anywhere from 50 to 450 times sweeter than sugar. It has a long history of use in South America in the treatment of diabetes and reducing blood glucose levels. Stevia is calorie-free, carb-free, sugar-free and does not increase blood sugar.
How is it used
Stevia can be used in cooking and baking and as a sweetener for drinks like tea and coffee. High-quality stevia is a healthy alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners. Stevia acts synergistically when used in combination with other sweeteners.
With stevia gaining in popularity, genetically modified forms of stevia are being grown. Genetic modification (GMO) alters the plant at the cellular level. It’s not known what, if any, long-term health implications genetic modification will have on our future health although places like Europe have banned many genetically modified foods. The American Academy for Environmental Medicine urges physicians to advise all patients to avoid genetically modified foods, citing several severe health risks associated with them, such as infertility, immune system dysregulation, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation and allergies to name a few. For a very eye-opening look at the risks and concerns of GMOs in our food supply, I recommend the book Seeds of Deception.
There are two different processing methods used to extract the glycosides, which are the sweet compounds, from the stevia leaves. The healthiest and safest process starts with non-GMO stevia leaves and uses only cold water for extraction. The end result is a stevia that is oftentimes sold as a “supplement” and generally not recognized by the FDA as a sweetener. Another process of extraction, which is patented by Coca-Cola and deemed a safe “sweetener” by the FDA, is chemically driven, using acetone, acetonitrile, methanol, ethanol and isopropanol for extraction and oftentimes starts with genetically modified stevia leaves.
There is a growing number of stevia options on the market, however, they are not all the same in quality, taste, bitterness or sweetness. High-quality, non-GMO, pure white, powdered stevia extract, is highly concentrated. As little as 3/4 of a teaspoon has the sweetening power of 1 cup of sugar. Five to seven drops of clear liquid stevia is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of sugar.
Do your own research
As the health concerns of sugar and artificial sweeteners continues to become more public and grow, the stevia market will likely expand. Be your own health advocate and do your research. If there is a stevia product you like or notice on your store shelf, contact the manufacturer and ask questions. Find out the source of the raw product. Where are the stevia leaves grown? Are they GMO or non-GMO? Are pesticides sprayed on them? What is the process used to extract the stevia glycosides? Do they use chemicals or water? If a company isn't transparent with their product, don't patronize them with your money or your health. If you have questions about sweeteners, this podcast may help you: The Truth About Sweeteners by Dr. David Getoff.
What I use
NuNaturals and SweetLeaf are two brands that provide stevia products I trust. Both of these companies start with non-GMO stevia leaves and use cold water for extraction. I prefer the taste of the NuNaturals products but know many who enjoy the SweetLeaf stevia as well. I get e-mailed often with questions about Stevia in the Raw, Truvia and PureVia and my response is universal. Each of these products has stevia in them, however, it is not known whether it is derived from GMO or non-GMO stevia leaves, I suspect the former. The process used to derive the stevia for each of these brands is chemically driven and to make it scoopable, cut with either dextrose, maltodextrin or erythritol. Dextrose and maltodextrin are actually carbohydrates similar to sugar, derived from corn, most likely genetically modified. Erythritol, is a sugar alcohol that does not impact blood sugar, however the erythritol used in Truvia is known to be dervied from GMO-corn. If you read the label for these products you will see the first ingredient is not stevia.
Where to purchase
At one point, when I first tried the NuNaturals products, my local Whole Foods carried it. However, I quickly sourced it online to save a little money. My food co-op stocks a variety of the SweetLeaf products, which in a pinch I will buy, but again, can get cheaper by sourcing on the internet. In my baking I use NuNaturals Pure White Stevia Extract Powder and in my morning coffee love the NuNaturals Pure Liquid Vanilla Stevia.