A plant native to South America and Central America, stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) produces sweet leaves that have long been harvested to flavor foods and beverages. In recent years, a stevia extract—called rebaudioside A—has become increasingly popular as a natural sugar substitute.
With zero calories, stevia extract looks like sugar but is exponentially sweeter.
Now found in foods like soft drinks, candy, and pre-packaged baked goods, stevia extract is also sold as a tabletop sweetener. Suggested uses include sweetening coffee and tea, as well as sprinkling onto cereal, oatmeal, fruit, and yogurt.
|Stevia Nutrition Facts|
|Serving Size 1 packet (1 g)|
|Per Serving||% Daily Value*|
|Calories from Fat 0|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Polyunsaturated Fat 0g|
|Monounsaturated Fat 0g|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Vitamin A 0% · Vitamin C 0%|
|Calcium 0% · Iron 0%|
|*Based on a 2,000 calorie diet|
Carbs in Stevia
There is about one gram of carbohydrate in a single packet of stevia. Since many users will use more than one packet, you may consume more than a gram of carbs in your coffee or beverage when you use this sweetener, but it will not contribute substantially to your carbohydrate intake.
The estimated glycemic load of stevia is one.
Fats in Stevia
There is no fat in stevia.
Protein in Stevia
Stevia provides zero grams of protein.
Micronutrients in Stevia
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals (such as calcium and iron) that your body needs to stay healthy and function properly. Stevia provides no vitamins or minerals.
Stevia-extract-sweetened foods and beverages are most likely a healthier option than similar items made with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. But for optimal health, it’s best to cut back on processed foods and choose naturally sweet alternatives such as fruit in its fresh or dried form.
If you’re seeking a new natural sweetener, you may also consider erythritol (a nearly calorie-free sugar alcohol extracted from plants).
Since it contains no calories or carbohydrates and does not cause a spike in blood sugar levels, stevia is considered safe for people with diabetes. But claims that all forms of stevia extract can actually boost health in diabetes patients may be unfounded.
While tests on animals have determined that stevioside may help lower blood pressure and regulate blood sugar in diabetics, a 2005 study concluded that rebaudioside A failed to provide similar benefits.
If you’re considering using stevia regularly for diabetes (or any health condition), make sure to consult your doctor first. Self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences.
Where do I buy stevia?
Stevia is the generic name of the sweetener made from the plant extract.
You’ll find the sweetener sold under brand names like Truvia, and Pyure in grocery stores around the country. Look for it in the aisle where you would find sugar and other sweeteners.
If I use stevia instead of sugar do I use the same amount?
Stevia is estimated to be 250 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. So you won’t use as much in your food and beverages.
The conversion factor depends on the brand and the type of stevia that you buy. Depending on the way that the sweetener is produced, you may use anywhere from 1/8th to 1/2 teaspoon of stevia for every teaspoon of sugar.
Can I use stevia in baked goods?
Several brands make stevia sweeteners especially for use in baked goods
Recipes and Tips for Use
If you are trying to reduce your intake of sugar, try using stevia in your morning coffee or tea. Stevia also blends well, so it’s easy to use in smoothies and oatmeal. You can even top your cereal with stevia if you like a boost of sweetness.
You’ll also find many online recipes to help you use stevia in other foods such as barbecue sauce, baked goods (muffins, bread, and cookies), and in sweet desserts such as panna cotta and chocolate mousse.
Some people taste a difference in their food when they use stevia instead of sugar, so you may need to experiment to find the right blend for you and your family.
Allergies, Side Effects, and Safety of Stevia
In 2008, after several major food companies (including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo) performed scientific reviews that deemed stevia extract to be “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved its use as a food additive. Prior to the FDA approval, stevia could only be marketed as a dietary supplement and was commonly sold as a liquid extract in natural foods stores.
Some health advocates condemn the FDA’s approval of stevia extract, citing research showing that stevia consumption may cause DNA damage in rats. It’s important to note that this research tested the effects of stevioside (another compound found in stevia) and not rebaudioside A. To date, there’s no compelling evidence that rebaudioside A is unsafe for human consumption.
According to the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology there are numerous lay stories about allergic reactions to stevia (and other sweeteners). But aside from one published report of an allergic reaction to stevia these anecdotal cases have not been studied. The organization suggests that skin tests could be performed to potentially diagnose an allergy.
If you suspect an allergy to stevia or any other sweetener, discuss the symptoms with your healthcare provider to get a personalized diagnosis.