Thursday, February 7, 2013

Stevia


Sugar has been given a bad name these days and as a result companies have been searching for healthier substitutes.  But are these substitutes really better for you than good old fashioned sugar?  I will spend the next few articles discussing these sugar alternatives.  The first of these I’ll discuss is stevia.

Stevia has made its way into products and onto the supermarket shelves as a healthy sugar alternative.  Stevia is a plant from Paraguay and Brazil and has been used in these countries since before 1887.  The Japanese are also big consumers of stevia.  The benefits of stevia are that it is sweeter than sugar so you don’t need as much, it has almost no calories and it may actually have positive effects on type II diabetes and high blood pressure.  It is generally accepted to be safe to consume although it has been reported that stevia has been used to prevent pregnancy, so should be avoided if you are trying to get pregnant.

CSR’s “Smart Sugar Blend” is composed of a small amount of stevia (0.4%) mixed with cane sugar (sucrose).  Due to the higher sweetness intensity of stevia only half as much sugar is required to achieve the same sweetness.  This makes it difficult to use your old recipes but, in theory, you will eat less sugar by incorporating stevia into your diet.

Stevia is not commonly used without being mixed with something. This mix is because stevia on its own doesn’t actually taste that great.  To counter this problem companies also use masking agents.  These masking agents are often high in carbohydrates thus countering the good effects of stevia.  As with CSR’s “Smart Sugar Blend”, many products still use some sugar to keep the taste agreeable.  Of the 604 products that were launched in 2010 containing stevia, 60% of them still contained sugar.  And remember, even though a product may not contain sugar does not mean that it is good for you.  Processed white flour can have the same effect on blood sugar as sucrose and most sweet foods are often also high in calories due to their fat content.  So just because a product is sweetened with stevia does not mean you should consume more of it.

Stevia is slowly replacing aspartame in many products.  If all the benefits of stevia are true, then this is a positive step for the food industry.  Next time I’ll discuss why the adoption of stevia over aspartame is a good thing.

As we discuss sweeteners, it is important to remember that no matter what a product is sweetened with it should only be consumed as part of a healthy diet.  Sweets are great treats but only in moderation.

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