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We’ve talked about sugar with these chemistry hacks post, in fact, we have a large breakdown about added sugar vs natural sugar.
Readers also ask about zero calorie sweeteners like is stevia really good for you?
There are dozens of zero calorie sweeteners on the market today. Many are artificially made, while others claim to be healthy and natural.
This is such a lengthy topic, so we will focus on one today. Is stevia safe?
Since this is a chemistry hacks post, we are giving a quick and easy breakdown to help you better understand stevia, what to buy, and what to look for.
Pin This: Is Stevia Really Good for You?
Is stevia a natural product?
First, let’s check out what stevia is.
Stevia is a plant originating in South America. The leaves of a stevia plant are naturally sweet, and they have been used for centuries as a natural source of sweetener.
The chemistry of the stevia leaf is pretty intricate. It contains numerous natural chemicals responsible for the sweet taste.
These sweet chemicals are called steviol glycosides. Each one has a different composition and taste, which is why so many stevia sources you use can taste completely different.
How is this chemical obtained?
Obviously, you don’t use stevia leaves to sweeten things, it is the chemical inside the leaf.
To get this chemical, the steviol glycosides are extracted. This is a great method in chemistry used for many things like making vanilla or chocolate extract. Extraction is the best way to isolate a certain chemical and remove it.
Stevia leaf extraction also ensures a highly purified substance is obtained.
Fun fact: In 1931 two chemists were the first to isolate two main steviol glycosides. Another amazing thing chemists brought to the world! (You can find more awesome things invented by chemists here). And if you really want to dig into the chemical history of stevia, you can check out this in-depth textbook!
Steviol glycosides are more simply known as stevia.
How to recognize stevia on a label?
If you read our post on reading sugar in labels, then you know there are many different terms used for chemicals.
Stevia can show up as:
- Steviol Glycosides
- Rebaudioside A
- Reb A
- Stevia Leaf Extract
- Reb M
These are the only chemical names I have seen on labels in the US. They basically mean the same thing, so if you see any of these on a label, it just means your food contains stevia.
Which stevia is good for you?
Stevioside and Rebaudioside are the two main forms of steviol glucosides.
Stevioside is about 200x sweeter than sucrose (sugar) and typically has a bitter after taste, like a licorice taste. Rebaudioside is 300x sweeter than sucrose and has little to no aftertaste.
Minimally processed Stevia will contain both forms. I’ve seen contradicting information online about which is the better of the two, but stevia extract will naturally contain both.
Instead of focusing on which is the better version, it is more important to focus on how processed your stevia is. The less processed stevia is, the better quality and more natural it will be.
Chemist Tips for Reading Labels on Stevia
Now that we’ve talked about the chemistry of stevia, let’s check out how to recognize the best type.
First, always look at the nutritional labels on stevia.
Here is an example of Truvia:
As you can see, it contains many things in addition to stevia. Erythritol is a main ingredient in Truvia which is a sugar alcohol that can be chemically produced. So, it really defeats the purpose of using stevia since it only contains a small percentage!
After browsing through my local grocery store, almost all of the stevia products I checked out were mixed with something else!
Here is the label on SweetLeaf brand:
As you can see, this contains only stevia extract. The fiber is naturally occurring and doesn’t add much to the nutritional label. This is a brand I highly recommend.
Other things to look for in stevia:
In addition to reading the label, always look for stevia that reads: non-gmo, organic, and zero artificial ingredients.
So, is stevia good for you?
If you are trying to reduce your sugar content, you’re a diabetic, or have other health issues requiring sugar limitation, then stevia is a smart choice. BUT make sure you are really using stevia!
Also remember, everyone responds differently to sweeteners. I have encountered those who have digestive issues even with stevia. Just pay attention to your body and see how it feels.
And ALWAYS talk with your doctor before starting a new diet or trying something new especially if you have any health problems.
I hope you enjoyed this Chemistry Hacks post! We have more on the way, so stay tuned!