Sugar is more addictive then cocaine and no pun intended, but it exists in many forms besides the white stuff. Refined and processed sugar in all forms (be it corn syrup, cane syrup, agave nextar..) lights up your brain like a pinball machine when you eat it. We’re eating an average of 130 pounds of the stuff a year, about 4 times too much.
Our overconsumption of sugar stresses the liver, leads to type 2 diabetes, increases bad cholesterol, feeds cancer cells, contributes to weight gain, cravings, and sleep issues and contributes to our overall rates of disease and mortality.
Artificial sweeteners are no better: aspartame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, acesulfame potassium, and acesulfame may help you cut calories but that’s about it. You should avoid artificial sweeteners at all costs, they’re all harmful in one way and many of have been linked to cause cancer in lab studies.
All this not so sweet information leads me to the newest sweetener of choice in the wellness community, stevia.
Have you heard of stevia? Have you given it a try? True stevia isn’t concocted in a lab like artificial sweeteners, it’s a plant indigenous to South America. The extract of stevia is 200 times sweeter than cane sugar, but it doesn’t raise insulin levels. Whole leaf stevia can be grown in your own backyard! It all sounds good until we get to the part where stevia is processed for use in the US. However, the caveat is, the FDA approved stevia extract (aka rebaudioside) and not the whole leaf stevia.
Chemical laden, factory produced stevia is no better for us. Your mainstream stevia has likely gone through chemical processes no better than any other artificial sweetener. For example:
- Truvia goes through a 40 step process to convert the leaf of the plant into the final product. This includes chemical processes that utilize acetone, methanol, ethanol, and isopropanol
- Erythritol is also added to several stevia products. While erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar sometimes found in fruit, food manufacturers don’t actually use the natural sugar. Instead they start with genetically modified corn, and put it through a fermentation process to come up with chemically pure erythritol
- “Natural flavors” is another ingredient added to powdered and liquid stevia products. Manufactured natural flavor “hijack” your taste buds one-by-one; that’s why I recommend putting products that contain “natural flavors” back on the shelf
- “Stevia in the Raw” sounds pure and natural, but when you look at the ingredients the first thing on the label is “dextrose” – so it’s certainly not just stevia in the raw. Pepsi Co’s “Pure Via,” Dextrose is a sweetener that’s also derived from genetically engineered corn and has a long complicated manufacturing process, just like erythritol
- Even certified organic stevia can have sneaky ingredients added, like organic agave inulin more than the stevia extract itself. Agave inulin is a highly processed fiber derivative from the blue agave plant
Choosing the right stevia
Luckily there are ways to enjoy this sweet leaf closer to its natural state
- Buy a stevia plant for your garden (luckily it’s totally legal!) or purchase the pure dried leaves online – you can grind up them up using a spice grinder (or use a mortar and pestle) for your own powdered stevia
- When choosing products already sweetened with stevia, look for “whole leaf stevia” on the ingredient label
- Add fresh or dried leaves directly to tea or drinks for natural sweetness (note the straight stevia leaves are only 30-40 times sweeter than sugar, vs. 200 times using the extract)
- If you are not up for getting a stevia plant of your own or making your own extract, remember to look for a stevia extract that is 100% pure without added ingredients. My two absolute favorites Omica Stevia and Body Ecology Stevia)
And when all else fails, choose a suitable alternative such as pure maple syrup, coconut palm sugar, honey, and one of my favorites, coconut nectar.