Better Choices: Stevia vs. Sugar

You probably already know that white sugar is bad for you. While this has become more commonly understood, there are seemingly endless sugar substitutes on the market that claim to be healthy alternatives to refined sugar, but many are not as healthy as they seem. One that truly is an excellent alternative that can actually help lower your blood sugar levels rather than cause a spike is green leaf stevia.  

Where Does Stevia Come From?

Unlike most sugar substitutes out there green leaf stevia comes 100% from nature and has zero calories. It is native to South America and has been used both medicinally and as a sweetener for centuries.  

The two primary compounds in stevia that give it its sweet taste are rebaudioside A and stevioside. Interestingly, stevioside is the compound that is responsible for many of stevia’s health benefits. 

What are the Health Benefits of Stevia? 

It is hard to believe that something so sweet could actually be good for you, but stevia offers an impressive list of health benefits.  

Lower Blood Pressure

High blood pressure puts you at much higher risk for heart attack and stroke, and studies have shown that taking supplemental doses of stevioside can help lower blood pressure. Simply using stevia as an occasional sweetener for your coffee or in baking probably doesn’t have any major impact on lowering blood pressure, but it definitely can’t hurt. 

Stable Blood Sugar Levels

Unlike white sugar and many sugar alternatives (even honey and maple syrup, which are superior to refined sugar), stevia actually works to stabilize your blood sugar levels instead of spike them. In fact, stevioside is used in treatment for type 2 diabetics, and studies have found that the use of stevia helps lower blood sugar levels immediately after a meal. This is thought to be partially due to the fact that stevia works to increase insulin levels and insulin sensitivity. 

Boost Weight Loss

Green leaf stevia naturally has zero calories, which making it an excellent part of a weight loss diet. In addition, due to stevia’s balancing effects on blood sugar, it can be a great way to help curb cravings for sugar and carbohydrates, which is often the hardest part of dieting and weight loss for many people.  

Can I Use Any Type of Stevia?

Here’s the tricky part! As stevia becomes increasingly popular, some products are made that include stevia, but also include other (less desirable) ingredients. The most popular of these products is one called Truvia, which was developed and is owned jointly by Coca Cola and Cargill. This product is a combination of erythritol, rebaudioside A and natural flavors. Unfortunately, Truvia is marketed as “stevia-based,” but it really is not natural stevia, so be careful and always read labels. Remember that stevioside is the compound that provides most of stevia’s health benefits, not rebaudioside A.  

The other main types of stevia include stevia extracts, which are about 200 times sweeter than sugar but are also made up of mainly rebaudioside, not stevioside. Green leaf stevia is simply the stevia leaf that has been ground into a powder; it is about 30 to 40 times sweeter than sugar and offers the most health benefits (by a long shot).  

How Can I Substitute Stevia for Sugar? 

Stevia can be substituted for sugar in many ways, such as in coffee, tea, yogurt, smoothies, or other sugar-sweetened beverages. It can also be used in baking, although this sometimes takes a bit of experimentation, as stevia can sometimes have a slightly bitter aftertaste.  

Some find that the liquid extracts are best for use in beverages (although they contain less health benefits), and the green leaf powder is better for baking. As a general rule, begin with substituting only one teaspoon of green leaf powder for one cup of sugar and go from there. Similarly, with liquid extracts, begin with just one drop and add more as needed for desired sweetness.  

For a quick and easy stevia recipe that the whole family will love, try this stevia-sweetened lemonade: 

Sugar-Free Lemonade Recipe

Ingredients: 

  • 8 to 16 cups of water (depending on how much you want to make) 
  • juice of 2 to 4 lemons 
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of pure stevia extract 

Instructions: 

  1. Simply stir all ingredients together, add ice, and enjoy!