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December 13, 2011

What’s the Deal With Stevia? And a Few Guiltless Treat Recipes

The stevia rebaudiana leaf, known commercially as Stevia, has been used for hundreds of years in aboriginal cultures as a natural sweetener and medicinal compound.  Three-hundred times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar), today the supplement has found its way to local supermarkets, packaged and branded as a low-calorie sweetener to help curb cravings, an alternative to sugar in foods like coffee, baked goods and condiments.

Stevia as a dietary aid falls into the category of nonnutritive sweeteners and is organically found in nature.  Though the impact of newer nonnutritive sweeteners like the artificial sucralose (Splenda) and aspartame (Sweet N Low) remains unclear in terms of long-term neurological effects, Stevia’s longer history lends a record of safety.

Stevia and weight loss

Though many experts believe that consumption of low-calorie sweeteners may increase cravings and caloric intake in the long term, this assumption is far from conclusive.  Studies have been mixed in terms of low-calorie sweeteners’ ability to curb cravings, however, a recent study published in the journal Appetite in August 2010 (Anton, et al.) shines a favorable light on this point with regard to Stevia, when compared to both sucrose and aspartame.

Thirty-one individuals (19 healthy, 12 obese) each participated in 3 days’ worth of testing.  On each of the 3 days, individuals received preload (morning) doses of one of the following: sucrose, aspartame or Stevia in equivalent amounts.  Participants’ hunger and satiety were monitored throughout the day and blood glucose and insulin were measured pre- and post-meals.  Participants who consumed Stevia or aspartame did not compensate by eating more later in the day, when compared to the sucrose group, nor did they report increased hunger or decreased satiety.  As a result, they consumed ~300 kcal less throughout the day than the group who preloaded with sucrose.

This conclusion has implications for uses as a weight loss aid, and the satiety and satisfaction is important in the prevention of cravings.

Health benefits

Not only does Stevia appear to help control appetite and curb cravings, there may be health benefits beyond sweetness.  The above study’s finding that Stevia was significantly superior to sucrose in terms of lowering postpranial blood glucose, and was superior to both sucrose and aspartame in terms of lowering postpranial insulin release, is in line with other research.

For example, consumption of steviol glycosides, one of the active constituent in stevia, may help control blood sugar in diabetics by lowering postpranial blood glucose (Gregerson et al. Metabolism. 2004;53(1):73-6) and even enhance insulin secretion and utilization, as was shown in rats (Chen et al. Planta Med. 2005;71(2):108-13).

It is important to note, however, that several reviews on Stevia conclude that indications for blood sugar control are mixed in the research and that such effects may be most potent in subjects whose glucose metabolism is irregular already, such as diabetics (Carakostas et al. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2008;46 Suppl 7:S1-S10).

Because it does not impact blood sugar the way traditional sugar does, Stevia is definitely a superior alternative for diabetics and those with metabolic syndrome.  It can be used in coffee, tea, baked goods, as a condiment on fruit, etc.

For example, a great way to sweeten up a healthy treat is to sprinkle a single packet of Stevia over 1 cup of frozen blueberries.  The sweetness of the Stevia cuts the tart of the berries and satisfies a sweet craving without the impact of sugar.

Here are a few great recipes that incorporate Stevia, adding sweetness without the health expenses and inches of waistline innate to the consumption of regular sugar:

Healthy hot cocoa

This antioxidant-heavy beverage may not only increase dopamine levels naturally, but will take care of that nagging sweet tooth and curb cravings later:

  • Bring 2 cups water to a boil
  • Pour water over 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Mix well
  • Add granulated Stevia powder to taste, mixing slowly (some commercial brands of Stevia mix it with the natural sugar alcohol erythritol, which is also low calorie and metabolically inert)

Protein Scones – 20 servings

These baked goods are very healthy, high in protein and low in sugar.  These use Stevia to sweeten, and almond flour (instead of all-purpose flour) to lower the overall carb count.

Preheat over 350 degrees F
Spray 2 large baking sheet with nonstick spray

Mix the following ingredients together in a large bowl:

  • 2.5 cup almond flour
  • 3 scoops whey protein (preferably vanilla)
  • ½ cup old-fashioned oats
  • ½ cup granulated Stevia or Stevia/erythritol combo
  • 1 cup liquid egg whites
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup dark chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • Dash nutmeg

Mix until well blended. Place 2-inch-wide spoonfuls of mixture on baking sheets (makes 20 servings)
Bake 15 minutes
Let cool, and serve

“Pecan pie” Dessert

This is a great individually sized dessert option for those needing an after-dinner sweet. With few impact carbs and a good amount of healthy fats, it is sure to keep you full and satisfied all the way to bedtime.

  • Using a coffee grinder or specialized blender that can chop nuts, grind up 1 large handful of pecans essentially making pecan flour
  • Add 2 tbsp granulated Stevia, and dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.
  • Place in a bowl and slowly add unsweetened almond milk (vanilla or original), mixing continuously, until it is moist like pudding
  • Eat with a spoon

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