Just How Natural Is Your Stevia Sweetener?

Shoppers appreciate having choices, but having many different brands of one product can complicate choice. This is true with the non-caloric herbal sweetener called stevia.

All stevia products provide sweetness with no calories and without elevating glucose levels. Their differences lie primarily in the use of one or two stevia compounds, and the process used to ready them for market.

A Sweet Pair

There is a pair of compounds - stevioside and rebaudioside - responsible for the sweet taste of stevia. Rebaudioside is the sweeter of the two. Stevioside has a bit of a bitter aftertaste—though some people say it just has more tang.

Making sweeteners from the “whole” stevia leaf that includes both stevioside and rebaudioside has desirable health benefits. Studies show, for instance, the herb stevia supports healthy blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. However, there are minimally, and highly processed stevia sweeteners that only contain the sweeter compound rebaudioside.

Stevia Types

For consumers, these processing differences mean the stevia products we shop for fall into three general categories:

  1. The least processed products, or green leaf stevia, are made from dried stevia leaves that have been ground into powder. This powder has long been used as a health remedy and sweetener in South America and Japan. Green leaf (or whole leaf) stevia contains both stevioside and rebaudioside, and is 30 to 40 times sweeter than table sugar.
  2. Certain stevia brands contain only rebaudioside that has been extracted from the stevia leaf. Although these stevia extracts are minimally processed, they are missing the health benefits (and bitterness) of the stevioside found in whole leaf products. Extracts are about 200 time sweeter than table sugar.
  3. Some sweeteners labeled as stevia are not natural stevia at all, though they contain rebaudioside or a chemical equivalent. These altered stevia sweeteners are moderately to heavily processed. For instance, according the Coca-Cola Company’s U.S. patent, Truvia - which contains ribaudioside - undergoes a 42 step manufacturing process involving the use of chemical solvents such as acetonitrile. Some of these processed stevia products also contain sugar or other corn derived sweeteners, as well. Altered stevia is about 400 times sweeter than table sugar.

Choices

These three types of stevia will likely appeal to three broad categories of stevia users.

Consumers who want stevia’s health benefits and are unconcerned about steviosides’s aftertaste, will naturally want to purchase whole, or green leaf stevia. Those who want to avoid stevioside’s bitter reputation but still want a more natural, less processed product will gravitate to stevia extracts.

People who desire a no-calorie, low-glycemic sweetener, and are unconcerned with how the product is manufactured, will reach for one of the many altered stevia products available. However, read the label carefully since some of these items may contain added sugars.

Source: Dr Axe
Photo credit: Tzuhsun Hsu

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