Sugar is the most common tabletop sweetener used in our daily life. It is a natural sweetener derived from sugarcane. Biochemically it has sucrose, a disaccharide that contains two monosaccharides, glucose and fructose. Nutritionally it gives 4 kcal per gram. Because of its high calories excessive intake of sugar has a risk of obesity, diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular diseases. So other healthier alternatives to sugar are in large demand nowadays.

SUGAR ALTERNATIVES:

Sugar substitutes are food additives that duplicate the sweet taste of sugar with no or fewer calories. There are both artificial and natural sweet substitutes.

ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS – They are manually made in a lab. Some of them are –

  • Saccharin
  • Aspartame
  • Acesulfame
  • Cyclamates

Nutritionally they give zero calories when added to your diet. Saccharin was shown to increase bladder cancer risk in animal studies, but no significant risk has been found in human studies. These artificial sweeteners have also been shown to alter gut microbiota. Because of these few health-related concerns, their use has been restricted.

NATURAL SUGAR SUBSTITUTES – Stevia, honey, monk fruit, and dates are some of those. Among these stevia has found popularity these days.

 

WHAT IS STEVIA?

Stevia is a natural sugar substitute made from leaves of stevia rebaudiana, a perennial shrub of South America. Stevia leaves contain 11 glycosides such as stevioside, rebaudioside A-F, dulcoside, etc. Stevioside and rebaudioside are the sweetest glycosides. They are 250 – 400 times sweeter than sucrose and thermally and chemically stable. Stevia is available in powder and liquid form. It is a non-nutritive sweetener, which means it adds zero calories to your food.

 

BENEFITS OF STEVIA –

Stevia passes through the gut without absorption so does not increase sugar levels in your blood. Studies have shown decreased postprandial blood sugar in diabetic patients.

As it is non-caloric, in contrast to sugar calories are added to your diet which aids in weight loss. So, people who are trying for weight loss and diabetic patients can enjoy sweetness without excess calories.

Studies have shown decreased dental caries with stevia when compared to sugar.

USFDA approved rebaudioside A in 2008, categorizing it as Generally recognized as safe (GRAS). But whole leaf stevia is not approved.

 Accepted daily intake (ADI) of purified steviol glycosides is 4 mg/kg/day.

SIDE EFFECTS OF STEVIA –

Stevia, when added to food products may alter texture, flavor, and taste. So, a few changes have to be made in the cooking process when you use stevia instead of sugar.

Stevia may have an after taste and some people find it bitter.

Because of its high potency as a sweetener, its frequent use may increase the craving for sweet foods and decrease tolerance to less sweet foods like fruits and vegetables.

 

 

 

Commercial stevia products are known to cause GI problems like gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Whether these effects are secondary to stevia or other additives in these products like erythritol, saccharin, etc is not known. On a note avoid products that have erythritol along with stevia.

Stevia is thought to have detrimental effects on kidneys and blood pressure but studies haven’t proven them.

Overall stevia helps reduce calories in your diet and helps in your weight loss journey, but research is not available to know its long-term effects. So, if used in moderation it can be a part of your healthy diet.

 

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