What Is Stevia?

Stevia is a sugar substitute made from the leaves of the stevia plant. It’s about 100 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar, but it has no carbohydrates, calories, or artificial ingredients.

Not everyone likes the way it tastes. Some people find it bitter, but others think stevia tastes like menthol. Try it in your morning coffee or sprinkled over your oatmeal to see if you like the taste.

Stevia Health Benefits

Stevia is natural, unlike other sugar substitutes. It’s made from a leaf related to popular garden flowers like asters and chrysanthemums.

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In South America and Asia, people have been using stevia leaves to sweeten drinks like tea for many years.

Look for stevia in powder or liquid form in supermarkets and health-food stores. You’re likely to find it on the baking goods aisle or in the health food aisle.

You may even get your sweet caffeine fix without calories or artificial sweeteners. Major U.S. soda companies now sell diet cola soft drinks sweetened with stevia. Some flavored waters also have stevia.

If you have diabetes, stevia could be a way to sweeten your yogurt or hot tea without adding carbohydrates.

Stevia Risks

The FDA approved only the purified form of stevia, called stevioside, as safe to use. Products considered safe contain words in their ingredient list such as stevia extract or Stevia rebaudiana. If you see whole stevia leaves or crude stevia extracts at your local natural foods store, don’t buy them. The FDA says it doesn’t have enough information about their potential impact on your health, including kidney and cardiovascular problems.

Cooking With Stevia

You can use stevia like you would table sugar.

  • Sweeten a drink with it or sprinkle it on your cereal.
  • You can also cook with it. Each brand has its own sugar-to-stevia ratio, so check the package before you measure out sweetener. It can cause a bitter aftertaste if you use too much.
  • Baking with stevia can be tricky. Because it doesn’t have the same chemical properties as sugar, it won’t give cakes, cookies, and breads the right texture. Try experimenting with proportions or extra ingredients. For example, adding whipped egg whites to a cake batter or extra baking powder and baking soda to a quick bread dough will help them rise.

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