The Truth About Stevia: Natural or Artificial?

As a nutritionist and health expert, I have been asked numerous times about the use of stevia as a sweetener. Many people are confused about whether it is considered natural or artificial. Let me clear up the confusion and provide you with all the information you need to know about this popular sweetener. Stevia is derived from a shrub called Stevia rebaudiana, which is commonly found in South America. For centuries, people in South America and Asia have been using stevia leaves to sweeten their beverages, such as tea.

This natural sweetener has gained popularity in recent years as a healthier alternative to sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and other artificial sweeteners. However, there is some debate about whether stevia can truly be considered natural. While the stevia leaf extract is marketed as natural, it does undergo some processing before it reaches our shelves. But let's not forget that many foods go through some form of processing before they reach us. Additionally, some stevia-based sweeteners, such as SweetLeaf, also contain other ingredients like silica and inulin.

While these ingredients may be of natural origin, their addition to the sweetener raises questions about its overall naturalness. On the other hand, organic whole stevia leaf powder in its natural state is a healthy, green and all-natural sweetener. However, the FDA does not allow it as a food additive. This means that most stevia sweeteners on the market are chemically altered and bleached versions of the original plant. These versions may also contain transgenic fillers, which can be harmful to our health. The FDA refers to the International Stevia Council's Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) for guidance on the use of stevia as a food additive.

However, not all stevia-based sweeteners are created equal. Products like Truvia, PureVia, and Unprocessed Stevia should be avoided due to their intensive processing and added GMO ingredients. But what about the stevia sweeteners that are considered safe? These calorie-free sweeteners can be a great alternative to sugar and can help reduce our intake of added sugars. They also provide the satisfaction of enjoying something sweet without the negative health effects. One of the main reasons why stevia is marketed as natural is because it comes from a plant. This makes it an attractive option for those looking for natural alternatives to artificial sweeteners.

In fact, foods and beverages made with stevia sweeteners are often recommended to people with diabetes as a way to satisfy their sweet cravings while controlling their carbohydrate intake. So, how can you tell if a product is made with safe and natural stevia? Look for words like "stevia extract" or "Stevia rebaudiana" on the ingredient list. These indicate that the product is made with pure stevia extract and does not contain any harmful additives or fillers. Extensive research has been conducted on the use of stevia as a sweetener, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Studies have shown that stevia sweeteners do not raise blood glucose levels or affect blood glucose control in humans. This makes it a safe option for people with diabetes or those looking to manage their weight. In conclusion, while there may be some debate about whether stevia can be considered completely natural, there is no denying its health benefits and its potential as a sugar substitute.

As with any food or ingredient, it is important to read labels and choose products that are made with pure stevia extract and do not contain any harmful additives. With the right information, you can confidently incorporate stevia into your diet and enjoy its sweet taste without any guilt.

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