There’s no denying that added sugars can be harmful for your waistline and blood sugar levels. But artificial sweeteners can be scary, too. There's a history of concerns about cancer and periodic or permanent bans on some artificial sweetener. These worries may lead you to look into natural sugar substitutes, such as stevia.
You may wonder if stevia is safe. It’s an FDA-approved natural sugar substitute without calories, and it’s in tons of products at Netrition. Here’s what you should know about sugar substitutes in general, and stevia in particular, and a few Netrition products that can sweeten your life as you pursue health and weight loss.
What’s Wrong with Sugar?
Why would anyone be looking for a sugar substitute in the first place? Actually, why are so many of us looking for sugar substitutes when sugar is beautifully sweet and functions perfectly in baking and all kinds of recipes?
Well, added sugars are just not great for weight loss or health.
- They have extra calories without nutrients, leading to the risk of weight gain.
- They spike blood sugar and increase risk for type 2 diabetes.
- They can raise triglycerides.
- They contribute to tooth decay.
- They are carbohydrates and are hard to include on a low-carb diet.
By the way, “added sugars” refer to sugars that can be added to foods, such as white and brown sugar, molasses, honey, sugar in the raw, and fruit concentrate that’s used as a sweetener.
The problems with sugar increase due to the amounts people tend to have. The average American has about 17 teaspoons of added sugar, or about 68 grams, per day. That’s 50% more than the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest having, and almost 3 times the ideal limit provided by the World Health Organization.
So, what if we could find something sweet that doesn’t have calories or spike blood sugar levels? That’s where the search for sugar substitutes comes in.
How Sugar Substitutes Can Be “Calorie-Free”
The goal of sugar substitutes is to have sweetness, and sometimes other functional properties, without getting calories. But how is that possible? They’re food, aren’t they? So don’t they have calories?
Here’s the scoop. There are two general approaches to making sugar substitutes that are “calorie-free.”
- Use a compound that is sweet, but doesn’t get digested by your body, so you don’t get calories from it.
- Use a compound that is so much sweeter than sugar that you only need to use a tiny amount to get the sweetness you want.
Stevia goes into the second category. Products with stevia can be lower in calories than sugar-sweetened foods. For example, a can of Zevia Zero-Calorie Soda has 140 fewer calories than regular soda sweetened with sugar.
History of Artificial Sweeteners
First up are artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are chemical compounds that aren’t naturally found anywhere. You may have heard of some of them.
- Saccharin was discovered in the late 19th century and used widely for over a century, except for select years when it was banned due to safety concerns.
- Cyclamate was derived from a drug and was used in diet sodas. It was banned in the US due to safety concerns.
- Aspartame was another accidental discovery and a compound derived from a medication. It’s used widely, in both diet sodas and foods.
- Sucralose is a compound with chlorine molecules bonded to sugar.
Each of these compounds is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, so you only consume a tiny amount of it and don’t get substantial calories or carbs. They all have health concerns.
What Is Stevia?
Stevia is a plant that is originally from South America. Its leaves have sweet-tasting compounds called steviol glycosides. They’re up to 350 times as sweet as sugar.
The stevia used for sweetening foods and beverages today comes in the form of concentrated stevia leaf extract. This is how it is produced.
- The stevia plant is grown and the leaves are harvested.
- The sweetness is extracted by steeping the leaves in hot water, similar to how you make tea.
- The sweet water is filtered, further purified with water and an alcohol compound, and dried.
- It’s used as an ingredient or sold as pure stevia.
You may see it on labels as stevia, stevia extract, rebaudioside A, or Reb A. It’s heat-stable, so you can use it for baking and for sweetening hot drinks. And it can go into cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, candies, jam, and more.
Benefits of Stevia
Stevia has many potential benefits compared to using sugar or artificial sweeteners.
- It has no calories.
- It does not affect blood sugar.
- It doesn’t cause tooth decay the way sugar does.
- It doesn’t carry a known risk of cancers.
Is Stevia Safe?
Stevia is approved by the Food and Drug Administration FDA. As long as it’s purified, it falls into the category of Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS. That means manufacturers don’t need to take special precautions before using it, or ask specifically for FDA approval when adding it to products.
Are There Any Concerns with Stevia?
The concerns with stevia are minimal. Some people can report side effects such as bloating when they start using stevia. And, some research says that people who eat non-nutritive sweeteners may have higher risk for weight gain and conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
It’s important to be sensible when eating foods or drinking beverages with stevia. Just because they may have stevia or be free from added sugars, it doesn’t mean that they’re calorie-free or even low in calories. If you consume excessive amounts of these foods or beverages, you’ll gain weight and be at risk for weight gain and related health conditions.
You can ask your doctor before including stevia and products with stevia in your diet. It’s also important to tell your doctor if you think you may be having side effects related to stevia.
How Much Stevia Is Okay?
When compounds are approved for use in food, they are often given an acceptable daily intake, or ADI. This is the amount that you can safely eat every day for the rest of your life. For stevia, the ADI is 4 milligrams of stevia per kilogram of body weight per day - for life. For someone who weighs 150 lb., that translates to about 40 packets of stevia a day being considered safe. That’s about the amount that may be in 8 12-ounce cans of soda sweetened with stevia.
Stevia-Sweetened Products at Netrition
We’re fans of stevia because it’s natural and way better for carb counting and calorie counting than sugar. Here are some of our stevia sweeteners and stevia-sweetened products. We have tons of products sweetened with stevia, and here is just a tiny sampling to give you an idea.
NOW Better Stevia Extract Packets are as sweet as sugar, but without calories. They come in Original, in a 100-packet box, and French Vanilla, in a 75-packet box. You can add them to beverages, shakes and smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, or anything else. Netrition also has other options for stevia sweetener packets.
Sweetener drops are so convenient because they come in a tiny container that you can take anywhere to sweeten your beverage without calories. And, they’re easy to mix in. SweetLeaf Sweet Drops Stevia Sweetener comes in a 1.7-ounce bottle that you can use to add drops to hot or cold beverages.
They’re sweetened with stevia and monk fruit for a better overall taste. They come in these flavors: Caramel, Chocolate, Coconut, Clear, and Vanilla. Each serving has 0 calories, 0 grams of sugar, and 0 carbs. There’s 0 inconvenience, too!
New Hope Mills No Sugar Added Blueberry Muffin and Bread Mix is just one example of our products that are sweetened with stevia. It has 12 servings. As packaged, each serving has 60 calories,7 grams of total carbs, 4 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein. Just add eggs and butter or oil, and make muffins or bread according to your taste. You can optionally add blueberries, almonds, cinnamon, greek yogurt, or coconut. These muffin and bread mixes also come in Cranberry Orange.
Jojo’s Guilt-Free Chocolate Goes Hawaiian with macadamia nuts is an example of a decadent chocolate treat with stevia and erythritol. It has 14g total carbs, but only 3 grams of net carbs. It has 4 grams of protein, including hemp. Other flavors are Original with almonds, cranberries, and pistachios, Peanut Butter Delight filled with peanut butter, and Raspberry Dream with almonds, pistachios, and raspberries.
For a sweet treat, these gummy bears can do the trick. The entire pouch has 70 calories and 25 grams of fiber with no added sugar. Flavors in the bag include raspberry, strawberry, orange, lemon, and stevia is one of the sweeteners.
If you agree that stevia is a safe sweetener that’s a better choice than sugar for weight loss and blood sugar, then head on over to Netrition and browse our selection of products sweetened with stevia. We have all kinds of products that are friendly for low-calorie, low-carb, keto, and generally healthy diets. See how sweet it can be to eat healthy your way!