What Is Stevia?
I must get asked at least once a month, ‘What is stevia?’
Well I’m glad you asked, because I love to clear up what seems to be some fairly widespread confusion. And I can see how it started.
Stevia is a herb, but it’s so naturally sweet, it’s come to replace many artificial sweeteners - leaving some people thinking it’s an artificial sweetener itself. In fact, you will often find it served in cafes, alongside sugar and artificial sweeteners.
I can definitively say that no, stevia is not an artificial sweetener. End of article…
Or it would be if there wasn’t so much more to this small, bright green herb. It may seem like a recent trend but stevia has been used for more than 1500 years by South African tribes who creatively called it ‘sweet herb’.
While I do love the literal nature of this name, it also has a botanical name - Stevia rebaudiana.
After hundreds of years of traditional use as a culinary and medicinal plant, researchers, health practitioners - plus the general public - are finally singing the praises of stevia. Or at least, those who are aware of its benefits, are getting fully behind it.
Stevia is now widely regarded as one of the few truly natural sweeteners, offering a zero-calorie alternative to sugar that doesn’t affect blood glucose levels.
It’s usually found in supermarkets in powdered, granulated or liquid form. In these forms it has generally been processed to increase the concentration of the chemical compounds that make it sweet.
In short, it is becoming increasingly popular and more common. If you can find them, unprocessed stevia leaves can also be used just as they are, in drinks, or in cooking.
Research is limited (but growing) in support of stevia’s health benefits and its therapeutic potential for diabetes, blood pressure issues and certain inflammatory conditions.
So next time someone asks you, ‘what is stevia?’, I hope you’ll have a well informed answer for them!
Fun fact: That stevia taste! While stevia is a wonderful, natural alternative sweetener in small doses, it takes on a characteristic aniseed, even bitter flavour when eaten in excess due to prolonged action on taste receptors in the tongue. So there’s no fear of binging or succumbing to those sugar cravings.
What Is Stevia’s Main Benefit?
I know a few people who would say stevia’s main benefit is its sweet, sweet taste. And in a way they’re right…
Stevia tastes sweet due to the presence of special chemicals, called glycosides. Glycosides are molecules that contain glucose, bound together with other, non-sugar substances. Glycosides are found widely in the plant kingdom, and offer a huge range of medicinal benefits.
In stevia, two glycosides reign supreme: stevioside and rebaudioside A. They react with receptors on the tongue, sending the brain a ‘sweet’ signal - up to 300 times that of sucrose - without actually delivering any sugar to the body.
So it convinces your brain you’ve ingested sugar, without any of the side effects of actually eating sugar.
Even when these glycosides break down, the glucose they release isn’t absorbed - it’s simply excreted.
For those of us with a sweet tooth, the real question should be, ‘What is stevia NOT good for?’
What Is Stevia Used For?
We could look at this question on two levels. First, as I mentioned, stevia’s number one use is as a natural sweetener.
Many artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame and Saccharin have been linked to negative effects such as increased calorie consumption, migraine, neurological issues and even cancer.
Stevia represents a natural, herbal sweetener that’s generally considered safe for human consumption.
And the big one…
Stevia has zero calories.
In fact, some research suggests that stevia can reduce calorie consumption overall.
So just what is stevia’s medicinal benefit? Take a look at this list for a start:
✔ No effect on blood sugar levels
Because none of the glucose that makes up the chemicals in stevia is absorbed into the bloodstream, there’s no influence on the level of sugar in your blood sugar.
✔ May reduce high blood pressure
Preliminary studies have found that stevia may lower blood pressure.
✔ Possible anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
Some studies have shown beneficial effects of stevia on the cardiovascular system, due to antioxidant activity. It has also been linked to improvements in the function of insulin (and better functioning insulin reduces blood sugar, preventing damage to blood vessels).
Further research is required to support:
A possible role in cancer prevention
A link to the reduction of dental cavities due to antibacterial properties
A beneficial effect on the kidneys
→ People following low-carb diets
→ People experiencing sugar cravings
What Is The Best Way To Take Stevia?
Stevia is generally dosed according to taste. Just like Goldilocks - the right amount is the one that tastes satisfyingly sweet, but not overpowering nor bitter.
Due to early controversy surrounding the safety of stevia glycosides*, an upper daily limit has been set at 4 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. This dosage conveys the beneficial effects of stevia, with no observed toxic effects.
Stevia works well with Chromium Picolinate and Alpha Lipoic Acid in helping maintain healthy blood sugar. It also works well with grapeseed extract, indirectly assisting with the repair of blood vessels.
While all of the above ingredients have been included in Athletic Greens and work synergistically with stevia, the real reason stevia was added is taste. We have the best tasting formula out there, and stevia helped us achieve that without having to add sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Stevia represents the best available natural sweetener, made from an herb with a long history of use, with most studies supporting its safety - and even benefit for human health.
Aside from benefiting those on low-carb diets, or battling cravings for sweets, stevia may offer secondary metabolic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits - particularly for diabetics.
I know it might be hard to believe that something so sweet doesn’t contain any calories AND has health benefits, but trust me, the research has been done. You can have your naturally sweetened cake, and eat it too.
* Early studies caused alarm when they suggested chemicals in stevia could be carcinogenic. However, these results were only found in vitro (outside the body) and couldn’t be replicated in humans.