I’m writing this post for three reasons. One, I want to capitalize on the opportunity to learn and teach about an ingredient with which I’m largely unfamiliar. Two, perhaps I can add a beneficial ingredient to my nutrition routine. Three, folks ask me about stevia all the time. Oh yeah, and its Sweet Thursday.
You know me, I’m not a fan of artificial sweeteners (or really, artificial anything edible). Stevia has become a popular replacement for crap like aspartame and sucralose. It is a non-caloric sweetener, but unlike most, it is a natural substance. Stevia comes from the leaves of an herb native to South America. It isn’t new and has been used for centuries in places like Paraguay; Japan has been using it for decades. Despite it’s maturity elsewhere, it’s relatively foreign (words are splendid) to us domestically. We’re all still learning about the plant here in the US. From Marksdailyapple.com:
We can think about stevia as a Primal sugar alternative with some potentially therapeutic effects. Kind of like cinnamon or turmeric, we don’t consume it for the calories or as literal fuel for our bodies, but for flavor, variety, and, possibly, the health benefits. It may induce insulin secretion, but it increases insulin sensitivity, reduces blood glucose (i.e., the insulin is doing its job), and does not increase appetite. It’s been used by humans for hundreds of years and by diabetic patients in Asia for decades.
Okay, so stevia is worth experimenting with, at least. I started with a quick taste test. In its powder form, the stuff has a licorice taste on my palate. Interesting that companies and the general public have looked for ways of masking that flavor profile. Give me more, not less licorice, please.
Continuing on with the flavor experimentation, my boys and I had a bowl of fresh lemons from a neighbor’s tree lying around, so we figured, well, duh.
I squeezed a lemon and added a pinch of stevia and mixed the whole thing with a cup of water. I chose that particular brand as the only available organic option at my local Malibu market. One thing to note, for purposes of my taste test, is that this brand has organic agave inulin, a sweetener with a neutral, clean, mildly sweet flavor, added.
Normally I only drink water or coffee. I’m adding in some nutrition to my diet with my lemonade, however. From SFGate:
The compounds in lemons can help protect your health. A 2005 study published in the “Journal of Nutrition” found that the limonoids in citrus fruit, such as lemons, can protect against certain types of cancer. Limonoids are organic substances in citrus fruits that help determine their bitterness or sweetness. The compounds work by protecting your cells from damage that can lead to the formation of cancer. A 2004 article published in the “Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry” notes that limonoids can inhibit the growth of tumors in the mouth and the growth of additional cancerous cells once a tumor has already formed.
There is some evidence that suggests that stevia has some pretty special health properties, as suggested by authoritynutrition.com:
There are some studies in humans showing Stevia to have health benefits. When blood pressure is high, Stevia can lower it by 6-14%. Stevia has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in diabetics. There are also studies in rats showing that Stevia can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce oxidized LDL cholesterol and reduce plaque build up in the arteries.
Back to my lemonade.
I appreciate my drink tart, so I wasn’t liberal with the stevia. At first taste, the sweetness seemed somewhat, well, manufactured or artificial. These aren’t words I’d generally go to for a totally natural product. As it sat in my fridge, my younger son gravitated toward the glass jug and seemed to like it. The colder it got, the more I appreciated the tones. Frankly, however, I won’t be playing too much with this stuff much in the short term. Down the road, perhaps.
What about you? Can you change my mind?
Amy Goldstein says
Stevia is good, and I use it too, but as a dental hygienist, I recommend xylitol also. It neutralizes mouth acid, cuts bacterial plaque in half, (stevia doesn’t do those) safe for diabetics, natural/organic…… Strive for 5 exposures/day. Here’s the link. Check it out.
Gabe Kapler says
Good stuff, Amy. Thanks for the dental take on this issue. Much appreciated.
I use xylitol + splenda for baking, along with molasses and/or turbinado and/or honey. Stevia tastes metallic in my mouth in anything above minuscule concentrations,and I’m far from alone on that.
Interesting start to investigating ‘natural’ sugar substitutes. Seems your body would react to Stevia, or any other sugar substitute, in the same way it does to refined sugar (minus the calories)…no? Would it cause an insulin spike? From an article on the Harvard Health Publications website: “In addition, some research has identified sweetness receptors in fat tissue. We don’t know for sure, but that raises the possibility that artificial sweeteners could cause weight gain by directly stimulating the development of new fat cells.”
Here is a link to the complete article
Gabe Kapler says
My intuition matches up perfectly with yours. Makes me think twice about my gum chewing habits. Thanks for sharing the link. I’ll investigate further.
Anna Klein says
Gabe, I love your blog and am so pleased that you’re dedicating some time to sweeteners. I have a sweet tooth (I love baked goods!) but have been trying to cut back. “Fat doesn’t make you fat. Sugar makes you fat” is now always at the back of my mind.
Someone just brought to my attention a natural sweeter called yacon syrup. It comes with some pretty outrageous sounding claims: assisting in weight loss, regulating blood sugar, increasing daily fiber intake, increasing metabolism and aiding with detox cleansing of the digestive system.
Have you heard of this? Any thoughts? It sounds too good to be true – it makes me wonder.
Gabe Kapler says
Thanks for the feedback, Anna. I’ll take a peek at yacon syrup.
When outrageous claims are made, I generally examine potential agenda first. Who’s making money and how?
Anyhow, keep me posted on what you learn and I’ll do the same.
Grateful once again,
Anna Klein says
Gabe, because the Dr. Oz episode promoting the benefits of yacon syrup recently re-aired, my search turned up a little more information. Here are a couple of links that say yacon syrup does offer some benefits, but it isn’t the cure-all that everyone is hoping to find.
Jeff Zimmerman says
Basically, I like to use it to add a little variety to my drinks. Instead of tea and coffee (my main stays). I add lemon and stevia to my tea. If I have any coffee left over (blasphemy, I know), add some cream and stevia to my coffee.
If you get it in the rawest powder, it doesn’t dissolve the best, so it is best to let the drink set for a bit.
Gabe Kapler says
Can’t say I’ll keep experimenting with Stevia, but it was a good exploration.
I’ve begun using it for all my baking. Cookies, cakes, breads you name it. No one has ever noticed the difference of flavor including one person who “hates the taste of stevia”. I win. My favorite energy drinks Vuka and Celsius are both made with stevia and I love them in all their deliciously natural glory! I don’t appreciate when people knock the stevia and say they use sweet and low or Splenda because they’re on a diet. Come on, you’re using processed fake sweetener that will do more harm then regular sugar. My boss is all “I’m a man and in always right and have to prove you wrong” and said he was sure he read about how it isn’t really natural. So I researched it, read him the article, and he still tried to tell me I was wrong without any research of his own. Stevia is actually natural and doesn’t cause cancer. I love it and swear by it and save more money because it calls for half the amount! Bonus!
Gabe Kapler says
Thanks so much for this. Tell your boss to give me a call, I’ll set him straight.
Haha. I’ll send him your way. Even better coming from a baseball player because he knows nothing about baseball and likes to talk crap about it to me all the time.
Terri Torrez says
Interesting. I’ve been trying to cut out sugar because it just makes me crave more sugar. I’ve never liked the taste of artificial sweeteners but I’m not really looking for natural substitutes either, because I suspect they’ll just make me crave more sweet stuff. I was doing really good for a few months and definitely found that my cravings decreased and semi-sweet foods, like bananas, tasted sweeter. I fell off the wagon during a busy and stressful time but I’m planning to cut back again. Well, after I finish my birthday pie. 😉