Christopher Smith, PT
What is it?
Stevia is a plant species that is native to South America. The leaves of this South American shrub have been used by the native people of Paraguay and Brazil for hundreds of years as a natural sweetener.
Compounds called glycosides give this plant its sweet taste and extracts of Stevia called stevioside and rebaudioside are nearly 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Japan has been using stevia since around 1971 as an alternative to chemically made artificial sweeteners to sweeten many different food and accounts for 40% of the sweetener market. Its use has begun to spread across the world since Japan began producing it on a commercial scale. Its use gained attention in The United States in the early 1990’s. Major brands such as Coca Cola and PepsiCo began manufacturing Stevia under their own name brands and are both now selling products containing Stevia extracts.
When should it be used?
Stevia should be used when a zero calorie, natural sweetener is desired over chemical sweeteners or sugar.
Due to the fact that stevia has zero impact on blood sugar and provides zero calories, Stevia can be used in place of sugar or any other sweetener that may negatively impact your health.
Are there any side effects?
There have been many concerns that stevia and its extracts may be harmful but after numerous studies over the last 30 years none have been proven to be toxic. In fact, there are even more studies that suggest stevia use can have beneficial effects on type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and hyperglycemia. Similar studies also suggest that stevia can have an anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor benefit as well.
Stevia has been used for over 30 years in Japan and for centuries in South America across numerous generations with no known reported toxicity or harmful effects.
Where can I find it?
Stevia can be found in many forms under different name brands such as: Only Sweet, PureVia, Reb-A, Rebiana, SweetLeaf, and Truvia or as a dietary supplement. Most major chain grocery stores carry stevia and different brand names may found next to sugar and other sweeteners. Stevia can also be found at any health food market such as Whole Foods and comes in powder and liquid forms.