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Is Stevia a Good Substitute for Sugar?

Yes, says our expert. This natural sweetener is especially good for people with diabetes.
By Michael Dansinger, MD
WebMD Feature

In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our January-February 2011 issue, we asked WebMD's Diabetes Expert, Michael Dansinger, MD, whether stevia, a new natural sweetener, is a good sugar substitute for people with diabetes.   

 I have type 2 diabetes, and I'm trying to reduce my sugar intake. I've heard about stevia. What is it? Is it safe?

Stevia, derived from the sweetleaf plant native to South America, is an excellent substitute for sugar, one I highly recommend you add to your diabetes self-care bag of tricks.  

Here's why it's so good: Stevia leaves contain two "glycoside" molecules, steioside and rebaudioside, which are 300 times sweeter than table sugar. The leaves can be used whole or in ground form in food and beverages. More typically, the sweet glycosides themselves are extracted from the plant material and sold as a processed powder or concentrated liquid. 

Stevia's taste is on par with other sugar substitutes -- sweet with a mild aftertaste that can be masked by blending with other sweet ingredients. Already popular in Japan and parts of Asia and Australia, this sugar substitute is being used in some commercial beverages in this country, too, including SoBe Lifewater and Vitaminwater Zero.

Besides tasting good, stevia has no calories, a zero glycemic index (meaning it has no carbs), no artificial ingredients, and no effect on blood sugar. It's a way to satisfy your sweet tooth without compromising your blood sugar levels.

Reviewed on January 03, 2011

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If the level is below 70 and you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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