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I must admit, I have not been a big fan of stevia, until now! Surprisingly, there are some amazing and well-documented health benefits of this very sweet leaf. That said, how could a plant that is 300 times as sweet as sugar, with zero calories, be good for you? That just sounds too suspicious!
Before I share all the benefits, let me share my initial reservations.
Stevia has been shown to have no negative effects on our blood sugar (1), so why not, right?
Well, not so fast. Even though stevia touts the unlikely benefit of “no effect on the blood sugar,” I entered my research on this sweet leaf with the same reservation that I have with any sweetener. This reservation is that, at some point, I believe we must break our psychological addiction to the sweet taste.
In the case of sweeteners that boast zero calories, the suspicion compounds. When the brain senses a sweet taste that is followed by “zero calories”, these questions arise:
- Will it result in us craving more?
- Are we, with each hit of stevia, then reinforcing the memory of that sweet taste?
- Will we then always find ourselves thinking about, craving, or longing for sweets?
Having entered my research on stevia with these suspicions, I must admit I was humbled, though not totally allayed, by the research that surfaced. As it turns out, stevia has some pretty amazing properties!
Humbling Super-Powers of Stevia
1. In one study, when participants consumed stevia before their meals, they felt satisfied with fewer calories, and did not eat more food throughout the day to make up for the lack of food at their meal. (2)
2. In that same study, the stevia group showed lower after-meal glucose and insulin levels. (2)
3. One of the biggest issues around healthy blood sugar levels is the fasting glucose levels, which refer to the glucose levels in the morning after consuming no food for eight hours. During the night, the liver releases a certain amount of the hormone cortisol, in order to prepare for the stressors of the coming day. The liver matches this cortisol with glucose, to drive the energy needed for that day. The liver makes this glucose by itself through a process called gluconeogenesis. While it is not clear why, the liver often overshoots the runway, allowing glucose levels to rise to unhealthy levels in the morning. Anything over 85mg/dL is considered too high. There are only a handful of agents that will slow the liver’s production of first morning blood sugars and stevia is one of them. (3) This is a pretty amazing effect!
4. Stevia has also been shown to support healthy intestinal, urinary, and immune functions.
5. Stevia has been shown to support healthy blood pressure levels.
Out of the benefits listed above, stevia’s strongest effects seem to be its ability to help regulate blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
Stevia Hits the Mainstream
Grocery store shelves can attest to the fact that stevia is making its way into the mainstream, replacing other sweeteners in many comfort foods and packaged products. As far as I can tell from the research, this may be a very good thing. There is no doubt that, if we are going to be ingesting sweets, pure, unadulterated stevia ranks better than any of them. While I have not seen research comparing the effects of processed or extracted stevia with that of raw stevia, I always suggest non-processed products whenever possible.
Finally, even with the research behind stevia, I still suggest to use it as a treat and not a regular part of your diet. Moderation always wins!