What Is Stevia?

Those cheery, yellow mum plants you find in your supermarket each fall have a cousin over in the sweetener aisle. It’s a sugar substitute called stevia.

Stevia is about 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, but has no carbohydrates, calories, or artificial ingredients.

Not everyone likes the way it tastes. Some people find it bitter, but others think stevia tastes like menthol. Try it in your morning coffee or sprinkled over your oatmeal to see if you like the taste.

A Naturally Sweet Fix

Stevia is natural, unlike other sugar substitutes. It’s made from a leaf related to popular garden flowers like asters and chrysanthemums.

In South America and Asia, people have been using stevia leaves to sweeten drinks like tea for many years.

Look for stevia in powder or liquid form in supermarkets and health-food stores. You’re likely to find it on the baking goods aisle or in the health food aisle.

You may even get your sweet caffeine fix without calories or artificial sweeteners. Major U.S. soda companies now sell diet cola soft drinks sweetened with stevia. Some flavored waters also have stevia.

If you have diabetes, stevia could be a way to sweeten your yogurt or hot tea without adding carbohydrates.

Cooking With Stevia

Yes, you can cook with it. Each brand has its own sugar-to-stevia ratio, so check the package before you measure out sweetener.

Keep It Safe

The FDA approved only the purified form of stevia, called stevioside, as safe to use. Products considered safe contain words in their ingredient list such as stevia extract or stevia rebaudiana. If you see whole stevia leaves or crude stevia extracts at your local natural foods store, don’t buy them.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Ellen Stokes, RD, LD on October 28, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RDN, LDN, Clinical Associate Professor, Boston University Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

American Diabetes Association: “Low-Calorie Sweeteners," “Size Up Your Sweetener Options.”

New York University Langone Medical Center: “Stevia”

Center for Science in the Public Interest: “Stevia”

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “Is Stevia an FDA-Approved Sweetener?”

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Agency Response Letter GRAS Notice No. GRN 000348

United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library: “Nutritive and Non-Nutritive Sweeteners”

International Food Information Council: “Stevia Sweeteners: Another Low-Calorie Option”

University of Nebraska, Lincoln: “Stevia.”

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