Worldwide estimates show that 1 in 10 adults is living with diabetes, which translates to 425 million people across the globe. [https://www.idf.org/news/94:new-idf-figures-show-continued-increase-in-diabetes-across-the-globe,-reiterating-the-need-for-urgent-action.html] To achieve good health when dealing with diabetes, regular exercises, maintaining normal body weight, taking medication, and good nutrition are key.
Food management, which includes eating specific food amounts, good timing of the foods you eat, consuming high-quality foods, and watching the carbohydrate intake, is critical for a diabetic person. One of the key interventions is limiting or avoiding added sugars. Using low-calorie sugars like stevia have been recommended by The American Diabetes Association, The American Heart Association, and The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to assist in weight control and decrease glucose levels.
What is Stevia?
FDA approved and contains zero calories, Stevia is a natural plant-based sweetener that can be traced back to South America and has been used for several hundred years. The plant is known as Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni and is a part of the sunflower family. The plant, which is native to Paraguay and Brazil, features many anti-diabetic and anti-oxidant properties.
Stevia contains 8 glycosides that are isolated and purified to get the sweetener in its rawest form. They are:
rebaudiosides A, C, D, E, and F
Stevia also contains Steviol glycosides, which are the compounds that give the plant its sweet taste. The sweetness of these compounds is graded at 300 times higher than sugar. This means that you require 20 percent of Stevia to provide the same level of sweetness as the other mainstream sugars. However, when consumed in its raw form, Stevia can have a bitter aftertaste.
The process of extracting Stevia begins with harvesting the leaves, drying them, extracting the water, and finally purifying it. Processed Stevia contains up to 18 percent of stevioside. Stevia does not contain carbohydrates, which means that it can affect neither insulin levels nor the blood sugar levels.
Several regulatory bodies across the world have approved high-purity stevia extracts for consumption by the general population in the recommended levels. The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for stevia has been set at 4 milligrams per kilogram for both adults and children.
Why are artificial sweeteners bad for diabetes?
- They can raise your glucose levels: Sugars such as saccharin can change the bacterial composition of the gut, which will then cause glucose intolerance. This is the first step towards diabetes and metabolic syndrome in adults. According to numerous studies, normal weight people who consumed artificial sugars were at a higher risk of getting diabetes even compared to overweight people who refrained from the sugars.
- They contribute to gaining weight: One of the top risk factors for diabetes is being overweight or obese. Artificial sugars lead to weight gain because:
They reduce the energy intake
Trigger continuous eating so the intake of energy is constant
Increases the Body Mass Index (BMI)
This means that for people with diabetes, artificial sweeteners are not a good substitute. Being overweight can also lead to other health issues such as stroke and high blood pressure among others.
Benefits of stevia for diabetes
Stevia has properties that give the following benefits
Blood glucose lowering: Compared to artificial sweeteners, stevia can suppress the plasma glucose levels and raise your glucose tolerance. Stevia also has zero calories, which makes it highly beneficial for people seeking to lower their glucose levels. Sucrose makes people fat since it contains many calories. With the many sugar products available in the market, it is advisable for you to replace artificial sugars with stevia whenever you can.
For people with type 2 diabetes, stevia has been found to trigger a glucagon response and reduce blood glucose. Glucagon is the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels in the blood. For people with diabetes, the system that produces glucagon is usually faulty.
Foods with a glycemic index of less than 50 are considered safe for people with diabetes and the lower the figure, the better it is. Table sugar has a glycemic index of 80 compared to stevia, which has an index of 0. This makes this sweet leaf the perfect substitute for processed sugar without compromising the sweetness in your food.
Blood pressure lowering: Stevia has cardiotonic properties that normalize the blood pressure and regulates your heartbeat. This is made possible by certain glycosides in the stevia extracts that dilates blood vessels.
Additionally, stevia has the following benefits:
Compared to sugar, Stevia can regulate your appetite, thus reducing your calorie intake.
Stevia also does not cause glycemic responses and has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels. It also reduces insulin sensitivity.
Stevia does not alter the composition of food or their nutrients, meaning that minerals and vitamins remain at the same level.
It increases the insulin effect on the body’s cell membranes
Stabilizes blood sugar levels and increases the production of insulin
Counters the mechanics of the type 2 diabetes and its complications
It has anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and anti-diarrheal properties.
How Stevia works
Including stevia in your diet is very easy since you can easily do it even at home. For instance, you can grow the plant on your kitchen garden or choose to buy processed and packaged stevia. Stevia is readily available in grocery stores in three forms: as an extract, as flavored drops, or in powder form. Below is a brief summary of these 3 forms.
Stevia extract is the most recommended stevia form because it is stevia in its pure form without any additives. However, in this state, the flavor is more intense and might not be appealing to most people. The upside is that you get all the benefits of stevia unadulterated without any impact on your blood sugar and no additional calories.
Stevia drops: for people who find plain water boring, you can drop a few drops of this extract in water. Your water will taste much better and you do not have to worry about the sweetener’s impact on your blood sugar.
Stevia powder: this is the most common form of stevia purchased from the market today. It is mixed with other ingredients to allow it to behave like sugar. It has less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving, an amount that is classified by the FDA as having zero calories. It is important to know the additives that have been added to this stevia before consumption to avoid complications and to get the right product for your required sweetening needs.
At home, you can use stevia in different ways. These include and are not limited to:
Using fresh stevia leaves in sauces or lemonade. You can also boil stevia leaves in your tea for the perfect herbal mixture.
Drying and processing dry stevia leaves in a food processor to form a stevia powder. However, you cannot compare this powder to what is available in the shops. Homemade stevia powder is discolored and the taste can be too intense. Processed stevia has extra ingredients that give it the white look and sweet taste. After making the stevia powder, you should store it in an airtight container to use in recipes
Making a stevia syrup for beverages by adding warm water to stevia leaves and storing the mixture for 24 hours. To get a more concentrated syrup, strain the water and boil under low heat. This syrup can last for several years.
It is very important to remember that two tablespoons of stevia are equivalent to one cup of sugar. Stevia is mostly blended with other sweeteners to improve its taste since it can have a bitter aftertaste when used alone. Some of the common sweeteners used include:
If you do not want other sweeteners in your stevia, check the packaging before purchasing any of the processed stevias. Different brands also blend different sweeteners with stevia to allow you to use it for different home purposes. For example, a baking stevia product can include sugar but the drinking blend contains non-sugar ingredients.
Uses of Stevia
It can be used for cooking to add sweetness. It is imperative to note, however, that stevia might not be a good substitute for recipes that require sugar as part of the structure since it does not caramelize. It is important to check the packaging for the formulation to ascertain what the specific product is suitable for.
Stevia is also found in a variety of beverages and foods including soft drinks, teas, yogurt, cereal, and confections. It is also a table-typo sweetener. Today, you will find more than 5000 beverage and food products that are using stevia as an ingredient. These products include desserts, sauces, soft drinks, candy, and yogurts among others.
Who should not use stevia?
Regular stevia use for non-diabetic people can bring about side effects due to its suppressing properties. Stevia for diabetes lowers blood pressure, blood sugar, and acts like a diuretic, which is what a diabetic person needs. Inhibiting some of the functions in the body for a non-diabetic person is dangerous. This means that the normal body functions will not run as expected in addition to the possibility of the product having harmful side effects. Moreover, stevia can also interact with medications; as such, it is important to inform your physician before consuming it.
There are several factors that increase the risks of using stevia. These are:
High blood pressure and its medication
Liver illnesses and their medication
Kidney ailments and medication
Heart conditions and their medications
Risks associated with stevia use
Despite stevia is a great option for diabetics, some people might react to it with high blood sugar. It is important to understand the concept of individualism and consult with a doctor before using stevia for diabetes. Monitor your body when using stevia and make sure to use a glucose meter frequently.
Stevia is mixed with different ingredients that might cause sensitivity for different people. For instance, sugar alcohols, which are the main additives to stevia, can cause bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Erythritol, which is a type of sugar alcohol that is mostly added to stevia, poses a less great risk compared to the others.
Sale and packaging
Stevia for diabetes is readily available in shopping stores and grocery stores. It is commonly sold under the following brand name.
Stevia Extract In The Raw
Stevia itself is natural but the processed brands might contain other ingredients. For instance, Truvia is said to undergo 40 processes before it is sold. The best option, therefore, is to plant Stevia by yourself and use the fresh leaves to sweeten your foods.