Saturday, June 23, 2007

Want to cut back on sugar and still be “sweet”? Try stevia

Even if you watch your diet religiously, you might still have a sweet tooth. I do, and try to fulfill it with healthy foods instead of ignoring it altogether. I used saccharin for several years, but of course it leaves a funny aftertaste and there are doubts about its safety, so I switched back to using sugar and just tried to be as sparing with it as possible.

Then I discovered stevia. This wonderful herb is actually slightly caloric rather than completely non-caloric, but is something like 600 times sweeter than sugar so that you can use very little. It does not promote tooth decay and in its unrefined form can even help stabilize blood sugar and act as an anti-fungal. Its unrefined (liquid) extract tastes very much like black licorice, so I only use it in coffee and tea, not in cooking.

The refined stevia has no health benefits to speak of but tastes exactly like sugar, in my opinion. It’s very, very sweet, so must be used sparingly and mixed very well in whatever you’re using it in, but I use it in baking and cooking as well as to sweeten beverages. Its only drawback (if it has one) is that it leaves baked sweetened goods like cookies slightly rubbery and a little sugar seems to help the texture, so I use about one-eighth the sugar called for just to help the browning and then sweeten to taste with stevia. It’s available at any health food store or online. I generally get my unrefined stevia at and my refined at Puritan’s Pride ( or, as they’ve generally had the best prices for each kind.


  1. Like you I have tried many things, including stevia. But after some research I found that there are side effects I am not willing to risk with the use of stevia. The following article notes some of the problems they found when testing it in labs

    I have found that the best for me is fructose (not to be confused with high fructose corn syrup!) it is used as a substitue for people with diabetes and hypoglycemia. It is something that fruits and vegetables contain naturally so it is relatively safe and doesn't come with a cancer scare! You can get fructose at health food stores like stevia and online at places like Check it out!

  2. Thanks for posting this, Theresa. I've heard this news on stevia myself but know it's been used in places like Japan in *everything* since about the mid-late '70s with no ill effects seen. Of course, with the kind of massive consumption that would happen in the US if it were put in commercial sodas especially, anything could have ill effects eventually (even fructose, which I tried too several years ago). IMO, the problem is really that people drink too much soda and not enough water. Even diet sodas have phosphorus in them that can lead to calcium loss and are acidic enough to damage teeth.

    I’m glad fructose is working for you and thanks for the link to the store you buy it from.

  3. Hi, I have a couple of things to add: first, I wanted to say that stevia (at least SweetLeaf Stevia) has absolutely no calories whatsoever. Zero calories, zero carbs, zero on the glycemic index, zero chemicals, and zero guilt!

    Also, as for the safety of stevia's based on two early studies conducted in 1968 and 1977 that addressed the effect of stevioside on animals and noted the potential negative effects of stevioside on fertility. However, animals used in these studies were given extremely high doses of stevioside, nearly 6% of their total body weight daily. Numerous follow-up studies have been conducted that show stevioside has no effect on fertility, mating performance, pregnancy, number of fetuses or growth and fertility of offspring.

    Here is an excerpt from The European Stevia Center, reproduced for educational purposes:
    Stevioside is safe!
    by Prof. Jan M.C. Geuns
    Lab. Functional Biology, KULeuven

    "In 2004 researchers of the KULeuven (Belgium) organized an international symposium on "The Safety of stevioside". Scientists from all over the world concluded that stevioside is safe, and that stevioside has not any effect on male or female fertility, nor on development and state of fetuses.

    It’s notable to point out that over the past 30 years, there have been more than 1,000 scientific studies published on stevia and its extract stevioside, none of which report any negative health consequences for humans as a result of consumption of stevia leaf or its extract.

    (Currently, stevia represents approximately 45% of the market share of sweet substances consumed in Japan. The Japanese, who strictly regulated artificial sweetners in the 1960's to move away from increased chemicals in the food supply, use stevia to sweeten a wide variety of food products.)

  4. Thanks for the extra info, M. I use about two ounces of unrefined (whole leaf) stevia liquid every six months (tastes like licorice, so can only be used in coffee and tea) and another 2 oz. of the refined for cooking, etc. every four months. No ill effects, and sure beats using sugar or artificial sweeteners!