Is natural stevia better than controversial artificial sweeteners, which have been linked to serious health concerns?
300 times sweeter than table sugar, stevia is a natural extract derived from the bushy South American stevia rebaudiana shrub. As studies point to sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas and fruit drinks as being a bigger culprit than food when it comes to weight gain, manufacturers are briskly infusing this no-fat, no-calorie sweetener into more and more drinks so as to claim more "natural" and healthier products.
The fact remains that most of the crystallised stevia found in the supermarts is a plant extract that has been highly processed. Some researchers suspect this modification could mutate DNA and cause cancer. Furthermore, when a sweet taste primes the body for a calorie delivery that doesn't occur, the body craves for even more sweets. Hence, critics warn that stevia might backfire by triggering artificial hunger, just like other artificial sugar substitutes.
It seems that while there are studies supporting the effectiveness of stevia in weight management and diabetic diet, there is also research available to negate its safety. How much nutritional content does it have when its whole-food environment of minerals, fibres, vitamins, and enzymes has been taken out during processing? Stevia in its most natural form, powdered leaves, is the best, though, for reasons unknown to me, it does not seem to be commonly available in the shops. As a low-glycemic diet, stevia does not raise blood sugar. Additionally, unlike other artificial sweeteners, it is loaded with vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, riboflavin, zinc, chromium, and selenium.
Usually, when I'm unsure about a certain sweetner, I would err on the side of caution and choose table sugar over artificial sweeteners if there were no other options. Also, I would continue to pay attention to food labels and increase my intake of fresh, whole and unprocessed foods.
Do your own research. Artificial sweeteners have too many names and disguises. We sometimes have no idea what harmful ingredients lurk in the food we eat. Be especially alert when buying foods that come with confusing labels like "diet," "low fat," or "no calories".
Having many choices of sweetening our foods is good, but it can also be terribly confusing, and even scary when they contain questionable ingredients that we want to avoid for the good of our body.