Most of you long time readers are well aware of my dislike for artificial sweeteners. Whether they have been found to drastically alter gut flora (sucralose, in rats), are on the EPA’s new but unfinished list of potentially dangerous chemicals, increase risk of pre-term births and caused cancer in rats (aspartame) I am not a fan.
This is especially true since there other options that are not synthetically made in a lab and have been consumed by humans for possibly thousands of years. In this case, we are talking about stevia.
Stevia rebaudiana is a plant from South America that is native to Paraguay and has long been used by the indigenous people there to sweeten beverages and make tea. While most of us, myself included, use the word stevia to refer to the sweetener, this is in fact referring to the plant, of which only some components are actually sweet, called steviol glycosides.
Steviol glycosides are found in the leaves of the stevia plant, and each one has a unique flavor and level of sweetness. Rebaudioside A is the most common steviol glycoside used as a sweetener, is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) in the US as a general purpose sweetener, and is is roughly 250-300 times sweeter than table sugar.
The literature on stevia and the different rebaudiosides are quite conclusive on declaring it to be safe for human consumption. In fact it would take 30 stevia packets to even reach the Acceptable Daily Intake, and the ADI is set to be about 100 times lower than the No Observed Effect Level. In laymans terms this means that even if you consume a virtual truckload of stevia there are no direct side effects that have been observed.
The moral of the story is that if you desire to sweeten a few things, coffee for example, stevia would be the best bet. In addition I recommend a protein powder sweetened with stevia rather than aspartame or sucralose.
Let me also wrap this up by pointing out that though I feel stevia is the best zero calorie sweetener out there, it is still wise to minimize consumption. In my mind training your body to adjust to the sweetness of real food is paramount in developing a good relationship with food. Always needing to sweeten your coffee, and your yogurt, and your tea, etc is a problem. Learning to enjoy how food tastes without sweetener makes a huge difference in tampering your sweet tooth and reducing cravings. This isn’t to say you can’t or shouldn’t sweeten anything, the point is simply to keep even the stevia intake reasonable.
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