If you have diabetes, you may struggle finding foods to feed your sweet tooth that won't raise your blood sugar. Stevia may be the answer you're looking for. A variety of companies are now adding stevia as a sweetener to low-calorie or sugar-free foods and beverages that can be part of a healthy diet for diabetics.
The Green Light
In 2008, the FDA labeled stevia "Generally Recognized as Safe" and approved its use as an artificial sweetener in the U.S. The American Diabetes Association agrees it is safe for diabetics to use to add sweetness to the diet without raising blood sugar. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension reports that stevia has been used safely in Paraguay for centuries. It was approved in Japan in the 1970s, and Brazil approved the use of stevia products in 1980. Stevia is currently used all over the world with China being the largest exporter.
What the Science Says
A study published in 2004 in the journal "Metabolism" reported that participants with type 2 diabetes had lower blood sugar levels after eating a meal supplemented with 1 gram of stevia than those who ate the same meal without stevia. In 2013, a study published in the "Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications" found that diabetic rats given diets supplemented with stevia not only had lower blood sugars, but less damage to their liver and kidneys as well. More studies are needed to determine the benefits of stevia to diabetics, but so far, the findings are promising.
It Does a Body Good
Because stevia is a plant, it contains a variety of vitamins and minerals including chromium and magnesium. Chromium helps maintain normal glucose metabolism and chromium deficiency has been associated with impaired glucose intolerance, although most diabetics are not deficient in chromium. Many diabetics have low levels of magnesium which can result in insulin resistance. Magnesium helps your body secrete more insulin and helps the insulin work better. Vitamins and minerals are only found in the stevia plant, not the powdered or liquid sweeteners you buy at the grocery store. You can grow your own stevia plant, cut up the leaves and add it to foods or use in beverages or teas.
Sweeter Than Sugar
The stevia plant tastes about 30 times sweeter than sugar and when processed into a sugar substitute can taste up to 400 times sweeter. Several companies use stevia as a non-nutritive sweetener, meaning it doesn't add extra calories to the food or beverage item and it doesn't raise your blood sugar, making it a sweet option for people with diabetes. Georgia Jones, a food specialist for the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension, explains that you can cook with stevia although it does react differently than sugar in baked goods. She encourages people to follow directions and recipes carefully. Stevia can be added to cereal, fruit, yogurt, coffee or any other food or drink you want to sweeten.
- American Diabetes Association: Is Stevia a Safe Sugar Alternative for Diabetics?
- University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension: Stevia
- Metabolism: Antihyperglycemic Effects of Stevioside in Type 2 Diabetic Subjects
- Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications: Antioxidant, Anti-Diabetic and Renal Protective Properties of Stevia Rebaudiana
- Stevia University: Nutrients in Stevia
- Diabetes Care: Systematic Review of Herbs and Dietary Supplements for Glycemic Control in Diabetes