A plant native to Central America and South America, Stevia rebaudiana (stevia) produces sweet leaves that have long been harvested to flavor beverages and foods. In recent times, a stevia extract—called rebaudioside A—has become increasingly prevalent as a natural sugar replacement.
With zero calories, stevia extract appears like sugar but tastes much sweeter than sugar. Now found in foods like candy, soft drinks, and pre-packaged baked goods, stevia extract is also sold as a tabletop sweetener. Suggested uses include sweetening tea and coffee and sprinkling onto oatmeal, cereal, fruit, and yogurt.
The USDA provides the following nutrition information for 1g (one packet) of stevia.
- Protein: 0g
- Sugars: 0g
- Calories: 0
- Fat: 0g
- Sodium: 0mg
- Carbohydrates: 0g
- Fiber: 0g
Carbs in Stevia
There is about 1gm (gram) of carbohydrate in a single packet of stevia. Since most users will use more than one packet, you may consume more than a gram of carbs in your beverage or coffee when you use this sweetener, but it will not contribute considerably to our carbohydrate intake.
- The estimated glycemic load of stevia is 1 (one).
- Fats in Stevia – There’s no fat in stevia.
- Protein in Stevia – Stevia provides 0 (zero) grams of protein.
- Micronutrients in Stevia
Micronutrients are minerals and vitamins (such as iron and calcium) that our body needs to function properly and stay healthy. Stevia provides no minerals or vitamins.
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Stevia For Diabetes
In a joint statement, the AHA (American Heart Association) and the ADA (American Diabetes Association) said that stevia and similar sweeteners could be beneficial for patients with diabetes if they use them properly and do not compensate by eating additional calories at later meals .
In a 2018 research, scientists tested the effects of a stevia-sweetened coconut jelly on participants 30–120 minutes after consumption at 30-minute intervals .
The research observed that blood glucose levels started to reduce 60–120 minutes after eating the jelly, even before insulin secretion.
Scientific studies we feature in this article suggest that stevia may offer the following benefits for individuals with diabetes:
- possible antioxidant properties to fight disease
- less desire to eat extra calories later in the day
- blood sugar control, both while fasting and after meals
- reduced hunger and improved satiety
- protection against liver and kidney damage
- reduced cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Another advantage of stevia is its versatility. It is suitable for cold and hot beverages, and people can sprinkle it over fruit or oatmeal.
Stevia may also be convenient for baking, depending on the recipe and the particular sweetener product. However, it doesn’t caramelize and is not a substitute for sugar in all types of baking and cooking . Stevia extracts are usually safe for most individuals in moderate amounts.
In the US, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) categorizes steviol glycosides as GRAS or “generally recognized as safe.” As a result, makers may add high-purity steviol glycosides to beverages and foods. Steviol glycosides are often present in sugar-free jams, drinks, and dairy products.
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What the research says
Several studies have researched the effects of stevia on blood sugar levels.
A 2016 research reported that dried stevia leaf powder remarkably lowered blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes, both when fasting and after eating. The participants in the research also saw a reduction in their cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
The investigators concluded that stevia is safe for individuals with diabetes to use as a replacement for sugar and other sweeteners.
A 2013 research in rats reported that using whole stevia leaf powder as a dietary supplement led to lower blood sugar levels. The results also indicated that stevia could reduce kidney and liver damage in the animals.
Another study from 2015 found that nonnutritive sweeteners such as stevia had antioxidant capabilities and considerably lowered blood sugar levels in mice. Stevia may also minimize hunger and improve satiety in individuals.
In small-scale research, scientists gave participants a snack to eat before their main meal, which is a dieting technique called preloading. The preload snack contained either aspartame, stevia, or sucrose, also called table sugar.
The sucrose preload contained 493 calories, while both the stevia and aspartame preloads only had 290 calories. Despite this, all 3 groups of participants reported similar satiety and hunger levels.
The individuals who ate the stevia preloads had considerably lower blood glucose levels after meals when the investigators correlated them with the sucrose group. The participants also had lower insulin levels than those in both the sucrose and aspartame groups.
However, a more recent study of 372 studies indicated that evidence for beneficial or harmful effects is inconclusive. It is also evident that the bulk of the studies used dried stevia leaf rather than stevia extracts.
Stevia extracts generally contain other ingredients, some of which can affect blood sugar levels. However, stevia leaf doesn’t have GRAS status with the FDA, which does not allow manufacturers to use it as a sweetener.
Due to stevia’s focus on individuals with diabetes, many people wonder if it can cure or treat the condition. There is presently no antidote for diabetes, but people can manage the condition with lifestyle changes and medications. Stevia can help to bolster these lifestyle adaptations.
A 2018 research on rats, appearing in the IJE (International Journal of Endocrinology), indicates that stevia can stimulate insulin production when in large enough doses. The research authors attribute it to the plant compounds in stevia.
Using stevia as a replacement for sugar in sweetened drinks and foods can help individuals with diabetes stabilize their blood glucose levels.
This replacement for sugar can also minimize the number of calories that an individual consumes, which is likely to assist weight loss. Overweight individuals are at risk for type 2 diabetes and its complications, including kidney and heart problems.