What exactly is stevia? Stevia is a South American plant, Stevia rebaudina, native to Paraguay that has been used as a natural sweetener for centuries. In Asia and South America, it has long been a common ingredient in products such as ice cream, breads, beverages and other tabletop products. China and Brazil are the countries where Stevia is primarily grown and harvested.
When shopping, you may see many products labeled “Stevia;” however, the word “stevia” actually refers to the stevia plant. The whole stevia plant is actually not sweet. Rather, it contains sweet components called steviol glycosides, which are extracted to create the Stevia-labeled products that you purchase. Steviol glycosides are approved for use in Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Paraguay and is GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) in the US.
The benefit of stevia is that it is a naturally occurring sweetener that is between 250 and 300 times sweeter than sucrose. Since stevia is much sweeter than sugar, it requires a lot less of it to reach the same level of sweetness than sugar. Stevia also contains zero calories, making it a great option to sweeten foods and beverages with fewer calories. Furthermore, research has shown that stevia does not add calories or carbohydrates to the diet, nor does it affect blood glucose or insulin response. This makes it a great natural sugar alternative for diabetics or for those just looking to reduce extra sugar in their diet.
Carolyn Reynaud, MS, RD, LD is a licensed registered dietitian and a paid contributor to SteviaBenefits.org. She received her BS in nutrition from Michigan State University and her Masters and Certificate in Public Health from Georgia State University. She has experience working in several avenues of health care including corporate wellness, clinical disease management, research, and health promotion. She has been working as a health coach specialist for close to 6 years, where she counsels patients on preventative healthcare and helps them meet their health goals. Follow her on Twitter @ReynaudCari.