Can stevia benefit people with diabetes?
Can stevia benefit people with diabetes?
Stevia is a sugar substitute that contains very few calories. There is growing interest in its use to help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels.
Stevia is a natural sweetener that comes from a shrub that is native to North and South America. Stevia contains compounds called steviol glycosides that are about 150–300 times sweeter than sugar. However, stevia is so low in calories that it is technically a “zero-calorie” product.
As a sweetener, stevia has grown in popularity, especially among people with diabetes. In this article, we look at the benefits of stevia for people with diabetes and if there are any risks when consuming this sweetener.
Stevia and diabetes
In a joint statement, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) said that stevia and similar sweeteners can be beneficial for people with diabetes if they use them appropriately and do not compensate by eating extra calories at later meals.
Scientific studies suggest that stevia may offer the following benefits for people with diabetes:
- possible antioxidant properties to fight disease
- blood sugar control, both when fasting and after meals
- improved satiety and reduced hunger
- less desire to eat extra calories later in the day
- protection against liver and kidney damage
- reduced triglyceride and cholesterol levels
Another benefit of stevia is its versatility. It is suitable for hot and cold beverages, and people can sprinkle it over oatmeal or fruit.
Stevia may also be suitable for baking, depending on the particular sweetener product and the recipe. However, it does not caramelize and is not a substitute for sugar in all types of cooking and baking.
Stevia extracts are usually safe for most people in moderate amounts.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorize steviol glycosides as “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS. As a result, manufacturers may add high-purity steviol glycosides to foods and beverages.
What is stevia?
Stevia, also known as Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni, is a bushy shrub that is part of the sunflower family. There are 150 species of stevia, all native to North and South America.
China is the current leading exporter of stevia products. However, stevia is now produced in many countries. The plant can often be purchased at garden centers for home growing.
As stevia is 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. It typically requires about 20 percent of the land and far less water to provide the same amount of sweetness as other mainstream sweeteners.
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.
The term “stevia” will be used to refer to steviol glycosides and reb A throughout this article.
These are extracted through a process of harvesting the leaves, then drying, water extraction, and purification. Crude stevia, the processed product before it is purified, often carries a bitter taste and foul smell until it is bleached or decolored. It takes roughly 40 steps to process the final stevia extract.
Stevia leaves contain stevioside in a range of concentrations up to around 18 percent.
Possible health benefits
As an alternative to sucrose, or table sugar, using stevia as a sweetener carries the potential for considerable health benefits.
Stevia is considered “no-calorie” on the Food Data Central (FDC). Stevia does not strictly contain zero calories, but it is significantly less calorific than sucrose and low enough to be classified as such.
The sweet-tasting components in stevia sweeteners occur naturally. This characteristic may benefit people who prefer naturally-sourced foods and beverages. The low calorie count qualifies Stevia to be a healthful alternative for diabetes control or weight loss.
Here are some of the possible health benefits of stevia.
Health benefits of Stevia for Diabetes Control
Research has shown that stevia sweeteners do not contribute calories or carbohydrates to the diet. They have 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.
Another review of five randomized controlled trials compared the effects of stevia on metabolic outcomes with the effects of placebos. The study concluded that stevia showed minimal to no effects on blood glucose, insulin levels, blood pressure, and body weight.
In one of these studies, subjects with type 2 diabetes reported that stevia triggered significant reductions in blood glucose and glucagon response after a meal. Glucagon is a hormone that regulates glucose levels in the blood, and the mechanism that secretes glucagon is often faulty in people with diabetes.
Glucagon drops when blood glucose climbs. This regulates the glucose level.