Written by Herbalist and Foodie, Tania Hays
It’s a new, fresh year and about time to kick our sweet toothed habit. I know, I really do love all kinds of chocolately, whipped, sprinkled and gooey baked good, treats and super sugary coffee drinks. And I am not turning my back on them yet.
Treats, in moderation, as treats and not everyday nourishment, are as natural as the seasons. But we have to be upfront about the excessive and refined sugar lurking in pretty much all packaged and prepared foods.
Before introducing Stevia, and clearing up how it is NOT an artificial sweetener, I want to first assure you of a few comforting truths;
- Your tastes can change. With time, you can increase or decrease your “sweet spot” for saltiness and sweetness. Yes the first couple weeks will be the hardest but there will come a time when you think “Eww, this is way to sweet!” to something that you used to love that sweet.
- Progress not perfection. Take a lesson from the old tortoise that beat the hare because they were slow and steady. Say it with me, we are done with whirl wind romances when it comes to our health. Fads can go to hell and patience shall be embraced.
- Incorporate one new habit at a time. You have the whole year. If you only cemented one new habit per month, you will be 12 healthier habits stronger by the end of this year. Sugar is addictive, certain foods are comforting meal habits can affect social bonding. Instead of cutting all sweet food out cold turkey, try to reduce and adjust. You don’t like donuts THAT much but usually take one from your coworker when they share every day? Say no thank you a couple of times next week. But you do love your homemade vanilla latte made with your fun new cream frother? Keep it, but change out your sugar-laden creamer with a sugar free option and add stevia.
OK so what is Stevia and why you should use it.
Stevia, or Stevia rebaudiana, is a green little plant in the Sunflower family (AKA the Aster family). Contrary to popular belief, it is not a white powder. But we’ll get there in a minute.
Stevia is a super sweet tasting herb, and the leaves are the part used. It is a perennial that is native to parts of Brazil and Paraguay. It’s used by locals to sweeten their energizing Yerba Mate tea, as well as in creating other sweet treats. It can be grown almost anywhere with a greenhouse and some love.
Stevia contains no calories, carbohydrates and it’s active compounds are steviol glycoside. The lack of carbohydrates and other blood-sugar spiking compounds like glucose have brought Stevia into interest in terms of its possible positive effect on cavities, diabetes, obesity and other metabolic diseases. (See the references at the bottom for some scientific studies on Stevia.)
Are all Stevia products created equal?
Stevia the plant is one thing, and “stevia” sweetners another. There are many artificial sweeteners that seem like they are Stevia, but are mostly a base of maltodextrin or another base or artificial sweetener, that has a tiny bit of Stevia in the mix. One reason is that Stevia is so much sweeter than sugar, that cutting it with something else helps the serving size to remain the same (Ex. substitute 1 tsp of sugar with 1 tsp of “stevia” powder). So be careful and read the label, because there are health and digestive concerns for many of the artificial sweeteners used today. The common form are powder and tincture (a liquid extract usually of a combination of water, alcohol and/or glycerin.)
OK, so how does it taste?
Some people report a slight bitter aftertaste from some products, but others do not and just taste a generic sweetness. So try experimenting with doses and products to see what works best for you. You can even substitute half of your sugar (in that morning joe, for example) for Stevia to dip your toes in before jumping in the deep end. There’s a good chance you won’t be able to tell a difference but take your time anyways, because why not?
And one last topic that is still being debated; can Stevia help people start and stick to intermittent diet or a Ketogenic diet?
Both diets include times that exclude carbs/sugar, but many people still drink beverages such as tea and coffee. For some, that bit of warm, Stevia sweetened beverage can be the make or break in their dietary goals. Since it doesn’t contain sugar or carbs, many feel comfortable adding it in. For the dietary purist, simply the taste of sweetness brings up fears of stimulating a metabolic process that they are trying to avoid. And again, the science on this subject is still new, so there’s not one conclusive answer yet. So take it with a grain of salt!