Stevia (steviol glycosides)

  • Our verdict: 2 - with reservations, otherwise relatively ok
  • Latest update & fact check: 1.7.2024 - Rebecca Taylor, CNP
  • Origin: It is produced from natural resources that are further processed by chemical processes.

Stevia is a natural sweetener obtained from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It is known for its intense sweetness, which is approximately 200 to 300 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). Stevia has gained popularity as a sugar substitute due to its tiny caloric content, making it a popular choice for those who want to reduce their sugar intake without giving up sweetness.

It is native to South America, particularly Paraguay and Brazil, where it has been used by indigenous peoples for centuries. It is a natural sweetener whose sweetening ingredients, mainly stevioside and rebaudioside A, are extracted from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. The extraction process usually involves drying the leaves, water extraction and purification.

Characteristics and food uses

  • Calorie‑free: Stevia provides sweetness without adding calories, which is beneficial for weight management and diabetes control.
  • High sweetness: It is significantly sweeter than sugar, allowing smaller amounts to be used to achieve the desired sweetness.
  • Stability at high temperatures: Stevia retains its sweetening properties at high temperatures, making it suitable for cooking and baking.
  • pH stability: It remains stable over a wide pH range, making it suitable for a variety of food and beverage applications.
  • Unlike sugar, stevia does not ferment, which is useful in products requiring a long shelf life.

Use in ultra‑processed foods

Stevia is widely used in ultra‑processed foods due to its ability to provide sweetness without the negative effects associated with sugar consumption. It is found in:

  • Calorie reduction.
  • Enhanced sweetness: Because of its high sweetness, only a small amount of stevia is needed to achieve the desired flavor, which maintains texture and volume without adding calories.
  • Money Saving: Despite a higher price per kilogram than sugar, stevia's high potency means less is needed, often leading to cost savings in bulk production.
  • Extending shelf life: Stevia's stability under different conditions helps maintain sweetness and overall product quality for longer, extending shelf life.
  • Influencing eating habits: By offering sweet flavours without the associated calories, stevia satisfies sweet cravings, potentially influencing consumer behaviour towards more frequent choice of these products with the perception that they are healthier.

Impact on human health

Although stevia is generally considered safe to consume, there are some health concerns:

  • Digestive problems: Some individuals may experience bloating, nausea or gas when consuming large amounts of stevia.
  • Allergic reactions: Rarely, people may have allergic reactions to stevia, especially if they are allergic to plants in the Asteraceae family.
  • Effect on blood sugar levels: Although stevia is beneficial for diabetics, it can still interact with blood sugar regulation. Monitoring is advisable in diabetic patients.
  • Drug interactions: Stevia may interact with some medications, such as those for diabetes and high blood pressure. Consultation with a physician is recommended for individuals taking such medications.

Sources

  1. Anton, S. D., Martin, C. K., Han, H., Coulon, S., Cefalu, W. T., Geiselman, P., & Williamson, D. A. (2010). Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite, 55(1), 37‑43.
  2. Goyal, S. K., Samsher, & Goyal, R. K. (2010). Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) a bio‑sweetener: a review. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 61(1), 1‑10.
  3. Prakash, I., Markosyan, A., & Bunders, C. (2014). Development of Next Generation Stevia Sweetener: Rebaudioside M. Foods, 3(1), 162‑175.
  4. Chatsudthipong, V., & Muanprasat, C. (2009). Stevioside and related compounds: Therapeutic benefits beyond sweetness. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 121(1), 41‑54.