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Sweet on Stevia

If there’s one thing we should’ve learned by now, it’s that nature is smarter than us. We should know that by processing whole plants by reducing and separating them into their individual components, we may be doing more harm than good. When you dissolve a plant down to one chemical, you’re taking away other important phytochemicals designed by nature to work with it. It would be like cutting everyone from the soccer team but the star player. That player might still be great, but without the support of her teammates she’s not nearly as effective.

In the case of food, cutting the supporting elements of a plant can be flat out dangerous. Not only in the important plant chemicals you leave behind, but the process that it takes to do so. We’re learning this lesson now as we deal with the repercussions of processed sugar.

When “healthy” alternatives to problematic foods hit the shelves, we tend to forget this idea. When I first heard about this all natural, super sweet leaf that could provide sweetness without the side effects, I knew I needed to do my homework. Remember, even sugar is made from plants!

What is Stevia?

Stevia has boomed in popularity over the last five to ten years. It’s a plant native to South American whose leaf is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Despite its potent sweetness, it doesn’t have the same negative metabolic effects as sugar. It doesn’t spike insulin or create blood sugar imbalance. Plant chemicals responsible for stevia’s sweetness register on the tongue but never actually hit the digestive system and create a metabolic reaction. Sound to good to be true? Yes and no!

The Catch

Just like many other foods, it’s how stevia is processed that can make it either a great option or a bad choice. In its natural form, this isn’t some made-in-a-lab GMO plant. It’s an herb that’s incredibly easy to grow and one little nibble of the leaf and you can taste it’s powerful sweet flavor. However, the only form approved by the FDA as a food additive, is a highly processed form. Called, rebaudioside A or stevia extract, this highly processed form requires 40 chemical layden steps to produce. This process includes chemicals like acetone, methanol, ethanol, acetonitrile, and isopropanol– some are even known carcinogens. Most powdered stevia products also contain dextrose or erythritol which are made by processing GMO corn.

Making the right stevia choice

Avoid all products that list rebaudioside A or stevia extract as ingredients. Though good quality products will contain rebaudioside A, as it’s a natural chemical in the plant, only processed products with have it listed. Most powdered stevia and store bought products are guilty. Instead, opt for products that contain “whole leaf stevia” or “whole leaf stevia powder”. You could also try growing it at home or buying the dried leaf from an online herb store like Mountain Rose Herbs. You can also by liquid extracts which are made using alcohol or glycerine extraction from the whole plant. My favorite brands are Omica and Body Ecology.

Don’t be fooled. Not now not ever!

Always keep in mind that food companies are trying to sell things to you as healthy when that may not be the case. Just because something comes from something “natural” doesn’t mean it can’t be harmful! When you pick a food item off the shelf, consider what it had to go through to get there. Never be afraid to question it and always do your homework if you feel there may be more than meets the eye.

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