Stevia VS. Sugar

Stevia VS. Pure Cane Sugar

Most of the natural health audience have heard about Stevia since it hit the US market in late 2008. For those of us who haven't: its official name is Stevia rebaudiana. Stevia is a plant from the Asteraceae family, better known as the Ragweed family. This is the same family that also houses Chamomile, Marigolds, Daisies, and Sunflowers.

Even though we've only recently heard about Stevia here in America, it's certainly not a new plant. For the past 1,500 years, Stevia has recorded use in Brazil and Paraguay, where it is called ka'a he'ê, or “Sweet Herb”. This sweet herb was most commonly used as a sweetener for local Yerba Mate tea.

Why Haven't We Seen Stevia Until Recently?

The use and import of Stevia outside of South America only goes as far back as 1970, where Japan had imported it and it was widely available to the public. The reason why Americans haven't heard of Stevia until recently is due to a ban that was put in place in the United States in 1991 after the Food and Drug Administration received an anonymous industry complaint stating that Stevia was potentially carcinogenic. The FDA made the move to label the plant “unsafe as a food additive” and restricted its import stating: “toxicological information on Stevia is inadequate to demonstrate its safety.”

In 1999, claims made before early studies began prompted the European Commission to ban Stevia's use in food. This is still pending as 2006 safety evaluation data released by the World Health Organization found there to be no adverse effects of Stevia. In 2011, the European Commission approved regulated use of Stevia in food. Stevia has been regulated or even banned in many countries due to miscellaneous claims and unproven statements and did not become available until 2008 or later in others.

But Why is it so Sweet?

Here's a short and sweet answer:
Scientists have narrowed it down to two compounds that make up the majority of sweetness in Stevia. These compounds are called steviol glucosides, and they've isolated stevioside and rebaudioside as being responsible. These two compounds contain between 250 and 300 times the amount of sweetness normally found in cane sugar.

Is It Really Better Than Sugar?

Let's take a look at some nitty-gritty details here. Stevia is still in a lot of scientific testing to conclude if there are any adverse effects to the product. One of the main twosugar on spoon compounds, rebaudioside, has been approved for human consumption whereas
stevioside has not yet. Luckily, neither the plant nor rebaudioside have been shown to increase blood glucose levels like sugar does.

All of your current Stevia products will contain rebaudioside, however, in some stores, you may be able to find the whole organic leaf that contains both compounds.

A 2005 publication of “Planta Medica” found in a lab study administering a twice-daily dose of stevioside actually lowered glucose levels and reduced insulin resistance in diabetic rats. Stevioside was also found to have an effect during glucose tolerance testing, where it actually lowered the rise of blood glucose levels in the test subjects.

Let's take a quick look and compare Stevia and cane sugar when it comes to common food concerns:

  • Cane sugar contains 15 calories and no other nutrition. 
  • Stevia contains 0 calories and no other nutrition.
  • Cane sugar has been linked to higher obesity rates and sugar cravings.
  • Stevia has not been linked to either.

Additionally, studies have shown that cane sugar forms and adhesive bacterial layer on your teeth after you consume it. This layer leaves room for cavities and plaque to build up. Stevia cannot ferment, therefore it cannot adhere when mixed with natural dental bacteria.

Health Benefits

Candida albicans is a natural type of yeast that is present in every human's intestines. Sometimes this yeast population can grow to excess amounts and cause an infection called candidiasis. This infection is characterized by symptoms such as unexplained diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. The main culprit for this yeast overgrowth is sugar fermentation in the intestines. Usually, treatment for this is based on eliminating sucrose from a person's diet. Since Stevia cannot ferment, it is perfect for this type of diet, as well as helping wean off sugar addiction.

In South America, doctors and physicians have even prescribed Stevia for high blood pressure and hypertension. With the diminutive amount of funding available, modern studies have not been conducted on proving or disproving this, however.

The only downside we've found to Stevia seems to be that in lemonades and coffees particularly, some people may taste a bitter or acrid aftertaste. Luckily, new Stevia products are coming out with less aftertaste and even flavors like vanilla, raspberry, and strawberry.

But What Does This Mean For You?

It's up to you to choose which sugar you prefer, though with the studies performed and potential health benefits. Between Stevia being unable to ferment on your teeth and in your gut to the potential lower blood pressure, it's a no-brainer to at least give the product a try. There are real benefits that we could see across the country for cutting sugar cravings.

If you're diabetic, there are studies currently being done on Stevia that may imply incredible health benefits for you, such as lowering your risk of liver and kidney damage. Until scientists come out with more studies, however, we won't know for sure. For now, it's a lower calorie sweetener that won't damage your teeth, and that alone is fantastic news. This plant could be a revolutionary step in many diets across the country, making it easier than ever before to cut sugar from your diet without giving up the sweet taste.