Expert-reviewed by Ashwini S.Kanade, Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with 17 years of experience
In this article, we talk about another natural substitute for sugar: Stevia. We had previously talked about honey as a sugar substitute as well. But if you are looking for more natural sugar substitutes, then stevia might be the answer for you.
For centuries, people in South American countries like Brazil have been using the leaves of the stevia plant as a natural sweetener. Today, stevia is found all over the world and is prized for being a natural sugar substitute.
This natural sweetener obtained from the Stevia rebaudiana plant is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. This property is due to the presence of two compounds: stevioside and rebaudioside. (1)
Moreover, stevia is non-nutritive, which means it adds zero calories to your diet; thus it can serve as a replacement for table sugar in your diet.
How to use stevia?
Several brands of stevia tablets and powder are commercially available. Most of them tend to have a mildly bitter aftertaste due to the presence of stevioside. If you find the taste off-putting, check if there are brands of stevia powder made of only rebaudioside, which does not have this bitter taste.
- add stevia instead of sugar to your tea or coffee – since stevia is much sweeter, you may need to experiment a little to find the quantity that best suits your taste buds. Generally, a pinch of stevia gives you the same sweetness as one teaspoon of sugar. Read how drinking tea can help you prevent or manage diabetes.
- sprinkle stevia powder onto your breakfast cereals or on yoghurt. Here are some easy, delicious breakfast recipes that are diabetes-friendly.
- try using stevia instead of sugar in preparing ice cream or fruit-based desserts.
In 2015, the FSSAI (Food Safety & Standards Authority of India) permitted the use of stevia as a sweetener in products such as milk-based desserts, yoghurts, carbonated water, flavoured drinks, jams and ready-to-eat cereals. Ever since manufacturers such as Amul and Mother Dairy have shown an interest in developing products with stevia instead of sugar or artificial sugar substitutes.
What are the effects of stevia on diabetes?
In 2004, a study showed that stevioside causes a drop in post-meal blood glucose levels in persons with type 2 diabetes. (2)
A 2010 laboratory study found that consuming stevia caused a greater drop in post-meal blood glucose levels as compared to sucrose. Besides, the study participants felt just as full of stevia as with sugar even though stevia has almost no calories when compared to sugar. (3) This indicates that replacing sugar with stevia can also help people with diabetes manage their weight better (provided the food does not contain many other calories).
A 2017 article published in the Journal of Medicinal Food reviewed data on the effects of stevia in diabetes and found that stevia lowered blood glucose levels and increased insulin levels in diabetic rats. (1)
More research is definitely needed to get a clearer picture of the anti-diabetic effects of stevia on humans. However, no study so far has shown stevia to have harmful effects. In light of this, it may be worth exploring stevia as a sugar substitute.
A word of caution
The USFDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved only purified extracts of stevia glycosides from the plant, and not highly refined stevia leaves and stevia extracts. It, therefore, makes sense to steer clear of products that claim to contain the latter.
Along with its blood glucose lowering effect, stevia may also cause blood pressure to fall. (4, 5) So, if you are on anti-diabetic and/or anti-hypertensive medication, do speak to your doctor about the use of stevia, and monitor your sugar and blood pressure levels regularly to track any significant change.
It should be noted that some people have reported nausea, bloating, muscle pain, dizziness and numbness after taking stevia. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using stevia as there isn’t enough research to confirm their safe use in these conditions. (5)
Stevia, with its almost zero calorie count and natural sweetness, seems like a good substitute for table sugar. But as with all such things, ensure moderation in use and discuss with your doctor before introducing changes to your diet.
Going natural with your diabetes care? Here are some research-backed home remedies for controlling blood sugar levels.
- C-L Areli, M-O Yolanda, S-C Maira. Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni: A Natural Alternative for Treating Diseases Associated with Metabolic Syndrome. Journal of Medicinal Food. October 2017, 20(10): 933-943. https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2016.0171
- S. Gregersen, P.B. Jeppesen, J.J. Holst, K. Hermansen. Antihyperglycemic effects of stevioside in type 2 diabetic subjects. Metabolism. 2004 Jan;53(1):73-6. Available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14681845
- S.D. Anton, C.K. Martin, H. Han, M.S. Sandra Coulon, W.T. Cefalu, P. Geiselman et al. Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite. 2010 Aug; 55(1): 37–43. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2010.03.009 Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2900484/
- H. Misra, D. Mehta, B.K. Mehta, D.C. Jain. Antihypertensive (Blood Pressure Lowering) Effects Of Stevioside, From Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni, On Rats, Dogs And Humans – A Short Review. Indian Journal of Drugs, 2015, 3(4), 102-108 Available online at: http://drugresearch.in/pdf/dec2015/IJOD-17-himanshu.pdf
- Stevia: Medline Plus: US National Library of Medicine Available online at: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/682.html