In addition to white sugar, brown sugar and low calorie sweeteners, you have also probably encountered stevia at the coffee table. (Related: How to become sugar savvy?). But what is stevia and how does it benefit you? Dr. Margaret Ashwell, senior research scientist with the Medical Research Council, principal of the Good Housekeeping Institute, and the British Nutrition Foundation science director tells us if stevia is good for you.


    What is stevia?

    Known as a natural-origin zero calorie sweetener, stevia comes from the stevia plant and has been used as a sweetener for more than 200 years since it was first discovered in Paraguay. The sweet molecules in the plant called steviol glycosides are extracted and purified to make natural-origin stevia sweeteners. These steviol glycosides can be about 300 times as sweet as sugar and can replace and/or reduce sugar in most foods and drinks. (You can buy your stevia online in some of these local online shops).

    Are there any benefits of using stevia?

    Research shows that sugar and calorie-reduced foods with stevia can help people reduce their total caloric intake if not compensated for. Therefore, stevia is beneficial to all those trying to manage a healthy diet by reducing sugar and calories. Individuals trying to manage or reduce weight can also benefit from calorie reduced foods containing stevia. In addition, research shows that people with diabetes can benefit from the dietary carbohydrate and sugar reduction that stevia offers for better blood glucose control. (Related: Try this hi-tech workout to lose weight).

    Stevia has passed all safety standards across the world. It has been given an ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake)  of up to 4 mg/ kg/ day expressed in terms of steviol equivalents. This would never be exceeded even by high consumers and so safety should be guaranteed.


    Is there a minimum amount to consume for a positive effect on your health/ nutritional needs?

    Because stevia is an ingredient in the diet which is only used in minute amounts to give sweetness with zero calories it is not treated as a nutrient and does not have RDI (Recommended Daily Intake). To ensure safety it has an ADI which is a guide to how much can be ingested over a lifetime without appreciable risk. Stevia is appropriate for all adults and children. It can be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle that helps reduce or manage both total energy (calories) and sugar intake.


    How can stevia aid in weight management?

    Using stevia to replace sugar is a good move for someone who is healthy and wants to stay that way or for someone who wants help with weight management. Of course it is only one strategy. The only way to lose weight is to take in less energy than you are using up. Research shows that sugar and calorie-reduced foods with stevia can help people reduce their total energy intake, if not compensated for. Therefore, stevia is beneficial to individuals trying to manage or reduce weight by reducing their energy and sugar intake with stevia containing sugar and calorie reduced foods. (Read: Myths about the juice-cleansing diet).

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