Sugar and stevia are natural sweeteners that have been used around the world for centuries. Stevia as a sweetener is relatively new to the United States, but consumers rapidly are catching on to its health benefits, resulting in its addition to some commercially prepared foods. Exchange stevia for sugar in your diet to experience sweetness without the unpleasant consequences of sugar consumption.
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Sugar and stevia are derived from natural sources. Commercially produced sugar is one of several possible hybrids of Saccharum officinarum, otherwise known as sugar cane. Stevia, as the name suggests, comes from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, a shrub native to South America. The packets of sweetener that you buy is processed extract that is produced from the plant's leaves. Stevia is 300 to 450 times sweeter than sugar.
Stevia is appealing to many people because it is low in calories. One packet of stevia, which is equivalent to 2 tsp. of sugar, provides 5 calories and 1 g of carbohydrates. Stevia extract, which is a liquid form of the sweetener and often sold in health food stores, contains no calories. On the other hand, 2 tsp. of sugar provides 30 calories and 8 g of carbohydrates. Since people often use more than 2 tsp. of sugar, the calories quickly can add up.
Effect on Health
Stevia was approved by the FDA in 2008 and given the status of "generally recognized as safe." In a 2003 study conducted in China, researchers found that after two years subjects experienced a decrease in hypertension. There also is evidence that stevia might work to lower blood glucose levels and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. Sugar's effect on health are well-documented, as a diet high in sugar and other refined carbohydrates is known to contribute to obesity, insulin resistance and general inflammation.
Both sugar and stevia can be used for cooking, but stevia will not brown baked goods the way sugar does, and since it is a concentrated source of sweetness, it does not provide the same bulk. Some cooks choose to halve the sugar in a recipe and add stevia to provide additional sweetness. This can substantially lower the number of calories in a recipe. Keep in mind that stevia does not help to ferment yeast and should not be used in place of sugar when sugar is necessary for fermentation.