Stevia is an herb native to South American countries, such as Brazil, that is a naturally sweet, calorie-free, and plant-based alternative to white sugar. It is derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, a member of the Asteraceae family. It has a mild, sweet taste similar to sugar but not as intense. It can be used as a sugar substitute in baking, cooking, and beverages. It has been used for centuries in South America as a sweetener and medicinal herb.
In terms of taste, pure stevia is sweeter than sugar but has a slightly bitter aftertaste. It is also not as soluble as sugar, so it dissolves slowly. For this reason, it is best used in recipes that are not too sweet and in drinks and beverages. Some people prefer to use stevia in combination with other sweeteners, such as agave nectar or honey.
This article will explore how stevia may impact blood sugar levels and the health benefits of including this sugar alternative in your diet.
The glycemic index for sweeteners like stevia is determined by the number of carbohydrates present in the food item. Stevia is considered calorie-free because it has less than 5 g of carbs per serving. It also has a glycemic index and a glycemic load of zero.
The below glycemic index and glycemic load data is for 3 grams of raw stevia, which is approximately one teaspoon:¹ ²
Stevia-based sweeteners are an excellent alternative to sugar and are becoming increasingly popular for those looking to reduce their sugar intake. Stevia-based sweeteners are generally calorie-free and contain no artificial sweeteners.
The nutritional information below is for 3 g of raw stevia.²
The intake of additional sugar in food products has been shown to contribute an average of 16% of the total calories in Americans' diets, which has been linked to weight gain.⁹ Stevia contains no sugar and no calories as opposed to table sugar which contains approximately 45 calories per tablespoon. In a study with 31 adult participants, those who ate a 290-calorie snack made with stevia ate the same amount of food at the next meal as those who ate a 500-calorie snack made with sugar.⁷ They also reported similar fullness levels, which shows that the group consuming stevia has an overall lower caloric intake while feeling the same satiety.⁷
While artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes are safe to include in your diet, your goal should be to lower your overall sugar intake. Continue to work on decreasing your intake of processed foods and sweetened products as much as possible. Pick whole options and fresh fruits whenever possible, and increase the flavor appeal of your meals using spices and herbs instead of sweeteners!
Research has shown that stevia sweeteners do not contain calories or carbohydrates and have no effect on blood glucose levels or insulin response.⁷ This allows people living with diabetes to enjoy different foods made with stevia without being concerned about their safety.
A review of five randomized controlled trials compared the effects of stevia on metabolic outcomes.⁸ The researchers found that stevia showed minimal to no impacts on blood glucose, insulin levels, blood pressure, and body weight.
In one of the above trials, individuals living with type 2 diabetes reported that stevia caused significant reductions in their blood glucose and glucagon responses after a meal.⁸
With new research published around the impact of artificial sweeteners, including stevia, there is new information emerging about the possible safety considerations of this food. A 2016 study found that stevia increases progesterone production in sperm, leading to questions about its role as an endocrine disruptor.⁶ For those on prescription medications or with chronic health conditions, you should consult with a healthcare professional before adding stevia to your diet.
In regards to allergies, the stevia plant is in the Asteraceae family, which also contains ragweed, goldenrod, and other allergen-producing plants. If you have allergies to these types of plants, it is recommended that you avoid stevia.
Symptoms of a stevia allergy include itchiness of the mouth, lips, or throat, swelling, and redness. In severe cases, allergic reactions can cause hives, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis. Please consult a healthcare professional if you suspect an allergy, sensitivity, or intolerance to stevia.
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood sugar levels compared to a reference food, usually glucose. It ranks foods on a scale from 0 to 100, with higher values indicating a faster rise in blood sugar. The glycemic index (GI) scale is typically categorized as follows: Low GI [55 or less], Medium GI [56-69], High GI [70 or higher]. Foods with a high glycemic index digest rapidly and can cause dramatic fluctuations in blood glucose or glucose spikes.
Glycemic load (GL) takes into account both the quality (glycemic index) and quantity (carbohydrate content) of carbohydrates in a specific serving of food. It is a measure of how much a particular food will raise blood sugar levels. GL is calculated by multiplying the glycemic index of a food by its carbohydrate content and dividing it by 100. It provides a more accurate representation of the overall impact of a food on blood sugar compared to the glycemic index alone.
No, Stevia does not spike insulin. In fact, studies have shown that Stevia may actually help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. Stevia is a natural sweetener that does not contain any calories or carbohydrates, which means it does not have an impact on blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is a good alternative for people with diabetes or those who are trying to manage their blood sugar levels.
Yes, Stevia is low glycemic as it does not raise blood sugar levels significantly. It has a glycemic index of zero and is safe for people with diabetes.
Yes, people living with diabetes can eat stevia as it has no effect on blood sugar levels and is considered safe for consumption.