Stevia Extract: Good or Bad? That’s the age old question right? It’s time to set the record straight. In today’s post we dive into the cluttered world of stevia extract powders and share our perspective as a food manufacturer. Is there a difference between consumer and commercial grade stevia extract powders? 100% YES but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Stevia – The Plant
Stevia is a small shrub-like herb native to South America. The leaves of the stevia plant contain sweet compounds named steviol glycosides. Dried stevia leaves have been used to sweeten beverages (maté, teas) as well as foods for centuries.
The scientific name for stevia is Stevia Rebaudiana L. Bertoni and it’s a member of the largest family of plants, Asteraceae which is also called the “sunflower family”. There are 240 species of stevia, however Stevia Rebaudiana L. Bertoni is the species which represent the varieties of plants currently used to manufacture stevia extracts globally due to the high quantity and quality of glycoside content.
Stevia – The Sweetener
Stevia leaf powder is typically 20 times sweeter than sugar and stevia extract powder is about 200-350 times sweeter than sugar. All forms of stevia have a glycemic index of 0. To compare common sweeteners and for a detailed glycemic index, click here.
Stevia contains eight glycosides. These are the sweet components isolated and purified from the leaves of stevia. These glycosides include:
- rebaudiosides A, C, D, E, and F
- dulcoside A
Stevioside and rebaudioside A (reb A) are the most plentiful of these components. They are extracted through a process of:
- harvesting the leaves
- drying the leaves
- steeping the dried leaves in water
- filtering and separating the liquid
- purifying the extract with food grade alcohol
Stevia – The Health Benefits
As an alternative to sucrose, or table sugar, using stevia as a sweetener carries the potential for added health benefits. Those health benefits include:
Regulate Blood Sugar
Research has shown that stevia sweeteners do not contribute calories or carbohydrates to the diet. They’ve also demonstrated no effect on blood glucose or insulin response. This allows people with diabetes to eat a wider variety of foods and comply with a healthful meal plan.
The intake of added sugars has been shown to contribute an average of 16 percent of the total calories in the American diet. This has been linked to weight gain and reduced control of blood glucose levels. Stevia contains no sugar and very few, if any, calories. It can be part of a well-balanced diet to help reduce energy intake without sacrificing taste.
Reduce the Risk of Pancreatic Cancer
Stevia contains many sterols and antioxidant compounds, including kaempferol. Studies have found that kaempferol can reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer by 23 percent.
Several research studies showed that stevia extract had “positive and encouraging effects” on overall cholesterol profiles. Stevia extract effectively decreased elevated serum cholesterol levels, including triglycerides and LDL (“bad cholesterol”), while increasing good HDL cholesterol.
Stevia – Consumer vs Commercial
Okay, so here’s where our article takes a turn from most other articles out there on the web. I’d say close to 99% of all articles, data, research, etc that you read on stevia extract powder is referring to consumer-grade stevia. Unless you’re a food or beverage manufacturer, and I’m guessing most of you are not, then you wouldn’t know about commercial-grade or industrial-grade stevia. So, allow me to educate.
This is the stevia extract that the general public can purchase. The stevia may be bought at a grocery store, local market, online/Amazon, etc and there are hundreds of brands to choose from. You can purchase organic, non-organic (conventional), stevia leaf powder, stevia extract powder or stevia extract liquid. Let’s look at the pros and cons to consumer-grade stevia.
- Ranks 0 on the glycemic index so it’s a good sugar substitute, especially for diabetics.
- Does not contain aspartame or saccharin.
- Has some health benefits as referenced above.
- 100% of products on shelves today has gone through a highly-refined manufacturing process, nearly 40 steps from plant leaf to extract purification.
- Nearly all brands have added fillers, additives or preservatives to their end product. This end product comes in little packets, tablets, or larger bags for baking use.
And this is why stevia is getting a bad rap. Some manufacturer’s process is ‘cleaner‘ than others so do a bit of research before purchasing. But it’s those fillers, additives and preservatives that are causing people to take notice and shy away.
FACT: If manufacturer’s packaged up an individual serving of pure-grade stevia extract, there wouldn’t be anything to fill those little packets with. Stevia extract in it’s purest form is very powerful and a little goes a very long way. So, manufacturer’s have to add fillers to literally give ‘bulk‘ to the packet.
Those fillers, additives and preservatives are altering the stevia extract to give it a longer shelf-life and to make it easy-peasy for consumers to use. But, is it really stevia anymore? Not really.
This is the stevia extract that ONLY food manufacturer’s can purchase. So this is both good and bad news for you. The bad news is that unfortunately you can’t buy this pure, minimally-processed, no filler/additive/preservative stevia extract. And yes, in our opinion, pure, organic stevia extract is really the perfect zero calorie sweetener of choice.
The good news however is that many of your favorite brands are using clean, organic commercial-grade stevia extract powder in their products, including us (Blendtopia). So hearing the word stevia shouldn’t make you cringe when it’s in a commercially-produced product from a high-end brand/manufacturer. Two of our FAVORITE brands stand behind the use of organic stevia extract powder in their products: Moon Juice and REBBL.
So how do you know which brands are using clean stevia extract in their products? Some brands you may already trust because of their reputation for ‘clean ingredients’ but if you have any questions or concerns, just ASK THEM! We love it when our customers ask questions because we have nothing to hide. If they dodge the question and don’t give a straight answer, I’d dodge that product!
To wrap things up, why am I writing this article? To educate and to give a clear, concise, definitive explanation to all those asking and/or wondering why brands continue to choose stevia extract as their sweetener of choice in their products.
I want a resource out there on the web that people can use (including myself) to share with our customers that gives them all the info they need to be fully educated on the subject. I’m a Certified Raw Food Nutritionist, Certified Holistic Health Coach, wellness expert, food manufacturer, wellness blogger and mom to three awesome kids so I care A LOT about the ingredients that go into my body, my family’s body and ALL of Blendtopia’s customers.
I hope you found this article incredibly insightful. Please feel free to share your opinions and/or questions below. I’d love to hear from you!