Studies have shown it to be a safe and natural, calorie-free sugar substitute and is commonly used to sweeten a number of foods and beverages.
In tests, pure stevia extract has been found to have no effect on blood glucose levels (and may even improve your body’s ability to metabolise glucose). Studies that have attempted to show that stevia can improve insulin sensitivity and benefit diabetes have not been conducted on humans as yet, but do show some promise.
However, pure stevia extract has a bitter aftertaste, which means that stevia-based sweeteners are often blended with other sugars and artificial sweetners to improve taste.
By blending them with other sweetening ingredients such as dextrose, maltodextrin and sucrose, some stevia products are then capable of raising blood glucose levels. It is therefore important to read the labels on products which claim to be stevia.
Other research suggests stevia may be useful in the treatment of hypertension and management of Type 2 diabetes and it is recognised for have some anti-inflammatory properties. It contains no calories so it can be beneficial for weight loss with those looking for an alternative to sugar.
Is it better for you than sugar?
Unfortunately, many commercial stevia products are highly purified stevia extracts and are not always as healthy as some of their ‘natural’ labels would lead you to believe. Like with other sugar alternatives, it is the extraction and processing methods that change the properties of the whole leaf into something quite different.
In the sense that pure stevia doesn’t add calories, affect blood sugar or insulin levels, or contribute to tooth decay, it is a better choice than sugar.
However, highly refined extracts perpetuate the desire for sweet-tasting foods and drinks and therefore over consumption is not recommended. As the long term effects of sweeteners are still unknown there is a clear need for further experimentation with respect to the metabolic processes involved.