There’s a lot of confusion around stevia, an all-natural alternative sweetener, which when dried and ground, is supposed to taste 300 times sweeter than sugar, have no impact on insulin levels and contain zero calories. But are the claims too good to be true? Is it just another gimmick that we’ll find out causes cancer a few years down the road, or, is it truly a decent and safe alternative to sugar?
Color Says A Lot
An herb native to South America, the wild stevia shrub has been used as a sweetener by indigenous cultures for centuries. However, as you may have already discerned, there are few wild shrubs which have pure white leaves. Most stevia that you’ll find at the store come in a white or liquid form. That means that it has been refined/chemically altered (just as sugar cane has been refined to get to a white sugar state) in order for it to look white or be in a liquid form.
Here’s a picture of what organic raw, unrefined stevia looks like:
Many distributor’s of stevia claim “all-natural” on their labels, but unless it’s green, it has been altered in some form. A good rule of thumb when buying anything that comes in a package (that isn’t natural-like a banana in its own peel) is to look at the label. If you want pure, unadulterated stevia, then the only ingredient listed should be “stevia leaf.” Any addition to that means there are either fillers, or chemicals that have been used in processing.
That being said, it’s not always as easy as just reading the label. There are brands out there, Stevita for one, which lists only “Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni (leaves),” claims that it has “no added fillers”, is “naturally extracted” and has only a slight greenish tinge to it. Further research reveals nothing about how the stevia is processed other than to say it is “extracted” from the stevia plant. This (Stevita brand stevia) is a better choice than most stevia (which contain added filters and is more highly processed) but I’m always a fan of eating something in it’s most natural form. The picture you see to your left tells exactly how the leaf has been processed- it is dried and then pulverized. I don’t have to guess to know how it is processed, It is so straightforward that I I can imagine exactly what happens from farm to table.
Everything in Moderation
Just because stevia doesn’t contain calories and has no effect on insulin does not mean you should eat as much of the stuff as you want. It can cause mouth ulcers if eaten on a regular basis (I found this out thanks to my nephew who was eating it on his pancakes every morning and had a strange ulcer in his mouth that would not go away) and leaves a sweet taste in ones mouth that may lead to more cravings for sweet foods.
What brand of Stevia should I trust?
I for one, find stevia to impart a chemical type flavor that I don’t especially care for. However, the Navitas Naturals raw stevia powder (pictured above) was by far the best tasting stevia that I’ve had and had very little of the chemical flavor I’d experienced whilst eating other stevia. Stevita Stevia is also a trustworthy brand (although it would be further down on my list). I do not recommend buying stevia at your local grocer as most are not in their pure form and likely contain fillers. Both of the brands listed can be ordered online and have a list of “where to buy.”