Stevia, which is derived from the leaf of a South American herb, is a recent addition to the list of artificial sweeteners in the United States. Although stevia was once only available as a dietary supplement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved certain preparations of the sweet substance for use as a substitute for sugar. Proponents of stevia claim it to be a healthier option than table sugar because it contains no calories, but it may also pose some dangers.
Not a Solution
If you have a sweet tooth, adding stevia to foods may help prevent you from eating as many sugar calories. However, stevia is not a cure-all for weight struggles. If artificial sweeteners such as stevia become a big part of your diet, chances are you're eating far too many processed foods that are not beneficial for your waistline or overall health, according to nutritionist Keri Gans in an MSNBC.com article.
Potential Obesity Link
Recent research has found that regularly consuming artificial sweeteners may increase your risk of weight gain. According to researchers of a 2004 study at Purdue University, the body can normally detect its caloric intake based on a food or drink's sweetness. However, they say, drinking soft drinks that contain artificial sweeteners may actually trick the body's calorie-detection system. When the body thinks it is going to receive calories but then it doesn't, it may begin to have trouble regulating its food intake and end up taking in too many calories from other sources. Although drinks containing stevia were not a part of the study, critics of the sweetener suggest that stevia may cause the same problem.
Although certain stevia preparations fall under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's "generally recognized as safe" list, they may still cause mild side effects such as nausea. Additionally, not all stevia preparations are approved for consumption. Possible health effects of non-approved crude stevia and whole-leaf stevia extracts are damage to the heart and kidneys and blood sugar control problems.
Don't use stevia to make amends for your other calorie indiscretions. Consuming too many sugar-free products can cause weight gain because many of them still contain calories. The key to staying healthy, whether you choose traditional table sugar or an artificial sweetener, is to consume mostly nutritious and fresh foods while enjoying sweet treats on special occasions. Enjoy a piece of fruit to curb frequent sugar cravings, and choose low-fat milk or seltzer water as your go-to beverage.